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Forest gardening

Forest gardening and agroforestry are disciplines of permaculture. They use woodlands for gardening and farming that require limited care and labor to maintain. They use companion planting layers to create a food-producing, woodland ecosystem.

A Chicagoland forest
Photo by Elaine C. Shigley

Prehistoric peoples in tropical climates used agroforestry to grow food along river beds and in primordial forests. They learned which plants were edible and removed any that were not. This form of agriculture is being used today in tropical regions. In the 1980s, Robert Hart adapted permaculture principles and invented the phrase ‘forest gardening’ at his home in the England. He successfully created a method of forest gardening for temperate regions.

Robert Hart’s ‘Seven Layer of System of Forest Gardening’ follows well-founded principles and is never a haphazard method. The first three layers of the system are adjacent to each other. The first layer called the ‘Canopy Layer’ uses mature, established fruit trees that provide shade. The next layer called the ‘Low Tree Layer’ comprises smaller fruit and nut trees on controlled root stocks. The third layer the ‘Shrub Layer’ consists of fruit-bearing shrubs like red or black currants and varieties of berries.

The remaining layers are arranged under the first three layers. The fourth layer or ‘Herbaceous Layer’ contains perennial herbs and vegetables that grow well in partially sunny locations. The ‘Ground Cover Layer’ consists of spreading edible plants arranged in rows. Edible roots and tubers comprise the ‘Rhizosphere,’ the sixth layer. The last layer is the ‘Vertical Layer’ of climbing vines that produce edible food and grow vertically up the trees.

Forest gardening doesn’t require vast areas. It can be accomplished in a backyard in Chicago. This kind of gardening is appealing because it doesn’t require endless hours of work.

Live long and well—garden.

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