Forest Gardening in Practice

Lorenzo Costa | Monday, 27th March 2017
Not the usual book on forest gardening - as well as planting tips, it explores the people side of projects too.
Author: Tomas Remiarz
Publisher: Permanent Publications
Publication year: 2017
RRP: £24.95

Forest Gardening in Practice is a book that comes out at the right time. We have many titles on forest gardening but this book changes our perspective on the subject.

It is written by Tomas Remiarz, a well-known permaculture teacher and consultant, who has worked for the past 20 years in the UK and Europe. Up until now we have read books that share a deep understanding of how plants interact. Forest gardening for many is mimicking natural ecosystems at its height, yes, but it is more than that if we take the discussion a step forward focusing on the interaction between plants and people. “Gardens are nothing without the people who make, tend and use them. Each garden is an interpretation of what’s possible on a particular patch of land, filtered through the needs and desires of those who are working with it. This is part of the social dimension to forest gardens that so far has not featured much in the literature on the subject.” This is what Tomas has done.

We are now 30 years on from when Robert Hart defined our current concept of forest gardening. These 30 years give us the opportunity to look at what has worked and what has not in forest garden design, we have sites that have evolved for the past 20 or more years and share a story.

The story is not only that of the succession of plants and growth of the canopy. No, it is the story of the people that started those projects, what led their original design and how this evolved, changed in time, and how in some cases they passed their forest gardens on to others. These 30 years give us the opportunity to see how communities have worked and work in shared spaces, how groups interact in the maintenance of sites, how people learn skills and learn to share them. These 30 years share the errors and frustrations people have encountered. Plants and people interact not only on the yield-harvesting level, there is more to our relation even within designed natural ecosystems and the author shows it to us.

Looking back, Tomas shares over 15 case studies in different climates, with different sizes and settings, from backyards, to educational, commercial and public settings. Each case study is a chapter by itself, and the author shares a lot of information on every project. But even specific aspects are discussed in thematic chapters.

The book is divided into four sections. The first sets the context of forest gardening, how it evolved and how it relates to other fields such as agroforestry. Section two takes the reader down a walk with Nature, understanding how it works and what is helpful for design. Then there is section three, the core of the book. Section four is a step by step guide to laying out an edible ecosystem, but it is not only focused on the first theoret-ical stage of the work but also on the practical planting phase and its maintenance, or dealing with problems.

This book takes our knowledge of forest gardening a step forward. It is a great read but at the same time it shares real research data along with personal stories of the designers and stewards of the forest gardens. Tomas has a way of writing that is friendly and informative, his way of describing some sites he visited is so descriptive the reader can actually see them, but there is more, there are all the photos. The visual side of this book is very strong. Tomas shares his work with a collection of exceptional photos, and their colour and beauty inspires.

This is not the usual book on forest gardening, describing only layout patterns or listing plants. This is a book that will take the understanding of forest gardening to a much deeper social level.

Lorenzo Costa is a permaculture practitioner, book reviewer and future farmer

Useful links

Forest gardening - does it really work?

Visit a 23-year-old forest garden