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The US chemical giant recently bought the world’s largest seed company, Pioneer hi-bred. Behind Dupont’s new interest in seeds lurks an intention to profit from new technologies that present multiple threats to the environment and public health.

Food, agriculture and the globalisation of trade
The industrialised food production system is being pushed into the Third World by global institutions that now make the rules on trade, with the consequence of more being left without enough land or income to feed themselves.

Organic- The corporate takeover.
The last decade has seen a phenomenal growth of interest in organic food, This has attracted the big corporations and international institutions, they are quickly moving in to take over the market and dictate the meaning of the term organic itself.

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Agroforesrty Research Trust
at the forefront of vital research into tree, shrub and perennial crops for our temperate climate.

Plants for a Future
The best resource for researching plants useful in forest gardening. You can search the database by plant uses, location and type.

Primal Seeds exists as a network to actively engage in protecting biodiversity and creating local food security.

It is a response to industrial agriculture, the control of the seed supply and of our food.



Forest Gardening



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“Diversity is the keynote of the forest garden...it is far more than a system for supplying mankind's material needs. It is a way of life that also supplies people's spiritual needs by its beauty and the wealth of wildlife it attracts.”
Robert Hart, Forest Gardening

Woodland is the natural vegetation of the vast majority of Europe (and 97% of the British Isles). Natural forests grow and live year after year without the need for human intervention, the soil never looses fertility or depletes. Natural woodlands are highly resilient systems, biologically sustainable and very adaptable to change.

Forest gardens are based on the model of natural woodland, with edible and other useful plant species used for all the layers of vegetation from the tree canopy to the woodland floor. Forest gardening is working with nature, the antithesis of annual monocultures a method of farming that expends energy fighting against nature.

Forest gardens, often known as home gardens, have been cultivated since ancient times in tropical Africa and Asia usually in small areas (less than a hectare) around households where they provide an important source of food, and for some extra income. In China forest gardening has a long history in both tropical and temperate regions. Chinese forest gardens integrate fruit and timber trees, bamboos, vegetables, medicinal plants, and often poultry.

In the West simple “two-storey” systems have long been used, mixing orchards and grazing animals or hazels with vegetables for example. In the 1960’s the late Robert Hart in England began looking at the potential of fully integrated forest gardens in the temperate climate of North West Europe. Many have been inspired by his writings and continued this pioneering work. From this today it is clear that diverse and highly productive forest gardens are very feasible in the temperate world.

In tropical climates strong sunlight reaches though the canopy, whereas in cooler climates light is very limited, meaning that most of the traditional food crops, grains and vegetables cannot be grown in temperate forest gardens, except in clearings. However, as long as trees do not form a closed canopy that shuts out all light, there are a surprisingly large amount of edible plants that can be grown. (See Appendix for examples)

The 2.1-acre demonstration garden of the Agroforesty Research Trust in Dartington, Devon illustrates the potential of forest gardening. Started in 1994, most of the planting is now completed and there are a staggering variety of useful plants, including around 100 different species of tree and shrub crops. The garden maintained very simply using hardly any imported materials of any kind and the eventual aim is that the soil fertility will maintain itself with the aid of the many nitrogen fixing plants used.

The cultivation of forest gardens requires getting to know new edible plants. These include tree crops, shrubs, shade tolerant perennials and some annuals and short lived plants that will spread themselves by seed. Productivity is dependent upon intensity of management, but even a very low maintenance forest garden is more efficient and has a greater output than all conventional forms of agriculture and gardening.

The multiple advantages of forest gardens:

  • Low maintenance once established, no digging, most crops are perennial.
  • The most productive and efficient system of food production.
  • Very wide range of useful products fruits, nuts, leaf crops, root crops, herbs, mushrooms, wood, poles, fibres, basketry materials etc.
  • Self-maintain soil fertility, a genuinely ecologically sustainable system.
  • Trees take up carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
  • Offer habitats and food to wildlife.

The drawbacks of forest gardens are also the reasons why such systems are never likely to be incorporated into commercially orientated agriculture. Although maintenance needs are very low once established, forest gardens take many years to establish, require a carefully thought through design process and information about the needs and uses of a wide variety of plants. Unlike working with unnatural simplified systems, diverse and complex natural systems require growers to be attentive, intuitive and adaptable. While forest gardens have the highest total yields, simplified systems have been designed to produce a bulk of a single product at the same time, and to suit mechanised practices.

Designing and establishing a Forest Garden
nless using a site with already mature trees, even a small forest garden is a long-term project requiring planning. Design and plant choices need to consider local climate and soil conditions, light levels and the amount of work needed for maintenance. There are a number of very well researched and useful sources of information now available to help in this process, see Appendix 2 at the end of this page.

Small forest gardens in reasonably sheltered locations can be established all in one go. In exposed spots, windbreak hedges may need to be planted first. While trees are still young, the ground receives much more light than in the fully developed forest garden and the introduction of shade loving ground cover plants may be best delayed.

Trees and shrubs are generally bought (many are difficult to grow from seed), but unless you have a large budget and not much space to fill, perennials generally have to be grown from seed. Very few forest garden perennials would succeed from a direct sowing in most circumstances. This requires having somewhere and someone to propagate plants, although there are many ground covers that will, given the space, spread freely once introduced.

Forest gardens will never supply all our carbohydrate and protein needs, even if we were to radically change our diet, but they do have a major part to play in any future ecologically sound agriculture. They are particularly suitable for urban and near urban locations, smallholdings, areas with existing trees, orchards, and integrated natural farms. Both aesthetically beautiful and productive, forest gardens have great potential to inform, inspire and reconnect people to plants and the land.


Appendix - Food Plants For Temperate Forest Gardens

Canopy layer- Edible Tree Crops
Well known.
Apple, Pear, Plum (Gage), Damson, Elder, Walnut, Hazel (Filbert, Cob-nut), Sweet Chestnut, Cherry, Almond.

Less well known.
Juneberry (Amelanchier species), Hawthorn, Limes for edible leaves (Tilia species), Dogwoods (Cornus species), Whitebeam, Mulberry, Quince, Oleasters (Elaeagnus ebbiginei), Siberean Pea Tree (Carangana arborenscens), Pine nuts, Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo), Blue Bean (Decaisnea fargesii) Ginkgo bilboa.

Shrub layer- Edible crops
Well known:
Blackcurrant (and Red/ White currant), Gooseberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Hybrid berries (Loganberry, Jostaberry, Worcesterberry etc.), Blueberry

Less well known:
Barberry (Berberis species), Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Salmonberry (Rubus parviflorus), Salal (Gaultheria Shallon), Juniper, Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa), Ramanas Rosa (Rosa rugosa), Elaeagnus (Elaeagnus commutata/ multiflora)

Edible ground cover layer- Perennials, small and prostrate shrubs
Well known:
Strawberry, Sorrels, Swiss Chard, Rhubarb, Kale, Lovage, Jerusalem Artichoke, Mints, Fennel, Horseradish, Seacale, Purslane, Burdock

Less well known:
Mallows (Malva species), Mitsuba/ Japanese Parsley, Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Land cress (Barbarea verna), Good King Henry, Nepalsese Raspberry (Rubus nepalensis), Bilberry (Vaccinium species), Babbington leek (Allium babbingtonii), Ramsons/ Wild garlic (Allium ursinium), Day lilies (Hemerocallis species), Pink Purslane (Claytonia sibirica), Sweet Violet (Viola odorata), Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), Creeping Dogwood (Cornus canadensis).

Well known:
Hop, Grape, Kiwi

Less well known:
Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia species), Mayhop (Passiflora incarnata), Magnolia vine (Schisandra chinensis)*

Further Reading:

'Forest Gardening -- Cultivating an Edible Landscape'
by Robert Hart
a pioneer, whose thinking was well ahead of his contemporaries and an inspirational writer. A book will make you want to get out there and do it.
'How to Make a Forest Garden'
by Patrick Whitefield
The best practical introduction, clearly written and laid out taking you step by step through the design and planning process needed for creating a forest garden.
'Hybrid rice in Asia: The unfolding threat.'
Until recently, rice was never commercially hybridised, there was no seed industry activity in rice. All of this is changing now and it will revolutionise rice farming in Asia.
'Wal-Mart’s arrival in UK is likely to spell disaster for local communities.'
by Andy Rowell
Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest and fastest expanding retailer. In order to become number one, Wal-Mart does its best to destroy the competition, and that’s not all it will destroy.
'Terminator technology: The threat to world food security'
by R. Steinbrecher and Pat Mooney.
The terminator rides to the rescue of long suffering multinationals who have been unable to hold farmers back from saving seeds.
'Apomixis: The Plant breeders dream.'
The agrochemical-biotech-seed corporations are investing heavily to develop this method of mass producing cloned hybrid seed much more cheaply. If they succeed there are frightening consequences on both biodiversity and the independence of farmers.


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