The Therapeutic Garden

February 4, 2015


RHart“Sitting in a wilderness garden you can almost hear the generative power of nature. It is like watching a speeded-up film, when buds uncurl, flowers open and shrubs expand as if by magic. If we were to leave a patch of land free from human intervention – no cropping, mowing, digging or ploughing – it would quickly revert to its natural state…It is this feeling of wild, unfettered energy one seeks to create in a therapeutic garden” (Dondald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden)

An edible forest garden is an example of therapeutic gardening that embraces nature as a regenerating source of well being. Not only is the food plentiful, its design is self sustaining, engaging itself in its own reproduction and fertility.

“Symbiosis – ‘living togeher’ or mutual aid – is the basic law of life. Evolution is a holistic process, the development of ever more complex integrated organisms, involving a spiritual element which ensures that the whole is more than the sum of its parts” (Robert Hart, Forest Gardening: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age).

Forest gardening is a practical means of cultivation, as it involves low maintenance in regards to watering and weeding. The forest garden appears chaotic and dishevelled, and yet its layered design is a complex arrangement of companion planting. It is a self-regulating habitat, an ecological system, which benefits both mind and body. “If a garden is to mirror nature it must be varied, irregular, random and wild” (Donald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARobert Hart, a pioneer of forest gardening, promoted the virtues of working with nature to produce both food and medicine. Hart worked less than an acre of land in his backyard in Shropshire, England. He planted his garden with a canopy layer of tall fruit trees, underplanted with fruit bushes, perennial herbs and vegetables. Climbing plants were also incorporated, which used the higher layers of vegetation for support. The garden also utilised living mulches (lower level plants) to compete with weeds, which also deterred pests and regulated the growing environment.

“The forest is the scene of incessant dynamic happenings, positive and negative, harmonious and competitive: fighting and courtship, mating and feeding, socialising and display. By miracles of natural alchemy, Gaia and her agents have evolved innumerable forms, rhythms, colours, structures, devices, movements, scents, sounds, and adaptations some of extraordinary ingenuity, many of great beauty” (Robert Hart, Forest Gardening: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age).

Hart was a carer for his brother, born with severe learning disabilities. Forest gardening supported his dedication to providing his brother with a vital therapeutic surrounding, composed entirely from the forces of nature. Hart’s garden was also his art, laboratory and sanctuary. His dedication to experimenting with edible biodiversity has since inspired a generation of ecologically minded gardeners. His spirt lives on within the legacy of the forest garden tradition which supports the rejuvenation and well being of people and earth.


1. Robert Hart Author of a Forest Garden

2. Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden


Creating a Forest Garden Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops by Martin Crawford

Forest Gardeing: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age by Robert Hart

The Therapeutic Garden by Donald Norfolk

“Edible Woodland” by Matthew Wilson (Financial Times Weekend, January 31-February 1, 2015)