An edible forest garden

If you’re English, of rather mature years, and of a rural disposition, you won’t turn down the chance to snoop round somebody else’s garden.  That’s what Open Gardens is all about.  And early summer is open season for Open Gardens.

The other day we chose to go to Old Sleningford Farm, only just down the road from here.  We knew we’d get the chance to stroll round a country house garden, with informal parkland and rather more formal borders and flowerbeds.  We knew there would be a productive kitchen garden.  We knew we’d be offered afternoon tea, with far too many delicious home-made cakes to choose from.

What really interested us, though, was the Forest Garden.  A what?

Here’s what they say on their website:

‘A Forest Garden is a planting which mimics an immature woodland, in which everything is edible or useful. Plants are grown using every available space – under the ground, on the ground, as bushes, trees and climbers. It requires minimal maintenance once established as all the plants are perennials or self seed easily and the ground is permanently covered.’

As you approach it, it seems you’re just going to enter a patch of woodland, albeit well-gated against pesky rabbits.  Simple paths mown through the undergrowth send you on a winding route that meanders through the two acre site.  Gradually we realised that there were things to eat here: fruit trees, certainly – apples, plums, gages, pears and so on – but also fruit bushes growing hither and yon.  Raspberries; currants red, white, pink and black; gooseberries.  Strawberries extended their runners along the ground.  Then we noticed herbs, and then some vegetables: chard, kale, leeks, onions…..

This is a garden that has required hours of work from everyone at Old Sleningford, from volunteers who come one Sunday every month and from wwoofers.  But over time, the garden will to an extent manage itself, as the desirable, productive plants take proper hold and leave no room for any plant not prepared to earn its keep.

We didn’t have long enough to explore as much as we’d have liked.  But we found a moment or two to relax in the summer-house at the forest garden’s centre.  Here was a simple wooden structure, with a roof of sempervivum  –  house leeks – equipped with a chair or two, a book or two.  Here, with only bird song for company, surrounded by productive woodland, was the perfect place to spend a summer’s afternoon.

Forest Gardens, via Graham Burnett, Wikimedia Commons.
Forest Gardens, via Graham Burnett, Wikimedia Commons.

15 thoughts on “An edible forest garden”

  1. Goodness, that took me back. My aunt always used to keep plastic bags and a pair of nail scissors in her handbag and would send me (furtive with fear and cringing with teenage embarrassment) into the depths of the herbaceous borders to steal cuttings. To the best of my knowledge she was otherwise completely law-abiding. Love the idea of the edible forest — do they let the wildlife have a mobile banquet?

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      1. She did have a very pretty garden as a consequence! Yes, rabbit are a massive problem here, too. Even my flower borders have to be fenced. Still, they keep the cats well exercised (and fed). If you’re coming to Norfolk next week and have time, do drop by, we’re only just south of the border and you won’t need a passport. 🙂

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      2. Well, that’s an invitation it may be hard to refuse. But perhaps we shall have to. We’re going to be in Northern Norfolk. But you never know your ill luck. It would be great to meet you. Thank you!

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      3. It is a bit of a hike from north Norfolk, at least 1 hr 40 mins, so quite understand if you’re not up to making the trek. Another time, perhaps …

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  2. Oo I love the idea of the forest garden. I should think it requires thoughtful planning. By chance I have a dwarf plum tree growing under a cob nut – seems to be working so far. However, strawberries in the light shade of a pear tree aren’t fruiting so well as I think they need direct sun. It looks a lovely country house too – interesting and informative pics as usual.

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  3. What? No pictures of the cakes?! This sounds like a fascinating place to visit and what a great idea–but I’m sure you’re right about the time and commitment that have gone into it!

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