Forest Garden prep

The Forest Garden weekend course kicks off next Friday. I consciously postponed the course to January so that I could implement some of the lessons learned with Rowe Morrow last month. Look out for more fun & games and less lecture, people!

I’m excited to be sharing some of the information I’ve gleaned on my own forest garden journey. I remember wrestling with whether to make the trek to Milkwood, Mudgee, to do the 9 day intensive with Dave Jacke in 2013. So glad I did! That started a series of explorations that included going to the ‘States the next year to do a teacher training course with Dave (in Tennessee no less!) and touring various gardens in the US as part of that trip, then going to the UK for six weeks in 2017, which included courses with Martin Crawford and visits to many more gardens.

Chestnut Farm Cottage Garden
Graham Bell’s garden, Coldstream
Martin Crawford’s garden, Devon
Chestnut Farm forest garden planting 2016
Chestnut Farm forest garden late 2018 – still developing but a lot of the key plants thriving

Robert Hart quote

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!