The forest backyard garden in Devon ‘with an air of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory’

Mark Diacono on Martin Crawford, the person who has impressed him for decades.

Twenty years ago, an acquaintance mentioned I may possibly be fascinated in ‘this chap who’s planting like a forest, only it is food’. I scoured the online, I tracked him down, and persuaded him to let me visit. The subsequent day I used with Martin Crawford brought on a total transform in my kitchen-back garden frame of mind.

This, he explained, was a forest yard. Alternatively than abide by the conventional kitchen area-backyard garden technique with once-a-year greens planted in strains and developed nearly in two-dimensional structure, a forest backyard garden is made to mimic a purely natural woodland, planned and planted in integrated tiers, starting up with the canopy, beneath which smaller trees, shrubs and herbaceous layers flourished, jointly with ground-address and subterranean harvests, just about every joined by climbers.

The emphasis on perennial vegetation delivers resilience and a long productive period: immediately after year 1, the perennials’ deep root method indicates they are much less vulnerable to drought or floods than annuals and quite a few turn out to be productive early in the 12 months.

Creating in plants that enrich the soil and feed the successful crops is integral to the method: mineral accumulators, these as comfrey, root deeply, drawing up nutrients and other trace aspects from very low in the soil profile to grow to be obtainable in the topsoil when their leaves are lower nitrogen fixers such as clover and autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) just take nitrogen from the air and make it out there to neighbouring vegetation by way of their root method or leaf drop. This maintains fertility by natural means. Numerous also attract in pollinators and other effective insects to help sustain an ecological equilibrium.

With all this speak of efficiency, let us not forget that forest-garden design has numerous of the sensibilities of conventional decorative-backyard style and design — planting for visual enchantment seasonal desire sensitivity to part, soil type and so on — generally maximising flavour, range, wildlife benefit and incorporating plants that enrich the wellbeing of the soil.

While we have been walking around a new undertaking — mainly youthful plants a couple decades at most in the floor — I understood this was how I desired to grow and I planted a quarter-acre forest yard at my aged smallholding, Otter Farm.

It bundled walnuts between the canopy trees, Asian pears and medlars beneath, Sichuan pepper and jostaberries section of the shrub layer, rhubarb and artichokes amid the herbaceous vegetation, with Moroccan mint and Nepalese raspberries giving groundcover, yacón, oca and mashua supplying me underground harvests, and climbers this sort of as kiwi and akebia. It took time and hard work in the beginning. Establishing the groundcover — by employing thick card to mulch out any weeds and grass if desired right before planting—is essential, but get that proper and you have a clean up base on which to construct.


Woodland is the purely natural vegetation of considerably of the nation, which means that, at the time founded, forest gardens are in harmony with Nature’s trajectory and achieve a all-natural stability with limited maintenance. The mixture of groundcover and perennial planting does away with the common kitchen area-back garden cycle of sowing, hoeing and watering that can take up so significantly of the gardener’s time.

These concepts implement conveniently to a more compact place, also. I have designed urban forest gardens at the domestic scale and I am employing the identical ideas in my personal yard. The vital is to omit the cover layer that may if not dominate and steal light-weight and plant trees on dwarfing rootstocks or practice them as supporters, cordons, espaliers and pleaches to let a large range of fruit and nuts to be grown, as effectively as maximising the amount of money of gentle achieving the lower layers.

Martin’s forest yard now has the seem and truly feel of a numerous woodland, with paths and clearings punctuating the whole. There is an air of Willy Wonka’s chocolate manufacturing facility about it: in summer, you can arrive at up for a pear or apricot in autumn, Sichuan pepper and walnuts cling from the trees early spring brings sweet cicely and Solomon’s seal shoots. Flavours abound and, even at his two-acre scale, ongoing perform is minimal.

Martin runs courses ( kingdom), retains open times at his south Devon location and his publications on forest gardening are the essential tomes. If you’d like to see a young forest backyard finding its toes, pay back a pay a visit to to RHS Rosemoor, Devon, in which the brilliant workforce is building a forest backyard garden that functions as a transition among the much more formal parts and the wonderful woodland placing in which Rosemoor sits.

Mark Diacono grows edibles, both of those regular and unconventional, at Otter Farm in Devon ( kingdom). His most up-to-date e book is From Scratch: Ferment (Quadrille, £12.99)

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