Given that all the tomes languishing in my bookcase say that we should plan out our garden, it seemed like it was time to buy an exercise book.
I love exercise books. Perhaps it’s a throw-back to school when I had a different colour book for each subject so I could tell at a glance if it was chemistry, history or Latin. Now I needed one that said “forest garden” and I found the perfect one in a bargain bin on the Boulevard St Michel in Paris. Of all the places, you might think, but it’s in the student district near the Sorbonne so there are heaps of shops there selling random stationery, even for forest gardeners. What makes this exercise book perfect is that it is already covered in flowers so I’m not likely to be able to lose it or forget what’s in it!
Patrick Whitefield talks at length about creating a design for a forest garden to ensure that all the plants are in the correct position from the outset*. It’s nigh on impossible to transplant a canopy tree once it is more than a few years old so it’s best to get it right the first time.
Seems like we may have tripped up at the first hurdle because our garden is already flanked on one side by a row of mature, uncared for ornamental cherry trees. I still cannot fathom why Farmer French thought it would be a good idea to plant ornamental cherry trees when he could have chosen apples or pears or even quinces. I’m also still quite peeved with him for getting my hopes up when I first caught sight of the fat little fruit that hang voluptuously off the branches in July. Fortunately, Mr Pioche told me that they were “pas comestible” just before I put one in my mouth. A bit like that scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Indy is about to swallow a poisoned date…
These then are our existing canopy trees. Apart from acting as a wind break, they are not a whole heap else of use. It’s true that in the summer they provide shelter from the blistering sun, but they also guzzle up precious water out of the surrounding soil. Ah well, we’re stuck with them and they are really very pretty. In fact, we have been on a course to learn how to prune them and save them from even more damage by time and the weather (more of that some other time).
Next are the orchard trees which we planted in 2010 before we had any idea what a forest garden was. Fortunately, we put them in sufficiently far apart that they won’t compete with each other.
Now it was time to work out where the actual beds should be put in and for this we would need to measure the distances between the existing trees and bushes to work out the right proportions. I spent a very happy afternoon ordering John around. Stand there. No, not there, there! No, there! Oh, for goodness sake, I’ll do it…
What could be easier than pacing between the trees with a tape measure? Well, lots of things, apparently, because despite taking meticulous notes in my flowery exercise book, when it came to drawing out the plan, I discovered that the garden was related to the TARDIS. It was most definitely bending in time and space, or why did none of the lines join up with each other?
In desperation, I took the very unpermaculture step of using my IT skills to measure the lines and move them around the computer screen. When that didn’t work, I got out a ruler and literally went back to school, working out the dimensions using long division. But to no avail. And because I was by this time back in London, there was no popping outside to do a quick remeasure. Grrrr…. The neat little designs in the PW book were laughing at me.
And then I had a revelation. I was working in 2D and the garden is a definitely lumpy 3D. Where we had taken measurements from the foot of one tree to the next, we hadn’t taken into the account that the ground wasn’t flat. Hurrah! Mystery solved. It wasn’t that I needed new glasses, again.
I did what I do best and changed my mind. Who said that the measurements needed to be accurate? Me! So I just decided they didn’t need to be. Simples!
This is how my plan looks at the moment. I haven’t yet filled in the beds with the shrubs and herbaceous layer, but it’s a place to start. Now we can really get going on the practicalities of creating our garden.
*How to Make a ForestGarden, Patrick Whitefield, Permanent Publications