Creating a Food Forest

Creating a Food Forest


To make maximum use of small spaces we will take a look at forest garden design. A simple forest garden contains three layers: trees, shrubs, and ground plants. But for those who like to take advantage of every planting opportunity, a more complex forest garden can contain as many as seven tiers of vegetation. This can even be done with a balcony or tiny space with the use of pots and terracing if you limit the size of the Tallest layer.


The Seven-Layer Forest Garden


The Tall-Tree Layer

This is a full-sized fruit, nut, or other useful trees, with spaces between to let plenty of light reach the lower layers. In my tiny little garden we have only one of these, the Plum tree. It was already there when I moved into my place so it produces each year


The Low-Tree Layer

Here are many of the same fruits and nuts as in the canopy, but on dwarf and semidwarf rootstocks to keep them low growing. Plus, we can plant naturally small trees such as apricot, peach, and nectarine. In my tiny little garden we have a few patio/dwarf trees in containers, the tree


The Shrub Layer

This tier includes flowering, fruiting, wildlife-attracting, and other useful shrubs. A small sampling: currants, blueberry, rose, and dozens of others. In my tiny little garden we have blueberries, black & red currants, raspberries, black berries, roses, cranberry, and goji berry. For me this is the highest yielding layer and the lowest maintenance.


The Herbaceous Layer

This includes vegetables, flowers, culinary herbs, and cover crops, as well as mulch producers and other soil-building plants. Emphasis is on perennials, but we won’t rule out choice annuals and self-seeding species. In my tiny little garden we have thyme, sage, flowers of all kinds, and rosemary.


The Ground-Cover Layer

These are low, ground-hugging plants—preferably varieties that offer food or habitat—that snuggle into edges and the spaces between shrubs and herbs. In my tiny little garden we have strawberries, alpine strawberries, clover, and the varieties of flowers. They play a critical role in weed prevention, occupying ground that would otherwise succumb to invaders. These ones I also grow in terraced pots and vertical areas to make the most of vertical space.


The Vine Layer

This layer is for climbing plants that will twine up trunks and branches, filling the unused regions of the all-important third dimension with food and habitat. In my tiny little garden I have such a permanent kiwifruit and many climbing annuals such as beans, squash and cucumbers (below)


The Root Layer

The soil gives us yet another layer for the forest garden; the third dimension goes both up and down. Most of the plants for the root layer should be shallow rooted, such as garlic and onions, or easy-to-dig types such as potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. Deep-rooted varieties such as carrots don’t work well because the digging they require will disturb other plants. I generally do not plant edible things directly into the soil in my tiny little garden as we have a cat, and several other neighboring cats that like to do their business in the soil. I use pots to grow potatoes, carrots and radish and will grow flower bulbs directly in the soil to which act as attractors of pollinators and utilizes the root layer.


Below is an example of a more traditonal 7 layer forest. As you can see, your imagination is your only limitation.

Remember to utilise shade loving plants for the lower levels and go vertical as much as you can.


Wishing you a wonderful planting season.