The Roundfield trip to Martin Crawford’s forest garden had been a long time coming. Talk of Martin’s course has been echoing around our office for literally years so we were both pretty chuffed to finally make the journey down to his two acre site near Totnes.
“Martin Crawford has spent the last 15 years creating what is almost certainly the best forest garden in the temperate world…
and the breadth of his knowledge matches the depth of his experience..”
Patrick Whitefield, author, Permaculture in a Nutshell and The Earth Care Manual
The overall aim of this two day course is to give those attending an overview of how to design, implement and maintain a temperate forest garden. We were already reasonably familiar with many of the principals having spent the last year or so pouring over Martin’s excellent book (Creating a Forest Garden: Working with nature to grow edible crops). However of course this was nothing compared to seeing and experiencing the garden first hand. Most of the weekend was spent being shown around the garden which was looking amazingly verdant after the wet start to summer with many of the plants having just flowered and beginning to set fruit of various kinds.
Elements of the course included study of the various layers of planting: The canopy layer which includes fruit trees such as Medlars (Mespilus germanica), Szechuan Pepper as well as more traditional fruits such as apples and plums alongside nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs such as Italian Alder (Alnus cordata) and Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). A lot of these plants have more than one use within the system in that they may provide fruit, shelter, nectar and Nitrogen. The shrub layers contain many smaller fruiting bushes such as Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles spp.) whilst the groundcover layers contain rambling soft fruit such as Chinese Bramble (Rubus tricolor) alongside groundcover herbs such as Lemon balm, many types of Mint and Oregano.
It was incredibly inspiring to see how productive two acres can be. The amount of energy that Martin and his family expend maintaining the garden is minimal with far more time being spent harvesting than weeding or feeding. Now it is established, the system largely looks after itself in the same way that a woodland will cycle nutrients and provide forage for wildlife and humans alike. The abundance is seemingly effortless. The lunches provided were a delicious way of showcasing the harvest. The array of salads, preserves and dips all made with leaves, herbs, fruits and nuts gathered from the garden were amazingly tasty. Martin’s assertion that perennial plants offer higher levels of nutrition is easy to believe when food tastes this vital.
We are continuing to find more ways to apply the principals of forest gardening (and permaculture) to our designs. The visit to Martin’s garden was further proof that utilising and respecting natural processes is the only way to create truly sustainable multi-functional landscapes that offer as much to the wildlife of an area as they offer in amenity and food.