Forest gardening

A forest garden is a designed agronomic system based on trees, shrubs and perennial plants. These are mixed in such a way as to mimic the structure of a natural forest - the most stable and sustainable type of ecosystem in this climate.

Click below to see a 2010 short video (13 mins) about our forest garden at Dartington.


Longer videos of a tour by Martin Crawford around the garden can be viewed at

The primary aims for the system are:

The crops which are produced will often include fruits, nuts, edible leaves, spices, medicinal plant products, poles, fibres for tying, basketry materials, honey, fuelwood, fodder, mulches, game, sap products.

Forest gardens (often called home gardens) have been used for millennia in tropical regions, where they still often form a major part of the food producing systems which people rely on, even if they work elsewhere for much of the time. They may also provide useful sources of extra income. Their use is intimately linked with prevailing socio-economic conditions. They are usually small in area, often 0.1-1 hectares (0.25-2.5 acres).

In temperate regions, forest gardens are a more recent innovation, many inspired by Robert Hart’s efforts in Shropshire (UK) over the last 30 years. A major limiting factor for temperate forest gardens in the amount of sunlight available to the lower layers of the garden: in tropical regions, the strong light conditions allow even understorey layers to receive substantial light, whereas in temperate regions this is not usually the case. To compensate for this, understorey layers in temperate forest gardens must be chosen very carefully - there are plenty of plant crops which tolerate shady conditions, but many are not well known. Many of the more common shrub or perennial crops need bright conditions, and it may be necessary to design in more open clearings or glades for such species.

Temperate forest gardens are also usually small in area, from tiny back garden areas up to a hectare (2.5 acres) in size. While food production and land use remain the concern of a minority of landowners and businesses, their use is likely to be limited to ‘alternative’ and organic gardeners and land users.

The key features which contribute to the stability and self-sustaining nature of this system are:


A forest garden is organised in up to seven ‘layers’ . Within these, the positioning of species depends on many variables, including their requirements for shelter, light, moisture, good/bad companions, mineral requirements, pollination, pest-protection, etc. The layers consist of:


There is an excellent  free app called Ticl (smart phone and web based) which allows you to walk around a garden with a smart phone and it will describe the plants nearest to you or you can locate specific plants using a direction-finder. Online you can see a zoom-able map of the garden with location points marked on.  If you visit the garden with a smart phone you can use Ticl to help identify what is growing!

See  to see the ART forest garden. You need to log in to see all the plant points.



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