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My design tips for forest gardening on a small scale | Leaf Probably

When you think of a forest, you probably picture a large area of ​​dense tree cover. But forest gardening, while in many ways mimics a natural forest or forest ecosystem, need not resemble one in size. The concepts of forest gardening can be applied even on a very small scale.

My own woodland garden is approximately 20m x 10m, but I have designed woodland gardens for much smaller spaces. When it comes to small-scale forest gardening, your efforts at home can still be impressive and impactful. Here are a few design tips to do it in even the smallest of home gardens.

Size the system by choosing the right canopy

In a larger woodland garden you may have very large canopy and under canopy trees. But in a smaller space, the highest tier in a woodland garden could be dwarf fruit trees or even larger shrubs.

By growing species on dwarf rootstock (to keep them smaller) or by opting for naturally compact trees or shrubs, you can still take advantage of the shade and other ecosystem services provided by canopy species without taking up large amounts of land require.

Create different guilds at the drip lines of trees and shrubs

Guilds are the human-made communities of plants that live under and around the base of a fruit tree. A drip line is determined by the reach of a given tree’s canopy, the area over which water can “drip” onto the ground.

In a very small forest garden, the edges of the guilds around each tree should be defined by the eventual drip line of key species.

For example, if the tree has a mature drip line of 4 metres, the woodland garden can be laid out in that space, with smaller shrubs, vines and plenty of perennials or self-seeding annuals under canopy.

Remember that woodland gardens can also be more linear – they extend as verges or border plantings, or create divisions between different parts of your space.

Whatever small layout you choose, the planting can and should develop as the trees grow and shade more space.

Create islands and think carefully about paths

By thinking of a forest garden as a series of guilds around key species, you can take a modular approach, linking small numbers together to form densely overgrown islands. If you do this and divide them by paths, you maximize benefit and increase abundance.

In small spaces, it’s especially important to think about how you’re traveling through space. We can use pathways carefully to bring light into the heart of the room and increase access without taking up too much growing space.

You can also consider options like stepping stones or pieces of logs as walkways in and between the forest garden islands you create, allowing more room for planting between them.

Keep in mind that living plants may be an option as paths (ie clover).

Farm more intensively to limit size and growth

In larger woodland gardens, it is common to take a minimal approach to pruning and other maintenance. But in smaller spaces, sensible pruning — for example, thinning out lower branches and pruning to limit the size of trees and shrubs — can help maintain rich productivity and biodiversity in the space.

Dividing mature perennials as needed and of course, as in other woodland gardens, chopping and dropping plants within the system to preserve fertility are also key strategies.

Integrate forest garden planting with other needs and desires

If you have very little space to play in your garden, remember that whatever you add should have multiple functions.

For example, instead of a hedge or fence along a boundary of the space, a strip of forest garden planting could be provided. Or it could be used to divide garden spaces, screen off unsightly views, or add privacy to an outdoor seating or dining area.

A forest garden can also become a play area for children, with hidden caves, balance paths and walkways, and plenty of space to explore and play in nature.

A forest gardening approach isn’t just for larger spaces and landscaping projects. Even in much smaller gardens, this can be an interesting option that brings a number of benefits to you, your household and the world at large.

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