Planning the ‘Forest Garden’ beds

Following up from my analysis of where my garden needs some redesigning, one part of the solution was to plant up half of the raised beds as a forest-type garden; or given the size of the space, in a forest-garden-influenced style. The beds are the ones along the left-hand (western) fence in the photo below. I’ll be keeping the other two beds for annuals.

Several raised beds with paving slabs between them in most of picture, 6 foot fence to left, some grass to right, rose tree in background.
Back garden, early summer 2012

So this is what I’ve come up with:

South-west bed (the long one along the fence in the above photo):

  • Fig at back. Ideally it would be trained as a fan along the fence, but that may be more effort than I have available in terms of management and maintenance. I may instead just prune it to come forwards from the fence rather than backwards, but let it grow (a bit?) outwards. I’ll need to read up a bit more about it before the spring
  • Herbaceous perennials: Daubenton’s Kale, Good King Henry, possibly also planting some (non-perennial, but may self-seed) chard through the ground cover.
  • Ground cover: strawberries (alpine and other), sorrel, hopefully periwinkle if I can get hold of a plant.
  • North-west bed (the one just by the herbs):

    • Grape vine (again) at the back, with extensive manual anti-snail defences. To be trained up fence above the herbs.
    • Herbaceous perennials: bay, fennel, possibly others next year.
    • Ground cover: oregano and thyme. The oregano should do much better in the ground than it is doing in pots. Alpine strawberries, as I got a huge load of runners the other week. Rocket (not perennial, but self-seeds).

    There should be room for next year’s tomatoes in pots between the two beds against the fence, and then south of the south-west bed, where they’ve been this year.

    I’ve read that you can grow asparagus through ground cover as a herbaceous perennial, which if it’s true I may try the year after next. (I like asparagus, but the last time I grew it my feeling was that it took up quite a lot of space, which you couldn’t use for anything else the rest of the year, for a very small crop.) I’d also like to investigate other perennial salad leaves, but for now that is enough to get started.

    I’ve ordered my various bare-root trees/shrubs from Martin Crawford’s Agroforestry Research Trust, so am looking forward to their arrival in December!

The Garden Project: 2013 successes

A quick round-up of this year’s garden successes, as the summer growing season comes to a close and I start thinking about autumn planting.

  • Garlic! No photo, but I got between 12 and 15 garlic bulbs, all of which are tasty and fairly easy to peel. That’s 4-5 weeks of our garlic supply, which is great. (We use a lot of garlic.) I will definitely be putting more in in November.
  • Rhubarb plants in front of fence, with grass and a few weeds.
    Doing nicely in the shady corner
    The rhubarb I transplanted from the allotment has settled in fine, despite being transplanted at totally the wrong time of year. No harvest this year as I’ve been letting it gather its strength, but looking forward to rhubarb crumble and rhubarb jam next year.

  • Small, young apple tree in small patch of grass in front of fence.
    Lots of apples but looking a bit bendy
    The apple tree is doing very well, despite some concerns with the ants earlier in the year, and we should have a good dozen apples this year, assuming they keep growing and no further problems. It needs a good prune over the winter.

  • This is just one patch of tomatoes; there are others further up the fence
    This is just one patch of tomatoes; there are others further up the fence
    The tomatoes are doing wonderfully. I’ve just started harvesting the first few this week, and they taste great. I have about 50% large (which will mostly be cooked down into passata) and 50% cherry (which will mostly be eaten straight off the vine). The ones in the self-watering containers have once again done best, so plan for next year is to make a few more self-watering containers.

  • Lots of herbs in pots, stacked at different heights on a concrete patio.
    Doing well overall.
    The herb garden has mostly done pretty well. I still think it’s a little underutilised (not all of my pots have been filled). The basil struggled a lot, which I think might be a snail problem (see the problems post for more on snails. Main plans for next year: plant more basil and coriander, deal with snails in some way, find a way of reminding other cooks in the house that the fresh herbs are there.

  • Rocket plants growing right out of their little trough
    The rocket is trying to take over…
    We have all of the rocket in the world (this is just one of the many rocket jungles, some of which emerge from cracks in the paving slabs), mostly self-seeded. The bees like it too. The only issue is that we’re not eating that much of it; I need to think about harvesting strategies for next year. However, as weeds go, I’ll take rocket over most things.

  • Chard and rocket (flowering) in raised bed.
    This all self-seeded, I think. It’s doing great.
    The chard is also doing very well (note also more rocket). I think this lot self-seeded, but I might have planted it. I eat chard quite regularly, so it is being eaten.



The thing I note from this is that it’s the low-maintenance and self-seeded plants that seem to be doing the best. Something to bear in mind when planning for next year.

Maintenance notes for next year:

  • Prune apple tree.
  • Make more SWCs for tomatoes.
  • Consider snail strategies.
  • Plant more basil and coriander.
  • Consider harvesting strategies.

Salad plantings

Also on my March planting list were green salad leaves. All of my preferred green salad leaves are cut-and-come-again types; from a permaculture perspective, that’s a more productive use of the soil as you can keep harvesting throughout the season rather than only getting a once-off harvest then returning to bare earth and having to replant. So I planted sorrel, endive, and rocket, to replace the rocket that’s been growing in the winter veg bed all winter and which will bolt soon.

I was also very pleased to discover a couple of bronze arrowhead seedlings (presumably self-seeded? I’m not sure!) springing up in the pot of my satsuma tree. Bronze arrowhead is one of my favourite lettuces, but I discovered too late that I was out of seed this year. I’ve transplanted the seedlings into the salad veg bed, as they and the satsuma want rather different water conditions, and they’re doing well.

Nothing is growing terribly fast yet, but as of a couple of weeks ago, this was the March-planted corner of my salad veg bed:

You can just about see the seedlings — sorrel and endive in the centre, rocket around the edges — between the cherry blossom fallen from next door’s tree; and the bigger and healthy-looking bronze arrowhead lettuces.

Last week, I planted the April batch of greenery in the next corner of the bed: a different type of oak leaf lettuce, and a batch of Mystery Mixed Lettuces from the Real Seed Company. I’ll be interested to see what I get from those!

Poly-veg winter bed: update

With the single currently-active raised bed in the back garden, I experimented with a winter polyculture, or mixed-veg bed. It’s now looking very healthy, with plants in various stages of growth:

  • Some garlic poking its head up, all around the edge of the bed. Garlic is often a good choice for edging beds, as it’ll help to keep off pests (when they return in the spring). I didn’t get around to getting a decent bulb of garlic from a proper shop, so I just stuck in cloves from a bulb from the Co-op. I wouldn’t want to save any cloves for next year from this crop (since I know nothing about its parentage), but it was a quick and easy solution.

    Garlic shoots, with other greens around them
  • A row of winter lettuce seedlings at the back of the bed.

    Row of small light green winter lettuce seedlings, with some dark green rocket seedlings
  • Some very healthy-looking broccoli raab and turnips (although the turnips themselves are not up to that much; I will use the greens as well when I pull them up, to make the most of the crop).

    Thickly-sown broccoli raab and turnip plants, looking quite intertwined with each other
  • A couple of small chard plants.

    Three small chard plants, surrounded by other greens
  • You may also spot a fair few small rocket plants scattered around the bed. I had lots of rocket seed so scattered it widely. It needs some fairly aggressive thinning, as it’s over-thick, but it’s very tasty so this isn’t a hardship. Having the soil covered thickly like this with plants I do want reduces the number of plants I don’t want (weeds) which can make their way in.

In addition to that lot, there’s a few snow peas and broad beans that aren’t quite up yet, planted where there were some bare patches towards the back of the bed. Looking for bare patches as the crops start to come up, and taking advantage of them, is another principle of polycultures and forest gardening type approaches.

I’ve also constructed another couple of raised beds (one has some broad beans in, but neither are full of compost yet), and transplanted the rosemary to its new home against the fence. The soil here is not great for a Mediterranean herb like rosemary; it’s very clay-heavy, and not well-drained. To give the plant the best chance, we dug a biggish hole and dug in some compost and sharp sand at the bottom of it and around the plant. It’s a sturdy plant (and was badly outgrowing its pot), so hopefully it’ll survive the winter and get going again in the spring. The cuttings that I took (in case it does turn up its roots and die) seem to be doing well so far.

For the end of November, it’s all looking pleasingly green; and I’m still getting regular (albeit small) crops of greens from it.