Red Shed Nursery, Lees Stables, Coldstream TD124LF

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Forest Gardening

Before the ‘communications age’ we had an industrial civilisation. Our capacity to invent and make tools took us to these advances. Before all of that we developed our agriculture – perfecting techniques of husbandry for animals and production of field scale crops, from grain through vegetables. Before all that we were hunter gatherers.

Firewood from the Garden September 2008

Imagine if you didn’t have to work for all your basic needs. You could just go outside and gather them. Well once upon a time that’s just what we did. And we can do again. The extent to which we can derive our basic needs is limited only by the resources available to us – land, time, seed and understanding. Literally and metaphorically. That’s what it means to be a hunter-gatherer.

Prolific harvests provide us with yearly proof of the Forest Garden’s success. Here, an early summer harvest of alpine strawberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, spinach, broad beans, peas and chillies. Picked in less than an hour, less than 30 feet from our back door!

Forest gardens give us a modern interpretation of this world-view. Low input / high output systems, tailored to meeting the maximum productivity from minimum work, by careful thinking, planning, design and execution. Forests are self-fertile assemblages of mutually beneficial trees, plants, fungi, animals, birds and invertebrates, which are productive throughout the seasons and offer niches for flora and fauna to prosper in a mutually supportive way. They are sustained by the natural cycles of life where the outputs of each species meet the needs of each other in intricate and sustaining ways.

Late pears. September 2008 – a long neglected pear tree starts to bear good fruit again after continuous pruning for some years.

The key species as far as we are concerned is us. We can harvest fruit, nuts, vegetables, salads, timber, fibre, fuel and fish and flesh if it’s your taste too. The Amazon jungle has been husbanded by the native population for over five thousand years – it’s not just a wilderness. You can do the same wherever you can live on the planet.

Blenheim OrangeYou have to select varieties appropriate for your environment. This is Blenheim Orange apples in a heavy yielding year (2007) giving hundreds of huge tasty apples off an area of about nine square metres (record so far 80 kilos). Underneath are herbs and golden rod (a great late bee fodder plant). A Cox flavoured apple which can be eaten as a dessert apple or makes an excellent baker, it’s truly north hardy, whereas Cox’s Orange Pippin is a little variable in the North of England / Scotland.

Our garden in the Scottish Borders supports dozens of varieties of apples, pears, asian pears, plums, damsons and gages, hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, red, white and black currants, gooseberries, worcesterberries, a range of hybrid berries (including jostaberries, tayberries and loganberries), raspberries (summer and autumn) , strawberries, blackberries and some more exotic species, such as American and Asian chokeberries, cape gooseberries, banana passionfruit, and walnut species. They are not all equally productive, but planned and managed as an array of produce which gives little more labour need than picking the produce and an occasional prune to let the light in. This in turn yields kindling for the stove and compostable material.

If you want to see our wonderful garden at work, check out pictures around the rest of the site. We run Open Days too: an opportunity to come see it with your own eyes!

As former town councillor Jock Law famously said upon seeing my 1989 10lb pumpkin “Ye cannae grow pumpkins in Scotland”.  He went on to found the Coldstream pumpkin club – still running today.  This baby weighed 94lbs and was gifted to the Marie Curie Foundation for Cancer Care as a raffle prize at a Kelso fundraising ball. The winner was both thrilled and amazed, as was Sandy, Graham’s son who is pictured next to the pumpkin.

8 thoughts on “Forest Gardening”

  1. A comment by an admirer: “This guy is amazing,his and his wife’s garden is archetype,a wonderful bold and innovative example of that which can be achieved by soil care,technique and design.

    Worth a visit even just to stretch your imagination and to see what is actually possible,in action.

    Planning a visit soon.”

  2. Sounds silly but Does a forest garden have to have trees or can you plant alternatives.
    What is the minimum amount of Land required to achieve or can you do a mini version in your own backyard.

    1. If it didn’t have trees it’d be something else. Yes you can start with as little as one tree and create a mini Forest Garden. We supply packs for this purpose…

  3. Hi Graham,

    I run a community garden in Dalkeith. We are becoming a permaculture site as we develop however we have very much been an Ornamental flowers and vegetables garden in the past.

    I’m wondering if you are allowing visitors at the moment. I would love to visit your space, I’m particularly interested in setting up a forest garden and would love to see one before we start to plan our.

    If you can help at all I’d be very happy.

    Many thanks
    Michala Bradshaw

    1. Yes it’s fine to visit by arrangement. This is a registered agricultural holding (all800 sq metres of it) Go to the contacts page and get back to me by phone or e-mail.

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