Sunday 25 June 2023

Plants, Wildlife and Polycultures for Forest Gardens and Regenerative Landscapes - Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of a series where I'll be posting some observations and experiences about the various plant species from our forest gardens and regenerative landscapes, as well as interesting plants and polycultures from around the world. We'll be featuring plants from different layers of the forest garden, presenting some established polycultures, and providing some suggestions about how to design, build and manage forest gardens and regenerative landscapes.

Forest Garden Plants 

Lower Canopy Layer Zanthoxylum piperitum - Japanese Pepper Tree makes a great lower canopy tree in the forest garden, a relatively small tree that is tolerant of shade and cast little shade itself due to the thin canopy. we have found Rubus fruticosus cv. - Blackberry and Ribes nigrum cv.- Blackcurrants both grow well under these trees. 

Shrub Layer -  Prunus spinosa - Sloe grows wild in our gardens forming thickets expanding into the meadows from the woodland edge. The thickets provide excellent habitat for Longtail, great, coal, and blue tit, along with various warblers that are often flying in and out of the thicket, probably feeding from the invertebrates but possibly some species looking for nesting sites.

The flowers, if pollinated and fertilized, will go on to form small purple fruits that are used to make Sloe Gin a red liqueur made by steeping sloe berries in gin and adding sugar. The sloe berries are picked after the first frost of the year, which helps to break down the skin and release the juice, before being steeped in the gin. The end result is a sweet and tart liqueur that is often enjoyed as a digestif or used in cocktails. 

Herb LayerArctium lappa - Greater Burdock is a large-leaved plant that dominates a wild patch under a walnut tree in our back garden. They make excellent biomass plants and, when in flower are highly attractive to a variety of invertebrates. The broad leaves are a favorite sheltering spot and food for snails and the inclusion of these plants around a vegetable patch will serve as a good decoy and make it easy to collect the snails to prevent them from venturing into the vegetables. The large fleshy taproot is also edible, best harvested from 1-year-old plants in the Autumn.

Ground Layer - Delosperma cooperi - Pink Carpet​ makes a great ground cover around the forest garden. The plants can tolerate partial shade and we've been planting under new fruit trees and for bordering pathways. 30 cm spacing between plants will form a complete cover within the second growing season and the plants will continue to spread outward via layering. The photos below show the ground cover under Prunus armeniaca - Apricot with Tanacetum vulgare - Tansy on the left.

It's interesting to note that The plant contains the hallucinogen chemicals DMT and 5-MeO-DMT, which can be extracted from the leaves. The concentration of these chemicals varies over the year. The content of 5-MeO-DMT rises during the summer and the content of DMT instead rises during the winter.  


Leaving herbaceous plants to overwinter without pruning can provide vital benefits for wildlife. Bees, butterflies,, beetles, and spiders, to name but a few, overwinter in various life stages, and by leaving herbaceous plants unpruned, you provide these insects with places to hibernate, pupate, or seek shelter, ensuring their survival and promoting biodiversity in your garden or surrounding area.

When we do cut back plants in the forest garden, the prunings are deposited to the surface of the beds to decompose and return the nutrients locked in the biomass back to the soil. This material too can provide habitat The below photo is a Paulownia branch cut back for mulch last Autumn. In this case, a Spider uses the space to cast a web to snare other insects.

White stork - Ciconia ciconia often forages in the meadows in and around our gardens. These birds are generalist feeders and require a diverse range of habitats, including wetlands, grasslands, and farmlands, to find food. 

Their presence can indicate the presence of a variety of habitats and species in an area. A fascinating bird species with intriguing migratory behavior known for their long-distance migratory journeys, which can cover up to 15,000 kilometers per year going back and forth from Europe to Africa to escape the winter and extremes of summer.  

A few invertebrates from the gardens

We felled an old plum tree last year leaving the stump about 80 cm high. 

Stumps are excellent microhabitats providing a food source to a wide variety of organisms, contributing to nutrient cycling through decomposition, and providing nesting sites for a number of invertebrates including the threatened Stag Beetle. 

To learn more about how to work with the wild join us for Module 5 of our  Regenerative Landscape Design Course where we introduce our wild allies and the role they play in our productive landscapes supporting crop productivity, controlling pests, and providing fertility, and how we can encourage them to live and breed in our landscapes. 

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. 

Polycultures from Around the World 

Some of the best broadscale polycultures I've seen include the date palm oases of Al Hamra, Oman, where a tremendous amount of food is grown in a wonderfully biodiverse environment in a Subtropical desert climate. 

Cultivation practices in Al Hamra (Jebel Shams region) are incredible. Dates are the main crop with several varieties of date palms grown, including Khalas, Fardh, Hilali, Khuneizi, and others. The Khalas variety, in particular, is highly prized for its taste and is indeed the most delicious date I've ever tried.

Planted among the dates are Pomegranate, Figs, Mango, Banana, and Citrus with cereal in the understory and wild herbs often encouraged around the edges of the beds. 

The polycultures are planted in small podlike terraces carefully positioned to take advantage of gravity to distribute water to the plants. The whole place is alive with insects, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

The cultivation area is concentrated around the village but extends into the Wadi where the planting is elevated above the wadi floor to avoid damage from the torrents of water that wash through with incredible force following rainfall 

Given the extremely dry climate and absence of soil and plants in the vast majority of the surrounding area it's incredible what has been achieved and what has likely been going on for the last 2500 years. The sole source of fertility seems to come from domestic animal manure and ash from the burning of palm prunings and native scrub that grows within the cracks of the rock faces. 

Another remarkable aspect of the polyculture is how each pod also serves as a nursery for future palms with offshoots from mature palm trees, planted beneath the mother plants (see above left photo). These will start bearing fruit after 5-8 years of growth. 

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