Thursday, May 28, 2015

Size Doesn't Matter, At Least In Forest Gardening

I've been a proponent of forest gardening for a couple of years now. One of the most frequent questions I get is "How much land do you have to have in order to create a successful forest garden?" The answer is surprising to many people - not much at all.

I have a suburban plot of land that is about .43 of an acre. I find that this is large enough to have a couple of lasagna garden beds next to the front and back porches, a decent size patio where I can grill out, some sunny open space where I can dry clothes on a line, with plenty of room left over to develop a forest garden. Others report that even smaller areas can be made into successful forest gardens.

"Anyone with a patch of land can grow a forest garden. They've been created in small urban yards and large parks, on suburban lots, and in small plots of rural farms. The smallest we have seen was a 30 by 50 foot (9 by 15 m) embankment behind an urban housing project, and smaller versions are definitely possible." -- from a synopsis of Edible Forest Gardens  by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier

"Even if you have a very tiny space in which to plant, say in an urban yard or even a rooftop somewhere, you can still plant a forest garden. Though it might stretch the word "forest" to the breaking point, you can apply the same principles to a small space with as few as two or three semi-dwarf trees and associated plants that fill a 30 foot circle or a 15 by 45 foot rectangle." -- Ursula K. LeGuin

During an email conversation last year with my friend and fellow forest gardening enthusiast Frank Bowman of the UK (check out his idea for growing lots of tree seedlings, fast and cheap), he made a similar point:

"Forest gardening can be done on any size plot. This is very important to emphasise as here in the UK there are many terraced houses, semi detached house, and especially the new build detached houses have postage stamp sized gardens, and if there is going to be a big take up then it has to be on a 'beautiful'! home food garden level, to enthuse people.

Something that I have noticed on Robert Hart's forest garden and everywhere I go, at Hafod, near where I live, at Ty Nant, where I live, and here at the BFG, are 'islands'. There's no reason why allotment veg growers, terraced house yards, small places etc, cannot create islands, which have lots of "edge". By island I mean a large centre tree, one or two smaller trees, then fruit bushes, and herbs, and you could even add a climber! A small island forest garden." --Frank Bowman, private email, 2008

I hope to encourage everyone with even a very small plot of land to consider forest gardening. The idea that you need a lot of land to have a successful forest garden is simply false. The typical suburban backyard is more than sufficient for a successful forest garden, with room left over for other uses. And with Frank Bowman's "small island forest garden" idea, even those with truly tiny yards can be a successful forest gardener!

Want to know more about Forest Gardening? Here is the index to my Forest Gardening Articles.

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