On the train to Melbourne and back yesterday I was re-reading Robert Hart’s 1996 book “Forest Gardening” and here’s a nice reminder from Robert:
“A forest garden is not a static thing, it is a complex living organism which means a developing organism; it changes from year to year, even from day to day. I would urge anyone who starts a forest garden to adopt a creative attitude towards it; to learn and observe; to study and do research. Humankind has an enormous amount to learn about plants, above all about their relationships between each other, and the amateur can make as important discoveries by observation and experiment as can the trained scientist with his disciplines and instruments. ” (p 149)
Observations? The first forest garden patch here at Chestnut Farm was planted during the Forest Garden Design Intensive with Dave Jacke in 2016. Within months it was subjected to the wettest Winter in memory, which caused an eruption of fungi to burst out of the cardboard we’d used to sheet mulch – smothering many of the tubestock seedlings. The expensive Australian native groundcovers hated the enriched soil we used around the fruit trees, but exotic grasses loved it and invaded happily. One rare plant was repeatedly browsed by possums until it succumbed and returned no more. Whoops!
Some of our hardier plantings, including sea kale, dwarf comfrey, black currants, rhubarb, balm of gilead, lemon balm and various alliums all survived. Once the grass was removed last month, it was relief to see the bare bones of a forest garden remained!
Experiments? Keeping in mind Martin Crawford’s entreaty that the ground cover layer is the most important, we wanted to get stuff growing in the gaps between the surviving plants, so have planted different seedlings we have right now: particularly amaranth and Daubenton’s kale. I confess it might be better to have a little more discipline with our experiments, so we’re chasing some more of the groundcovers and we’re even going to try some of those Nitrogen-fixing Aussie natives again!