Forest Garden course dates

Some of you have been waiting for the dates of the Forest Garden weekend course I’ve been planning, and I’m pleased to say that they are now posted on a new page on the website, which gives loads more information about the course.

Quick hack – January 4 -6 2019.

Running during the summer holidays might enable more people to attend, plus you get to work on your forest garden designs for a few months before winter (peak season for planting bare-rooted fruit trees that might be the lynch-pins of your design).  Course numbers are limited to 18 to ensure a quality training experience.

Please share this with friends who might be interested – I’m excited to be sharing both the wisdom I’ve received from Dave Jacke, Martin Crawford and others, but also to pull together a crew of people passionate about creating forest gardens.  I predict a fun weekend and many stimulating conversations and networking opportunities! 🙂

Try again

When Dave Jacke was out here for the Forest Garden Design Intensive in 2016, we planted out a forest garden area and put in a heap of mostly native ground covers… which were swamped by fungi and grass within a few months.

Having now recovered the site from the grass and restored the larger plants to health with daily watering over the last few weeks of Summer, my thoughts turned to the ground covers.  A couple of cooler days after a big storm seemed a perfect time to put just a few new seedlings in.

I visited Matt Pywell at Ballarat Wild Plants and he gave me a great deal on some little fellas .  [Ballarat Wild Plants. 5333 5548/ 0409 388 014 wildplants@ncable.net.au ]

Viola hederacea

Daley’s say that the flowers are edible and can be used in salads, but I’m mainly after it forming a dense mat.  It dies back in Winter, so we’ll have to see how it copes with Ballarat frosts.  I had one from the first planting which did quite well until it was accidentally ‘weeded’ out.

Eutaxia microphylla prostrate

This wasn’t part of my original planting plan, but it’s a member of the Fabacea (pea) family so I’m hoping to gain some Nitrogen as well as an attractive ground cover.  It’s often grown in rockeries and likes dry sunny spots, so I’ve planted it on solar oriented sides of raised beds.

Hardenbergia violacea

Commonly known as “Running Postman”, this is another Fabacea family Nitrogen fixer, which isn’t a ground cover so much as a sprawling rambler or climber.  I’ve planted one either side of a patch of established dwarf comfrey, hoping that it will ramble through them.  Matt tells me this is a local selection which is less vigorous than others so it won’t swamp the comfrey or the fig planted in the middle of the comfrey.

Amaranthus spp

While not part of today’s ground cover planting, I thought you might like to see these Amaranth which we planted to fill a gap – and because Clara cranked out so many seedlings so we had plenty spare.  You might call it taking advantage of a ‘space’ in the succession.  I planted Eutaxia and Viola under the amaranth, so they can start to colonise the ground while we take advantage of the chance to harvest some Amaranth grain.  Stacking layers, stacking functions… sounds like permaculture to me.  🙂

Portulaca oleracea sativa

This Golden Purslane is an annual that we planted to take advantage of the bare ground and frequent watering.  Purslane is lovely in a summer salad,; it is crisp and juicy, with a mixed sweet & sour taste.  This variety is much bigger than the purslane I’ve got growing randomly in the lawn or veggie beds.   (Note the flush of new growth in the black currant behind… don’t plants love frequent watering and no grass competing with them!)

Martin Crawford says the ground cover layer is the most important in a forest garden.   Let’s hope today’s little guys do better than the last and that bare ground is soon green and grey!

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!