Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat.

Forest gardening is a prehistoric method of securing food in tropical areas. In the 1980s, Robert Hart coined the term “forest gardening” after adapting the principles and applying them to temperate climates.

Forest gardens are probably the world’s oldest form of land use and most resilient agroecosystem. They originated in prehistoric times along jungle-clad river banks and in the wet foothills of monsoon regions. In the gradual process of families improving their immediate environment, useful tree and vine species were identified, protected and improved whilst undesirable species were eliminated. Eventually superior foreign species were selected and incorporated into the gardens.

Forest gardens are still common in the tropics and known by various names such as: home gardens in Kerala in South India, Nepal, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania; Kandyan forest gardens in Sri Lanka; huertos familiares, the “family orchards” of Mexico; and pekarangan, the gardens of “complete design”, in Java. These are also called agroforests and, where the wood components are short-statured, the term shrub garden is employed. Forest gardens have been shown to be a significant source of income and food security for local populations.

Robert Hart adapted forest gardening for the United Kingdom’s temperate climate during the 1980s. His theories were later developed by Martin Crawford from the Agroforestry Research Trust and various permaculturalists such as Graham Bell, Patrick Whitefield, Dave Jacke and Geoff Lawton.

In tropical climates
Forest gardens, or home gardens, are common in the tropics, using intercropping to cultivate trees, crops, and livestock on the same land. In Kerala in south India as well as in northeastern India, the home garden is the most common form of land use and is also found in Indonesia. One example combines coconut, black pepper, cocoa and pineapple. These gardens exemplify polyculture, and conserve much crop genetic diversity and heirloom plants that are not found in monocultures. Forest gardens have been loosely compared to the religious concept of the Garden of Eden.

The BBC’s Unnatural Histories claimed that the Amazon rainforest, rather than being a pristine wilderness, has been shaped by humans for at least 11,000 years through practices such as forest gardening and terra preta. This was also explored in the bestselling book 1491 by author Charles C. Mann. Since the 1970s, numerous geoglyphs have also been discovered on deforested land in the Amazon rainforest, furthering the evidence about Pre-Columbian civilizations.

On the Yucatán Peninsula, much of the Maya food supply was grown in “orchard-gardens”, known as pet kot. The system takes its name from the low wall of stones (pet meaning circular and kot wall of loose stones) that characteristically surrounds the gardens.

The North American ecosystem was managed by the first nations use of fire to burn underbrush to encourage large game. Large Oak forests harvested for acorns disappeared as the Europeans arrived. Prairie and grasslands were often managed by the first nations.

In many African countries, for example Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Tanzania, gardens are widespread in rural, periurban and urban areas and they play an essential role in establishing food security. Most well known are the Chaga or Chagga gardens on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. These are an excellent example of an agroforestry system. In many countries, women are the main actors in home gardening and food is mainly produced for subsistence. In North-Africa, oasis layered gardening with palm trees, fruit trees and vegetables is a traditional type of forest garden.

In Nepal, the Ghar Bagaincha, literally “home garden”, refers to the traditional land use system around a homestead, where several species of plants are grown and maintained by household members and their products are primarily intended for the family consumption (Shrestha et al., 2002). The term “home garden” is often considered synonymous to the kitchen garden. However, they differ in terms of function, size, diversity, composition and features (Sthapit et al., 2006). In Nepal, 72% of households have home gardens of an area 2–11% of the total land holdings (Gautam et al., 2004). Because of their small size, the government has never identified home gardens as an important unit of food production and they thereby remain neglected from research and development. However, at the household level the system is very important as it is an important source of quality food and nutrition for the rural poor and, therefore, are important contributors to the household food security and livelihoods of farming communities in Nepal. The gardens are typically cultivated with a mixture of annual and perennial plants that can be harvested on a daily or seasonal basis. Biodiversity that has an immediate value is maintained in home gardens as women and children have easy access to preferred food. Home gardens, with their intensive and multiple uses, provide a safety net for households when food is scarce. These gardens are not only important sources of food, fodder, fuel, medicines, spices, herbs, flowers, construction materials and income in many countries, they are also important for the in situ conservation of a wide range of unique genetic resources for food and agriculture (Subedi et al., 2004). Many uncultivated, as well as neglected and underutilised species could make an important contribution to the dietary diversity of local communities (Gautam et al., 2004).

In addition to supplementing diet in times of difficulty, home gardens promote whole-family and whole-community involvement in the process of providing food. Children, the elderly, and those caring for them can participate in this infield agriculture, incorporating it with other household tasks and scheduling. This tradition has existed in many cultures around the world for thousands of years.

In Mediterranean climates
The Mediterranean climate has long, hot, rainless summers and relatively short, cool, rainy winters (Köppen climate classification Csa). Its climate conditions are highly variable within an area and modified locally by altitude, latitude, and the proximity to the Mediterranean. In the 1950s the Forest Research Department of the Ministry of Agriculture founded a botanical forest garden in the Sharon region in Israel, the Ilanot Forest. As the only one of its kind in Israel, it harbours more than 750 species of trees from locations all over the world, including the Japanese sago palm cycas revoluta, fig trees (ficus glomerata), stone pine trees (pinus pinea) that produce tasty pine nuts and adds to the biodiversity of Israel.

In temperate climates
Robert Hart coined the term “forest gardening” during the 1980s. Hart began farming at Wenlock Edge in Shropshire with the intention of providing a healthy and therapeutic environment for himself and his brother Lacon. Starting as relatively conventional smallholders, Hart soon discovered that maintaining large annual vegetable beds, rearing livestock and taking care of an orchard were tasks beyond their strength. However, a small bed of perennial vegetables and herbs he planted was looking after itself with little intervention.

Following Hart’s adoption of a raw vegan diet for health and personal reasons, he replaced his farm animals with plants. The three main products from a forest garden are fruit, nuts and green leafy vegetables. He created a model forest garden from a 0.12 acre (500 m²) orchard on his farm and intended naming his gardening method ecological horticulture or ecocultivation. Hart later dropped these terms once he became aware that agroforestry and forest gardens were already being used to describe similar systems in other parts of the world. He was inspired by the forest farming methods of Toyohiko Kagawa and James Sholto Douglas, and the productivity of the Keralan home gardens as Hart explains:

From the agroforestry point of view, perhaps the world’s most advanced country is the Indian state of Kerala, which boasts no fewer than three and a half million forest gardens…As an example of the extraordinary intensivity of cultivation of some forest gardens, one plot of only 0.12 hectares (0.30 acres) was found by a study group to have twenty-three young coconut palms, twelve cloves, fifty-six bananas, and forty-nine pineapples, with thirty pepper vines trained up its trees. In addition, the small holder grew fodder for his house-cow.

Seven-layer system
Robert Hart pioneered a system based on the observation that the natural forest can be divided into distinct levels. He used intercropping to develop an existing small orchard of apples and pears into an edible polyculture landscape consisting of the following layers:

‘Canopy layer’ consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
‘Low-tree layer’ of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
‘Shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries.
‘Herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs.
‘Rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
‘Ground cover layer’ of edible plants that spread horizontally.
‘Vertical layer’ of vines and climbers.

A key component of the seven-layer system was the plants he selected. Most of the traditional vegetable crops grown today, such as carrots, are sun loving plants not well selected for the more shady forest garden system. Hart favoured shade tolerant perennial vegetables.

Further development
The Agroforestry Research Trust (ART), managed by Martin Crawford, runs experimental forest gardening projects on a number of plots in Devon, United Kingdom. Crawford describes a forest garden as a low-maintenance way of sustainably producing food and other household products.

Ken Fern had the idea that for a successful temperate forest garden a wider range of edible shade tolerant plants would need to be used. To this end, Fern created the organisation Plants for a Future (PFAF) which compiled a plant database suitable for such a system. Fern used the term woodland gardening, rather than forest gardening, in his book Plants for a Future.

The Movement for Compassionate Living (MCL) promote forest gardening and other types of vegan organic gardening to meet society’s needs for food and natural resources. Kathleen Jannaway, the founder of MCL, wrote a book outlining a sustainable vegan future called Abundant Living in the Coming Age of the Tree in 1991. In 2009, the MCL provided a grant of £1,000 to the Bangor Forest Garden project in Gwynedd, North West Wales.

Kevin Bradley coined the phrase “Edible Forest” in the 1980s as the name of his nursery, garden, and orchard on 5 acres in the frigid zone 3 pine forests of northern Wisconsin. Among 3 options, he chose “Edible Forest” because it “evokes at once an ethereal, spiritual, and magical image”, of Disney- like “Forest of No Return”; of the biblical “Garden of Eden”. This image was perfectly in line with his ongoing experiment begun in 1985 in what he calls a closed loop human environment, combining multi- story tree and field crop “garden/orchards” for maximum beauty and use of space, someday to be very useful in an ever-shrinking world. “The name, at the same time, with its irrational first impression (of course we can’t eat a forest), forces the mind to think, if just a little bit, about its inference and thus sticks in our memories”. It appeared from Bradley’s research that the two words had, prior to the 80’s, never been put together before as a noun phrase but which by today, after more than two decades of Bradley’s “Edible Forest Nursery” and the 2005 text by Jacke and Toensmeirer’s- “Edible Forest Gardens”, has grown into a movement and little “Edible Forests” all over the world.

In 2005, Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier’s two-volume Edible Forest Gardens provided a deeply researched reference focused on North American forest gardening climates, habitats, and species. The book attempts to ground forest gardening deeply in ecological science. The Apios Institute wiki grew out of their work, and seeks to document and share the experience of people around the world working with the species in polycultures.

Bill Mollison, who coined the term Permaculture, visited Robert Hart at his forest garden in Wenlock Edge in October 1990. Hart’s seven-layer system has since been adopted as a common Forest gardening design element.

Numerous permaculturalists are proponents of forest gardens, or food forests, such as Graham Bell, Patrick Whitefield, Dave Jacke, Eric Toensmeier and Geoff Lawton. Bell started building his forest garden in 1991 and wrote the book The Forest gardening Garden in 1995, Whitefield wrote the book How to Make a Forest Garden in 2002, Jacke and Toensmeier co-authored the two volume book set Edible Forest Gardens in 2005, and Lawton presented the film Establishing a Food Forest in 2008.

Austrian Sepp Holzer practices “Holzer Forest gardening” on his Krameterhof farm, at varying altitudes ranging from 1,100 to 1,500 metres above sea level. His designs create micro-climates with rocks, ponds and living wind barriers, enabling the cultivation of a variety of fruit trees, vegetables and flowers in a region that averages 4 °C, and with temperatures as low as -20 °C in the winter.

Since the terms “Forest gardening” and “Forest gardening” are not protected by trademark law and there is no state-recognized training occupation for learning Forest gardening in Germany, a permafilter has established its own worldwide recognized education system. The basic training takes place worldwide in the form of so-called “Forest gardening Design Certificate” courses (PDK or English PDC). In at least 72 lessons, the basics of Forest gardening are taught there. The courses build on the book Forest gardening Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and are offered by numerous facilities. They are consciously addressed to anyone, even without prior knowledge.

Building on this course, the Forest gardening academy in Germany, among others, offers training in Germany as a diploma Forest gardening designer. This will take two to three years and ends with the equally recognized in international Forest gardening networks “Diploma of Applied Forest gardening”. Both degrees are not recognized by the state in Germany. However, since 2006, the Academy has been a project honored by the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The professionalisation of the training concept aims to strengthen an innovative and future-oriented job profile. Since 2013, the Permakultur-Campus (Hamburg) has also been offering one and a half to two years of training as a graduate Forest gardening designer in Northern Germany.

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The educational concept recommends the beginning with small manageable systems (small scale design). The preferred learning method is action learning, thinking and acting should alternate.

Forest gardening Ethics
The application of Forest gardening principles in the sense of an integrative, sustainable design of our habitats has led from the outset to the formulation of ethical principles. These too were and are constantly being developed and form the basic attitude of Forest gardening thinking and acting. They should be understood as a guideline for any Forest gardening design, be it a gardening, agriculture or forestry project, be it the construction of a house or a whole settlement.

These basic ethical values cover the above-mentioned ecological, economic and social components and can be summarized with the following three terms.

Mindful Earth Care (Earthcare) – this ecological component aims at the cautious and foresighted approach to the natural resources of life (resources) that are perceived as a gift of the earth to all living things. A Forest gardening design as sustainable to describe the natural intended regeneration cycles (material – and energy cycles) to be scheduled the life support systems consciously and long term.
Mindful treatment of people (Peoplecare) – this social component takes particular account of the self-determination rights of all people. Here the problem of freedom and responsibility becomes particularly clear. Ensuring everyone’s right to freely use their livelihoods requires a balance between individual and community needs. This gives rise to an ethical demand for social justice. All people should have the same right of access to their livelihoods.
Self-limitation (growth retreatment) and surplus distribution (limits to consumption and growth, redistribution of surpluses) – This economic component derives from the limited capacity and regenerative capacity of planet Earth. People should learn to exercise a sustainable self-sufficiency in satisfying their needs, both as individuals and as a community. The third component therefore stands for a deliberate implementation of self-limitation and a (re) distribution of the jointly achieved surpluses. The latter also refers to the adequate return to natural cycles. This closes the circle to Earthcare andPeoplecare, or overlap the three ethical aspects.
As a sustainable form of management, Forest gardening aims to secure sufficient long-term yields while minimizing labor (energy consumption).

Forest gardening systems show how individuals and communities can largely self-cater for themselves with little resources, space and time, and an understanding of natural cycles. Forest gardening projects use u. a. storing rainwater and solar energy, using it efficiently, improving soil fertility and practicing near-natural waste prevention, using the output of one system element as input to the others.

In the long term rather than the short term
Forest gardening is ethically committed to ensuring the widest possible scope for future generations. Soil, water and all other life-sustaining resources should be managed and maintained for long-term use.

The international Forest gardening movement supports and practices the construction of productive structures and systems that enable all people to live a healthy, self-determined and peaceful life.

Diversity instead of simplicity
The design and preservation of diversity is a central concern of Forest gardening. Naturally grown ecosystems are a role model. Culturally created systems are healthier, more productive and more sustainable, if they are just as diverse. Mixed cultures instead of monocultures are mentioned as an example.

Four aspects of diversity are important for a Forest gardening design:

Biodiversity – the number of different species of plants and animals. It is an indispensable condition for the construction and maintenance of ecosystems, as well as for a constant adaptability to evolutionary changes.
Genetic diversity – the number of different varieties and species of plants and animals. It is important for ensuring regionally adapted, healthy and adequate food. Genetic engineering and unilateral up-breeding of certain varieties, according to Forest gardening, endanger human survival if other varieties are not continued to be used or disappear successively.
Ecological diversity – ecosystems / biotopes with their wild plants and animal species, as well as the numerous nicheswho use these for themselves. This diversified use of existing resources, in turn, promotes and ensures biodiversity and genetic diversity. This niche strategy is transferred to Forest gardening systems: for example, sheep eat short grasses, and cattle longer ones: what some leave behind is eaten by the others. That’s why someone with a herd of cows can hold about the same number of sheep without widening the pasture. Wheat and beans or barley and lentils also occupy slightly different niches, and it is known that such mixed cultures produce a significantly higher total yield than a monoculture of the same size. The same increases through different niches can be achieved with a thoughtful combination of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs and farm animals.
Cultural diversity – in particular the different cultivation techniques, supply and disposal systems, architecture and housing development. Here Forest gardening means the close observation and planning with local / regional characteristics and the predominant use of existing resources. This approach leads to the use of adapted technologies and focuses on the preservation of successful grown structures.

Sustainable optimization instead of short-term maximization
The above-mentioned transfer of the niche strategy to agriculture illustrates this principle. Rather than increasing pasture land or cultivating monocultures to be more economically efficient in the short term, using diversity (multiple livestock, mixed crops,…) allows the area to be used effectively over the long term, keeping the system small, and increasing productivity total increase. Permakulturelle goals are thus better achieved.

Sustainably efficient design makes better use of existing resources. This advantage of sustainable versus short-term efficiencyshow us the waste-free nutrient cycles in nature. Plants and animals do not produce ‘waste’ because they are part of a sustainable system that reuses the remains of one as food for others, such as feed or fertilizer. The higher the diversity in a system, the more sustainable the existing resources will be used. A system designed for short-term efficiency would only look to make the best use of a single resource until it is finally used up; the other resources remain unused and atrophy. Therefore, systems designed for mere short-term efficiency are less productive in the long term than sustainably efficient ones.

The photo shows how running ducks, chickens and sheep undisturbed satisfy their respective needs. At the same time, existing resources are used sustainably and efficiently; What some do not like, eat the others. The different niches enable cooperation in a relatively small space. Permaculturally designed systems use this successful ecological strategy to build and maintain integrated habitats of humans, animals and plants.

Optimize instead of Maximize
The understanding of ecosystems and the guiding principle of sustainable efficiency rather than just short-term efficiency immediately leads to the insight that self-designed systems are primarily kept small by optimization, rather than enlarged to maximize returns. In the long term, that would be a waste of energy, because the higher the diversity used and the higher its productive sales capacity, the less energy has to be put into the system. Incidentally, diversity increases the reliability of the system.

For this reason, in a Forest gardening design, more attention is paid to the relationships between the elements than just the elements themselves. In addition, small systems are in principle more manageable than large ones because we humans have a limited understanding of complex processes. Systemic thinking requires complex thinking, but that need not be complicated as long as the system is small and the set of elements is adequate.

An example of smart small-scale design is the herbal spiral. The photo shows how the required acreage can be kept small by using different dimensions and levels with different soil profiles. Especially in densely populated areas with little available acreage this strategy is an adequate and helpful solution.

The design of larger systems, on the other hand, is best done in the form of a mosaic of subsystems. Subsystem formation occurs in nature when it reaches a critical size, preserves the system (survival), and can be understood as a strategy for optimization (rather than maximization). Thus, there is an optimal size for all systems, whose exceeding would endanger the existence of disadvantages:

short-term or long-term inefficiency (decrease in productivity or efficiency, under-utilization of resources, negative total energy balance)
Solidification (loss of flexibility, destructive momentum, collapse)
The optimal size relates both to the spatial extent and the growth dynamics of the system elements: Short paths and dense circuits are more efficient in the short or long term than large-scale structures; Diversity of relationships (multifunctionality) and limited growth (saturation) of elements ensure flexibility, durability and self-regulation of systems.

Cooperation instead of competition
To z. For example, if we want a garden that will feed us to be productive for the longest time with the least amount of energy, we need strategies that allow us to largely leave it to ourselves. This includes the use of cooperative structures, such as biological pest regulation. Pesticides produced with high energy expenditure not only drive away the ‘pests’, but also the ‘beneficials’ who can do us a lot of work. As soon as the ‘pests’ immigrate again the ‘beneficials’ are missing, because they found no food for a long time. Now the damage is only really big, because the population of the ‘pests’ gets out of control, which increases the renewed energy expenditure.

Such self-induced destructive feedbacks develop the above-mentioned momentum and endanger the system up to collapse. Instead of trying to compete with the ‘pests’ with wasteful use of pesticides, the use of cooperative self-regulation helps to ensure productivity with minimal effort.

The photo shows how running ducks and geese assist the gardening people as cooperative gardeners. The run ducks do a lot of snail problem and keep together with the geese the grass on the trails short. As a result, humans have energy-saving and cost-saving advantages: less care and a simultaneous increase in overall yield. The use of pesticides and / or herbicides can be dispensed with by a cleverly chosen combination of plants and animals. Given a high standard of self-sufficiency, this strategy has a correspondingly high priority.

Design process
A complete design process involves a constantly recurring cycle of planning, construction and maintenance of design with the goal of successive optimization. The observations and reflections from the action learning process are used. The following list contains a (incomplete) selection of planning aids, design principles, and considerations for preserving a design.

Planning aids
Planning according to state differences: Observation and analysis of a place according to conflicting qualitative characteristics (warm – cold, humid – dry, calm – animated, sunny – shady,…) with the aim to better assess the given conditions and to include them in the planning. In temperate climates, this planning tool is only complete if the analysis extends over all seasons.
Planning for Real: The entire design process is opened from the beginning for all those affected or interested. All kinds of data collection methods can be used (interview, open space, paper computers, role plays,…).
Data Overlay: Overlaying multiple transparent slides, each containing special, variable planning elements (water cycle, acreage, living space, play and recreation areas,…), in order to be able to make a visual impression of the later implementation before implementation.
Flowcharts: Graphic clarification of resource flows (energies, substances, information) to understand system-inherent dynamics (feedback, etc.).
Zoning and Sectoring: Design through a combination of spatially and temporally given influences (sectors) and self-configurable elements (zones).

El Pilar on the Belize-Guatemala border features a forest garden to demonstrate traditional Maya agricultural practices. A further 1-acre model forest garden, called Känan K’aax (meaning well-tended garden in Mayan), is being funded by the National Geographic Society and developed at Santa Familia Primary School in Cayo.

In the United States the largest known food forest on public land is believed to be the 7-acre Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, Washington. Other forest garden projects include those at the Central Rocky Mountain Forest gardening Institute in Basalt, Colorado and Montview Neighborhood farm in Northampton, Massachusetts. Boston Food Forest Coalition offers an innovative new model of neighborhood forest gardens stewarded by local leaders linked in a web of mutual aid through a non-profit land trust.

In Canada food forester Richard Walker has been developing and maintaining food forests in the province of British Columbia for over 30 years. He developed a 3-acre food forest that when at maturity provided raw materials for a nursery and herbalism business as well as food for his family. The Living Centre have developed various forest garden projects in Ontario.

In the United Kingdom, other than those run by the Agroforestry Research Trust (ART), there are numerous forest garden projects such as the Bangor Forest Garden in Gwynedd, North West Wales. Martin Crawford from ART administers the Forest Garden Network, an informal network of people and organisations around the world who are cultivating their own forest gardens.

Source from Wikipedia