The forest garden in Devon ‘with an air of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory’

Greg Stevens

Mark Diacono on Martin Crawford, the guy who has influenced him for a long time.

20 a long time back, an acquaintance mentioned I could possibly be interested in ‘this chap who’s planting like a forest, only it is food’. I scoured the world-wide-web, I tracked him down, and persuaded him to permit me go to. The subsequent day I spent with Martin Crawford caused a finish change in my kitchen-backyard garden mentality.

This, he explained, was a forest back garden. Fairly than observe the regular kitchen area-backyard method with annual greens planted in strains and developed practically in two-dimensional structure, a forest backyard garden is built to mimic a normal woodland, prepared and planted in integrated tiers, starting with the cover, beneath which lesser trees, shrubs and herbaceous layers flourished, alongside one another with ground-address and subterranean harvests, each individual connected by climbers.

The emphasis on perennial crops delivers resilience and a lengthy successful time: following 12 months just one, the perennials’ deep root technique means they are a lot less inclined to drought or floods than annuals and lots of turn into successful early in the 12 months.

Developing in crops that enrich the soil and feed the successful vegetation is integral to the tactic: mineral accumulators, these types of as comfrey, root deeply, drawing up nutrients and other trace aspects from reduced in the soil profile to become offered in the topsoil when their leaves are slash nitrogen fixers such as clover and autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) get nitrogen from the air and make it readily available to neighbouring vegetation through their root method or leaf drop. This maintains fertility obviously. Numerous also attract in pollinators and other useful insects to help retain an ecological equilibrium.

With all this chat of efficiency, let’s not forget about that forest-backyard design has lots of of the sensibilities of classic ornamental-backyard garden design — planting for visual attractiveness seasonal desire sensitivity to aspect, soil form and so on — always maximising flavour, variety, wildlife value and incorporating vegetation that enhance the health of the soil.

While we ended up strolling about a new job — mainly younger vegetation a couple of a long time at most in the floor — I realized this was how I preferred to expand and I planted a quarter-acre forest garden at my previous smallholding, Otter Farm.

It incorporated walnuts amid the cover trees, Asian pears and medlars beneath, Sichuan pepper and jostaberries section of the shrub layer, rhubarb and artichokes amongst the herbaceous vegetation, with Moroccan mint and Nepalese raspberries offering groundcover, yacón, oca and mashua supplying me underground harvests, and climbers these as kiwi and akebia. It took time and energy originally. Creating the groundcover — by applying thick card to mulch out any weeds and grass if needed in advance of planting—is essential, but get that suitable and you have a clear foundation on which to create.


Woodland is the natural vegetation of significantly of the nation, which indicates that, as soon as recognized, forest gardens are in harmony with Nature’s trajectory and reach a purely natural equilibrium with confined routine maintenance. The blend of groundcover and perennial planting does absent with the familiar kitchen-back garden cycle of sowing, hoeing and watering that requires up so a lot of the gardener’s time.

These rules use conveniently to a lesser area, much too. I’ve designed urban forest gardens at the domestic scale and I am employing the identical principles in my personal backyard garden. The essential is to omit the canopy layer that could possibly if not dominate and steal light-weight and plant trees on dwarfing rootstocks or prepare them as followers, cordons, espaliers and pleaches to permit a large assortment of fruit and nuts to be grown, as effectively as maximising the quantity of gentle reaching the lessen levels.

Martin’s forest backyard now has the look and sense of a varied woodland, with paths and clearings punctuating the full. There is an air of Willy Wonka’s chocolate manufacturing unit about it: in summer season, you can arrive at up for a pear or apricot in autumn, Sichuan pepper and walnuts dangle from the trees early spring delivers sweet cicely and Solomon’s seal shoots. Flavours abound and, even at his two-acre scale, ongoing function is minimum.

Martin operates courses ( kingdom), holds open days at his south Devon locale and his textbooks on forest gardening are the necessary tomes. If you’d like to see a young forest yard getting its feet, fork out a stop by to RHS Rosemoor, Devon, where the outstanding workforce is building a forest garden that functions as a changeover in between the more official spots and the superb woodland placing in which Rosemoor sits.

Mark Diacono grows edibles, both usual and uncommon, at Otter Farm in Devon ( His most recent ebook is From Scratch: Ferment (Quadrille, £12.99)

Mark Diacono on the gorgeous and untamed joy of comfrey.

Our resident increase-your-possess qualified Mark Diacono offers his ideas on the shockingly simple hazelnut.

Meals author Mark Diacono shares his recommendations on how to increase cucumbers and a few of his favorite varieties to consider.

Mark Diacono explains why mint is for even the incurably incompetent horticultural enthusiast.

Growing crops particularly to harvest their roots usually takes religion, tolerance and nerve, describes Mark Diacono, but it really is perfectly worthy of the

Position one particular: they’re not artichokes, and they are not from Jerusalem, suggests Mark Diacono.

Mark Diacono has planted dozens of orchards — he shares his wisdom on how to go about it.

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