Forest Gardening: foray into permaculture

Permaculture is sorta-kinda my latest obsession. I have had a growing interest in the principles and concepts of permaculture and have, as I am prone to do, researched it to “nth” degree over the past couple of years. And I have taken tiny baby perma steps in my garden beds. But recently, I’ve begun to move from researching to planning and putting into action.

For the uninitiated, permaculture is a relatively (as in the last 25 years or so) new term that combines elements of a stable or “permanent” nature to “agriculture”. But it’s also very much a way of life and a way of looking at and valuing life defined through symbiotic relationships within the natural world, conservation of resources, elimination of “waste” (not as in pooping, but as in using all outputs so that nothing goes unused – though poop comes up in that equation a lot!), working with and not against nature, and community (as opposed to rugged individualism).

This summer, I took an online course on permaculture design offered free of charge by Oregon State University. The design project I chose was my own yard which is roughly 1/4 acre. (Design pictured above.)

My vision is to turn my lawn, which consumes resources, into a forest garden which produces resources. Converting grass to a fruit orchard with perennial herbs and other edibles, a small meadow of wildflowers (to encourage pollinators and insect predators), a berry patch with blueberry bushes and strawberries, and garden spaces for annuals like tomatoes, peppers, and other veggies.

One of the really cool things about permaculture is the use of plant guilds or grouping plants together that are mutually beneficial. But, I’ll get into that in a later post as my own food forest develops.

I should explain here the concept of a food forest or forest garden. The concept is pretty straightforward, looking to nature – a forest – and applying those same features to a designed, food-producing garden.

Upper canopy tree layers can be nut and tall fruit trees; the secondary layer is made up of smaller fruit trees; the shrubs and brush layer can consist of blueberry bushes; vining plants such as raspberry and blackberry can grow vertically in the forest garden; with a ground cover that can consist of strawberries, alpine berries, and culinary and medicinal herbs and spices.

Another key feature of the forest garden is using perennial plants that, once established, take less labor and cost to maintain. The plants also work together to reduce the need for both fertilizers and pesticides.

It truly does sound like a fairytale forest, and though I’m experienced enough to realize it will be anything but a fairytale, I’m looking forward to being able to tell my forest garden story!



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