BiodiversityConsumerismDeforestationEconomicsFood ForestsFood ShortagesFungiLandPlant SystemsRegional Water CycleSocietySoil RehabilitationTreesWater Conservation

Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden

Yesterday we were talking about the great need to transition our agriculture (and our culture for that matter) to be based in systems (or integrated) thinking, rather than the segregated, reductionist monoculture mind set we have today. There’s perhaps no better example of systems-based thinking in practice than a well developed biodiverse ‘forest garden’ (or what is called a food forest in many places). Along with our own Geoff Lawton, Martin Crawford of the UK’s Agroforestry Research Trust is one of the world’s best recognised practitioners of the art. The following video gives us a peek at his work.

Martin’s forest garden has an enormous diversity of plants. Most, but not all, are edible. Those that are not edible would be regarded as a waste of space to most farmers or gardeners, but these also serve valuable purposes and earn their keep in the garden — ultimately also being responsible for not only increased resiliency, and thus less labour input, but also increased productivity. Some attract beneficial insects, or insect-eating birds. Some may distract/confuse the more troublesome insects by their colour and scent. Some may provide sustenance and habitat for pollinators. Some are bio-accumulators (i.e., for example, they might bring minerals up into the soil profile layers where they can later be accessed by other food-producing plants), or some might provide protection from wind and extreme temperatures to their more fragile peers.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about a forest garden is that, when designed well and mature, it will provide a large and varied array of produce with much less input of labour and energy than any monoculture of annuals ever could. And, such a garden will continue producing in this way for years and years, in a largely self-maintaining fashion. Considering where we’re headed on the energy front, self-sustaining, low-input food producing systems positioned right where we live sounds pretty good to me.

The only downside to such a forest garden is the length of time involved in developing it to maturity. A tree does not grow overnight. This is exactly why localised research into food forest systems should be occurring everywhere, and now. If our taxpayer dollars could be rerouted from financing wars and corporate bailouts to instead get channelled into fast-tracking the wide-spread research, education and implementation of food forests, we could see not only peace on earth, but climate stabilisation. Water and soil problems would dissipate, and massive quantities of CO2 would be put right back where it belongs, all whilst solving an impending humanitarian catastrophe featuring food shortages, famine and massive social unrest.

Again, as also mentioned yesterday, this involves a massive rethink of our economic and political systems if such a strategy were to succeed. If you can access virtually all the food you and your family needs within metres of your back door, the global traders and supermarket consortiums would largely cease to function. By closing the loop in our energy/waste cycles and restoring stability to the biosphere, we would be pulling the rug out from under the economy we’ve been madly building with little thought to the future and which is now threatening to destroy us. This thus requires planning and collaborative action to make the necessary transition as painless as possible.

I keep reading of unemployment skyrocketing in many countries. People are taking to the streets protesting for lack of jobs — yet, there’s so much work to be done…! None need be jobless if we can collectively catch this vision and cooperate to bring it to fruition. We can even get military generals and corporate CEOs to work — busy doing something far more productive.

I want to make my own forest garden. I can almost taste the naturally-ripened, fruit and berry vitamin bombs now….

Some of you in temperate climates may wish to purchase Martin’s book, Creating a Forest Garden: Working with nature to grow edible crops, and/or his DVD A Forest Garden Year.

Here’s one more Martin Crawford video for good measure:


I’d love to hear and share tales from your own experiences developing your garden and food forest. I want to learn from you, as do our readers: editor (at)


  1. This month I ate the first peach, the first fig, and the first apple from my ‘food forest.’ And to top it all off, my top bar hive appears to have been colonized by a swarm. Very gratifying!

    1. Right behind you JBob. Planted my first peach, apricot, pear, apple, plum, cherry and have two empty top bar bee hives waiting for bees.

  2. Way to go JBob.

    It’d be great if you could somehow document your progress and share it with us all – text and photos, or video, or all of the above.

  3. I guess it does take a while for a forest garden to mature, but it shouldn’t put you off starting today. I planted a small back-garden forest garden a couple of years ago on marginal chalky soil here in the UK. I’m trying to document how it develops with photos, videos and records of yields etc. The transformation is amazing and already the yields are starting to impress me. The difference in the wildlife is also incredible, particularly the variety of insect life it attracts.

  4. Indeed not – it should do the opposite of putting you off starting today. The time it takes is only an incentive to get started asap.

  5. Nice work JBob.

    I am assembling my top bar hives this winter to get ready for this spring. Then the following winter I hope to build more and expand my honey production from all swarm casts from the existing ones.

    Enjoy the bees!


  6. I started my Forest Garden (my preferred term, as it has much more than food), and 18 months ago, and have harvested plums and Figs. Squirrels got more than I did, but it’s very gratifying to see it develop. The effect on the soil is the most significant. Build it and they (the microbes) will come.

  7. Yeah, I’m with ya Craig.

    I see so much “unemployment” esp in poor countries – all people disregarded by the industrial-techno-military system. And as you say, there is so much to do!!

    The first task is to produce something! But we are all taught to be consumers and not producers. I am wandering around Asia, and all I see is blatant consumption in the cities – big malls, big brands, big consumption. And the poor are not in this system, other than as slave labour, servants etc. So much to do. Even ruthless CEOs can plant food forests!

  8. Wow- How inspiring. A Little scared of the thought of a forest garden in our backyard in australia – probably become full of big snakes which are attracted to the type of landscape that would be developed – which is fine except I have little children and I am paranoid!! However it certainly makes me want to increase the diversity I currently have in my little yard.

  9. Amazing – your piece has given me an urge to start again.
    Am fascinated by the idea of agro-forestry being the middle ground between forestry and food. (Farmers don’t like trees, and foresters don’t know much about food….)
    Does a forest garden parallel the notion of the ‘edge of chaos’ in complexity science? The creative space where energy, innovation and real living occurs?

  10. Our forest garden is just starting it’s 3rd year, it’s pulled through two tough winters, got hit with multiple late frosts every spring, and now a drought, but is still establishing very well, I am glad I picked a majority of frost tolerant species and late blossom fruits. We started with bare root young trees, so there’s not really mush to see in a video/pictures yet.

    It’s easy to forget, when looking at Martins excellent forest garden, that the principles can be zoomed right down to garden level, almost to a sq Meter size if you push it. Stack a small dwarf fruit tree with a fruit bush at the edge of it’s canopy, herbaceous edible/accumulator plants and ground covering strawberries, maybe climbing beans, or passion fruit on a trellis/wall next to it, a forest garden in 1 sqM!

    Patrick Whitefields book “how to make a forest garden” is good for designing a forest garden into a smaller space, plenty of examples of average garden sized designs.

    Martin Crawfords book linked above is “THE” forest garden reference book for the cool temperate zone, covers most plant species with pictures and descriptions of the more obscure plants
    and more importantly where to get seeds!

    A common mistake is to plant the trees too close together, to avoid this I drew a plan and scribed circles the size of the mature canopy of each tree/bush +1M, you could cut these out and move them around the plan. This allows room to get in and crop the fruits when the forest is mature, or you might find yourself trying to erect a ladder over smaller trees to get a the top fruit in 20 yrs!

    I’ve visited a couple of farms during my PDC who were trying different types of afro-forestry, planting fuel/tree crops in N-S lines with either grazing or row-crops in between, something I aim to emulate with willow and grazing one day.

  11. Ainslie: I doubt that snakes would begin to hide out right away in your food forest, unless small rodents, frogs, and small marsupials were to get in there. Snakes usually go wherever their favorite prey is likely to be found. Teaching your children how to recognize signs of snakes (e.g., molt skins) can help bring peace of mind. Supervision is still the best policy, though.

  12. Hi Craig,

    Nice article. Really loved looking virtually at Martin’s food forest and can appreciate the work that has gone into it especially in such a cold climate. That forest would have it’s own microclimate.

    The oldest parts of the food forest here are now at about 5 years and there’s around 250+ fruit diverse trees. (20 more are coming shortly). It’s nice to see that Martin was indicating that this is a small food forest as I thought that it may have been getting to be a bit more than a hobby! I started with little to no top soil as well in the middle of a drought too…

    Never thought I’d say this, but go JBob, keep up the good work!

    Pete, I’m not sure what climate you are in, but in climate with hot summers, planting close together is no bad thing as the canopy can build up and provide shade. It can get to 40 degrees here over summer so shade is a good thing. A close canopy can also confuse birds, possums etc. from obtaining too great a share of your crops. There’s a lot of wildlife here waiting for an easy high nutrient feed. I found the other day that a sugar glider has moved into the chook pen at night too to clean up the scraps the chooks don’t want – I hope it’s smart enough to get out during the day when the chooks are awake – they’re not vegetarians.

    Regards all,


  13. Diverse food-forests – way to go!
    I think Robert Hart was a great inspiration in the UK and elsewhere.
    Good on you Martin!


  14. Hey there

    Was wondering if you could give me the name of the fungi you talked about in you forest garden piece.


  15. Our experience has been very enjoyable and gratifying on our fifth-year, not-quite-quarter-acre urban food forest/permaculture garden. The labor level has begun to drop off now that we’re running out of space, though we’re planning an attached greenhouse and a (very) small pond. More soil, mulch, perennial vegetables, greens, fruits, fungi, insects, wildlife, flowers, and moisture stability every year. We have more than 100 species of perennial native wildflowers and seven laying hens in the mix as well. The chickens have access to about 100 square feet, and we grow lots of fodder for them elsewhere in the garden. We get enough eggs to meet our needs year ’round. We anticipate getting to a similar level for greens within the next year and fruit and fungi within another year. Possibly can fit in some hazelnuts and more perennial vegetables as well as a few more fruit trees (semi-dwarf) and shrubs. Our annual vegetable growing space will continue to decline as shade increases, though the soil will likely be progressively more productive as fungi and nitrogen-fixing trees, shrubs, and ground covers get more established. We’ll also get some fuelwood from coppice down the road.

  16. Great introductory video. For those who are interested, here is a much more in-depth 1 hour and 8 minute video tour in twelve parts (HD): . Both are very worth watching.

    Violets (edible leaves and flowers), Daylilies (edible tubers, shoots, flower buds and flowers) and Siberian pine (pine nuts) are plants that I think deserve greater consideration for permaculture/forest gardening, especially in northern areas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button