Forest Gardening

The theory and practice of forest gardening are fascinating and here at Transition Hythe we’ve been lucky enough to have shared the passion of Nigel, who has one such garden in nearby Woodchurch. He has hosted a visit for Transition members and there are plans to provide people with a chance to work in the garden and learn more about it in the Autumn.

Nigel follows the ‘seven layers’ idea that underpins this form of cultivation and, over a number of years, he has applied this to a former field and orchard.

Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat.

Forest-GardenThe huge variety of trees on Nigel’s plot is complemented by a range of other planting, producing an area that is abundant in fauna and flora. During the two hour tour, we heard the lessons he has learned along the way, tasted some of the produce, and enjoyed the tranquility of this wonderful area.

The seven layers comprise:

  1. ‘Canopy layer’ consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
  2. ‘Low-tree layer’ of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
  3. ‘Shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries.
  4. ‘Herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs.
  5. ‘Rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
  6. ‘Ground cover layer’ of edible plants that spread horizontally.
  7. ‘Vertical layer’ of vines and climbers.


Forest-GardenThe apple varieties in Nigel’s garden are: Golden Pippin, Worcester Pearmain, Claygate Pearmain/Wonder, Herrings Pippin, Ribston Pippin, King of the Pippins, Deveonshire Quarrenden, Rival, May Queen, and Orlean’s Reinette. If anyone is interested in the spreadsheet of all of the plants in Nigel’s garden, then please contact Martin at

As well as planning future trips to Nigel’s garden to help with some of the seasonal tasks, probably in September, we are hoping to get Nigel to Hythe to show a DVD and lead a discussion on Forest Gardening later in the year.

For further reading, Nigel recommended Martin Crawford’s book, Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops. Visit

A few web links that may be of interest are:

Brogdale National Fruit Collection:

Keepers Nursery, East Farleigh (they have an open day in the autumn when you are invited to go along and try the fruit):

Plants for the Future:

Also there is a book of the same name by Ken Fern:

On youtube, there is Martin Crawford of Agro-Forestry Research Trust: This has an interview from the BBC programme ‘A Farm for the Future’ and links to other videos from Martin.

And there is Michael Pilarski, an American advocate of Agro-Forestry: This is a video about a 14 year-old system. There are links to other videos featuring other sites.