#Edible Forest Gardening 101: Curb Appeal

I tend to photograph my garden close-up, and crop out the portions that are in the rudimentary stages of development. This presentation results mostly from my photography aesthetics, but it also presents a biased view of what forest gardening looks like in the early phases. Perhaps you caught a glimpse of some of the chaos in my post on developing the “Berryland" corner, but that doesn’t even begin to cover the current aesthetic of "under construction" that is omnipresent in the yard.

Currently, my most aesthetically-appealing accomplishments are the annual and perennial beds, because progress can be seen in a year or two. Tree and shrub planting is a longer gambit, especially since I am doing it from seed. There is no dancing around the fact that sheet mulching, seedling trees, hügelkultur mounds—and other permacultural basics intended to push ecological succession—are not pretty while they are in progress. Hell, a new espalier project, or a seedling vine on a giant trellis aren’t the prettiest sights either.

Much of the process of building a garden like this is in waiting. Take the two pictures above (from August, 2014): You can see that at that time, I had started putting in my fruit trees in these far-flung corners: most of them were seedlings, and I drastically pollarded the two of them that were established (so that I could use their wood for other projects, keep them from shading out the new seedlings, and renew their shape).

The seedling fruit trees are small and scraggly, the sheet mulch is incomplete, the hügelkultur berm is a work-in-progress, and the ground is bare chip mulch, not yet planted with a herbaceous or soil surface layer. After applying a sheet mulch, I have to wait several months for the grass underneath to break down, after which time the newspaper layer will also be pliable.

Over the next few weeks in these areas, I’ll be planting a whole mess of nitrogen-fixing lupins, and leguminous nurse trees (Honey Locust, Black Locust) to give the young fruit trees a boost. Useful shrubs are scheduled to be added in in early spring. Over the next few years, I will plant my canopy-layer trees, like Tulip Poplar, Wingnuts, Birch, Chestnuts, Oaks, and Linden.

Eventually the lupins will give way to more useful crops like perennial vegetables and dynamic accumulators, and the shrubs will start taking up more groundspace. I will also start establishing some small coniferous trees, especially in areas where I have acid-loving plants (calcifuges, such as those in my acidic bog gardens).

It’s not something that can be accomplished overnight, and it’s not something that looks pretty to the neighbours. Once established, a forest garden is absolutely verdant, but patience is an important trait to cultivate while the plants come in to their own and form more stable arrangements.

Talking Gardens.

Sitting on
The grey
Cemented bench

In the center of
This majestic garden.

Accompanied by
Millions of flowers
Green sloping hills
Tall oak trees

The smell of life
Swirls around me
Floating into my nostrils

The sound of life
Breathing and exhaling
Whispering into my ears

Telling me
That there’s no place
On earth compared to here

& I had to agree

— Marley C.