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Advice on planning your own forest garden


It always helps to plan a forest garden and you definitely don’t need complicated computer software. Here are some top tips to get you started with an analog plan.

I wrote about how I approach Designing a small forest garden, using photos, sketches, Photoshop and CAD software. A notable criticism is that most people aren’t familiar with these computer programs. Also, although I offer a forest garden design service, not everyone can afford it.

So I vowed to write a basic introduction to planning your forest garden with a lo-tech, hand-drawn approach.

Creating a plan is a good idea because you want to ensure the trees are the right size, both the height and the diameter. It’s also important to calculate the tree spacing, so that enough light reaches the understorey planting of edible shrubs and perennial vegetables.

Illustration showing ¼ to ½ average canopy diameter gap between trees

You could work out different tree positions on the ground, but it’s far easier to do this on a plan and then use a bit of bamboo and knotted string to fine tune the position of the tree diameters.

Lo-tech tool for measuring 0.5m increments to work out tree diameters. Cost ≈2¢.

1. Equipment

The equipment you’ll need is:

  1. Tape measure ($10)
  2. Maths compass ($1)
  3. Squared paper pad, I’m using 5mm squares on A4 size ($1)

The cost of all this should be less than $13USD. All my measurements are in metres, as I’m a staunch European.

2. Create rough outline plan

  1. Roughly measure the length and width of the garden. My garden is about 23m x 16m.
  2. Work out the scale of your drawing. The longest side of my garden is 23m, the longest side of my paper is 297mm, so an easy scale is 1 metre = 10mm.
  3. Mark up a rough pencil rectangle on your paper, mine is a 230mm x 160mm rectangle. Leave room if possible for adjustments!
The outline plan in red pencil, also showing the measurements in the centre and the intersecting arcs for those measurements in green pencil.

3. Plan accurate measurements

  1. With the tape, take measurements from two corners to the other corners.
  2. Using the compass, scale these measurements to draw pencil arcs from the two corners.
  3. Where the arcs intersect are your corners, draw an ink pen line to join these points and erase the pencil measurements!
The final plan in black ink outline. You can mark up other features and create scale paper circles for trees as well.

You can use multiple layers of tracing paper to overlay different features (paths, electricity, gates etc) on the base outline plan. You can also use scale paper circles for trees (the green circles on the plan), stuck down with bits of blu-tac.

4. Additional advice

  1. For people in a cool temperate climate, I always recommend Martin Crawford’s book Creating a Forest Garden, it is a superb step-by-step tutorial and reference work.
  2. The Plants For A Future website is a great resource for referencing forest garden plants and for quickly finding diameters.
  3. Make sure you’re using the right rootstock for your fruit trees
  4. An incredibly useful in-depth fruit directory of different varities is Orange Pippin


The biggest drawback to an analog plan is that you have to start again if you make a mistake, which is why it’s a good idea to use pencil until you’re happy to use ink lines for the final draft. But it is lo-tech and just requires a modicum of math and compass work to get results.

This technique really only works with rectangular gardens, which is fine for my rudimentary surveying skills, although I would recommend attending a field survey techniques course if you can find one.


Jake Rayson

Jake has a wildlife and forest garden design practise in West Wales, UK. He also livestreams regularly on YouTube and offers online courses


  1. I actually took a design course from college and untold your first post just fine. It was a reallreally nice list of free desigdesign resources. I didn’t understand this post at all. Was the property not square?

  2. Just try to convince the birds and squirrels in my yard to follow the plan. I’m sure some of the trees were planted by them, because it sure was not me. Same (especially) the black raspberries showing up in the other side of my yard, while I keep uprooting them.

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