Friday 20 January 2023

The Polyculture Project - Forest Garden Design - 650 m2 (7000 ft2) - How to Design and Build a Forest Garden

Forest Gardens are an excellent way to produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity by providing a range of habitats for wildlife within the design. They are very enjoyable to design, build and interact with and creating a forest garden is an intellectual pursuit as well as a physical one. It’s like a living, 3D amorphous puzzle that you can eat : ) 

During this post, we'll profile a 650m2 forest garden design that we started in one of our trial gardens. You'll find an overview of the design, a species list with fruiting and flowering calendars, the irrigation plan, and some info on how we built the garden.

Ekpyrōsis - Design Goals and Site Specs  

The purpose of the garden is to produce fruits and perennial vegetables with all fertility, to support growth, produced within the garden (beyond initial set-up inputs.), and to provide a range of habitats to support wildlife.

Our goal was to encourage the existing biodiversity as much as possible and provide new habitat that would enhance the diversity of organisms that inhabit and interact with the site. Another goal is to utilize the slope of the land and existing water source to irrigate the garden via a simple gravity-fed system using water diverted into the area from a nearby mountain stream.

Garden Specifications

Location: Bulgaria, Shipka
​Climate: Temperate
Köppen Climate Classification - Dfc borderline Cfb
USDA Hardiness Zone: 5b - 7a
Latitude: 42°
Elevation: 574 m
Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm
Prevailing Wind: NW & NE
Garden Name: Ekpyrosis
Garden Area: 652m2

The below image provides an overview of garden design and highlights the various zones within the garden i.e Productive, Support, Native Hedgerow, and Wetland Patch.  The Productive zone is where the crops will be concentrated, and the support zone will include plants that fix nitrogen and /or provide pollination support. The Native Hedgerow is already well established on the site and will be left largely undisturbed apart from trimming the sides to prevent encroachment into the productive zone. The wetland patch is s microhabitat designed to attract support fauna such as pest predators and pollinators.

As with all of our designs, before selecting any species and deciding on the layout for this garden we undertake a series of surveys. You can read about these surveys in a previous post here.

Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 

Want to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes?  Join us on our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course. We look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

You can find the course details here and at the moment we have a $350 ( 20%) discount for full enrollment to the course. Just use RLD2024 in the promo code  section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

Species List 

The species list is categorized into forest garden layers i.e Canopy, Shrub, Herb, Bulb, and Aquatic, and does not include all of the native plants that are already growing on the site that the species listed below will be integrated into.  

Fruiting and Flowering Calendar 

This table indicates when the plants will blossom and fruit or provide food. It's desirable in this scenario to have flowering and edibility spread throughout the year.  

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Water enters the garden via diverted flow from a nearby mountain stream from the north (see water inlet in the below illustration) The channel is serpentine running throughout the productive zone and eventually draining into the lower support zone

The serpentine channel is flanked by two 50 cm wide beds and a 50 cm pathway as shown in the below diagram.

Building the Garden 

As per our procedure for garden design, before we began any work on the garden we studied and recorded the native flora of the area, making monthly flora surveys between April and September.

A small selection of herbaceous perennials growing in the garden area, Gallery from  the full surveys can be found here   

Following the flora surveys, we made a topography survey on the site to establish the contour lines that would be our guidelines for the irrigation channels, access, and beds. Once we had the contours marked we pegged out the area to indicate where the pathways, beds, channels, and micro-wetland would be. 

To establish the beds, we went over the soil with a broad fork to relieve compaction and then dug the water channel using a mattock. Soil removed from the channels is placed on the bed areas as an initial layer. On top of this, we add a layer of card, compost, and mulch heavily with straw, resulting in a  25 -35 cm deep layer of organic matter covering the bed areas. 


In the middle of the bed layout is a mini wetland/marsh habitat that is basically a rectangular area that we dug out, lined with an impermeable membrane, backfilled with stones and sand, and planted with several different emergent aquatic plants. I'm not sure how effective this will be, but the aim is to provide a microhabitat for the garden that will attract frogs, dragonflies, and other aquatic organisms.  

We dug out an area of approx. 1.2 m wide and 5m long and 25 cm deep, cleared all of the sharp stones from the pit, and lined this with tri-laminate LDPE liner (an offcut from some pond liner we used in a pond a few years back). We filled the liner with a layer of pebbles and river sand and inserted four cut barrel bottoms approx 25 cm high and 50 cm diameter into the fill. The purpose of the barrels is to provide pools of water for animals and birds to drink from and frogs to lay spawn. We propagated several marginal/emergent aquatic plants from our wildlife ponds and planted these directly into the sand. Finally, we placed rocks around the edges and some larger rocks in the sand to provide good basking areas for reptiles. The intention is for the micro-wetland to provide habitat support for wildlife such as dragonflies, frogs, and hoverfly larvae which should help control pests in the garden. For more on wildlife, ponds see our previous posts - Small Pond Installations for Irrigation and Wildlife - Part 1 

Here's a projection of how the garden will mature over time. 

Garden Update 

Before Autumn came around the whole garden was hit by wild boar foraging the relatively moist deep mulch, presumably to eat the worms and grubs that had been accumulating in the decomposing material. On the bright side, it would have been a lot worse after we planted the garden. Boar, Deer, and domestic animals have been a problem on our plots on the east side of Shipka so we have since put fencing up and will have another go past getting this garden growing.  

Discovering the Boar attack

Special Thanks to all of the participants of our Forest Garden Design Course, Misha, Phillip, Shahara, Ronan, and Lia for your help in building this garden!  

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  1. Impressive forest garden design! Your detailed approach and focus on sustainability are inspiring. Thanks for sharing your expertise in creating biodiverse and productive ecosystems.

  2. Outstanding forest garden design!