Creating a Forest Garden: How to Get Started

Research shows that spending time in a forest is extremely beneficial for a person’s mental health.  In fact, the Japanese have even coined a term for this – forest bathing. Even better, it doesn’t take much to recreate a forest environment in your own garden. You don’t need much space either – you could easily use forest gardening concepts to turn even a small raised bed into a mini forest.

Intrigued? Here’s how to get started:

Understand the Layers

Ever wondered what makes a forest a forest? It all comes down to the layers of vegetation growing in that space. In order to create a forest garden, you’ll need to have the following layers all growing together:

  • The canopy layer – these are large and mature trees. They’re usually fruit trees of some kind, such as apple, mango, or avocado. Alternatively, a dragon tree would also work well in this layer.
  • The understory layer – these are usually smaller fruit or nut trees – dwarf varieties work well. Consider an olive tree or a Tahitian lime tree.
  • The shrub layer – berries and currants are great for this, as is the Golden Barrel cactus if you’d prefer something a little unusual.
  • The herbaceous layer – this consists of herbs and perennial vegetables.
  • The ground cover layer – think of them as a living mulch growing underneath your trees – strawberries are commonly used for this, but flowers work well too.
  • The underground layer – roots, tubers, and fungi.
  • The vertical layer – vines that climb up your trees.


Start Designing

In order for a forest garden to really work, you’ll need to put some thought into its design. The plants that you group together need to be able to happily grow alongside each other. For example, don’t plant something large and aggressive next to a delicate plant that doesn’t like competition.

Don’t forget to also incorporate your garden’s existing features into your plan. You may already have a few mature trees that you’ll need to work around, or perhaps a large part of your garden is shaded. Fortunately, there are plenty of shade-loving forest plants out there. Some of these features may seem frustrating at first, but these are what will make your garden truly unique.

The design stage involves hours of research into various plants. Start by looking into native varieties, before branching outwards.

Ideally, a forest garden should be as naturally productive as possible. This not only means that it should provide plenty of food for you to harvest throughout the year, but it should also be attractive to local wildlife. Fruit trees do both, which is why they’re so popular. However, even many of the ornamental trees out there, such as the Tree Aloe, also have medicinal properties or other uses, giving them a multifunctional quality that makes them perfect for a forest garden.


Source Your Trees and Plants

This is where things can get expensive, especially if you’re designing a large forest garden. However, you don’t need to buy everything at once. In fact, it’s often better to focus on one small area to begin with, before expanding outwards.

Younger trees tend to be more cost-effective, and usually do best in the long run. However, larger and mature tree specimens provide an instant wow factor, so it’s worth sprinkling a few of these in too.



If you want your garden to be lush, layered, and highly productive, then incorporating a few forest gardening techniques is the way to go. Granted, it may take a few years before you can really enjoy the fruits of your labour, especially if you’ve chosen to plant younger trees. However, once things are up and running, a forest garden, just like a natural forest, requires very little maintenance. Instead of weeding, planting, and pruning, you’ll be able to spend your time enjoying the exquisite environment that you’ve created.


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