Layers of a Forest Garden

How many layers in a Forest Garden? It depends on what you count!

Layers? What are you talking about? By layers we mean the different growing heights/spaces of the plants in the Forest Garden. Note height can also mean depth particularly when referring to root crops. How many layers will also depend on the size of your growing space, how old your garden is and what kind of plants you’d like to grow.

The seven (nine) layers of Forest Gardens

Most commonly seven layers of a Forest Garden are referred to. We reckon there are nine. Many of the layers will be multipurpose for example fixing nitrogen, good for bees along with providing a food harvest.

The layers also may or may not exactly fit within their height layers for example plants classed as “shrubs” are sometimes taller than small trees, root vegetables have leaves higher than herbaceous plants etc.

I’ve been designing a new logo and wanted to include all the main layers of our Forest Garden enterprise. What do you think?

Our new logo showing the nine layers of a Forest Garden.

Our new logo showing the nine layers of a Forest Garden.

#1 Canopy: The largest of all the trees. They could be large fruit or nut trees, trees for timber or windbreaks.

#2 Low trees: These are usually fruit or nut trees on dwarfing root stock, or coppiced/pollarded to keep the canopy low.

#3 Shrubs: Multi-stemmed fruit bushes, nitrogen fixing plants or indeed herbs that do not die back at the end of the growing season (like rosemary or lavender).

#4 Herbaceous plants: Herbs. Usually perennial vegetables and herbs or self-seeding biennial or annuals. The leaves and stems all die down at the end of the season with no persistent woody stem above ground during winter.

#5 Rhizosphere: Plants primarily grown for their roots and tubers.

#6 Ground cover: Plants that grow horizontally and therefore protect otherwise exposed soil.

#7 Climbers: Plants like vines that grow vertically often up the low tree or canopy layers.

#8 Fungi: Mushrooms either on inoculated logs, tree stumps or specific mushroom “beds”.

#9 Wildlife/Animals: Habitats for your unpaid workers are an essential consideration of forest gardening too – especially if you intend to eat some of their wares like honey.

For those of you wondering which layer is which, I’ve numbered the layers in the image below (not a popup sorry Wen). Hopefully that will help take some of the guesswork out of it for newbie Forest Gardeners.

For those of you guessing which Forest Garden layer is which this guide will help (can you spot the mistake?).

For those of you guessing which Forest Garden layer is which this guide will help (can you spot the mistake?).

If you are fortunate enough to have a pond, lake or other watery area in your forest garden you open up a whole new load of growing possibilities. The layers though will be similar to the ones described above.

Do I have to have all of the layers in my Forest Garden for it to be a Forest Garden? No. Forest Gardening is the concept of using different heights to your advantage and following nature’s lead. You may not have space for a canopy layer (or the neighbours hedge is effectively doing that job), or you only have space for one small fruiting apple so miss out the shrub layer, or your root layer is in containers and your herbs are growing in a vertical garden. It’s about maximising space and yield with the natural forest as your guide.

Read more about Forest Gardens …

2 thoughts on “Layers of a Forest Garden

  1. Very clear and easy to understand. Would it be too complicated to include a popup over each layer to identify it for those who are new to forest farming and permaculture?

    • Nice idea Wen. I’ve added in a second image into the blog post that will hopefully take the guess work out it 🙂

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