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)

Urban Forest Gardens

April 10, 2014



(Photo: Vancouver Community Food Forest, Purple Thistle Collective)

Forest gardens generate edible habitats within a specific design,  that combines fruit trees, soft fruits, perennial vegetables and herbs together as a dense collection of intertwining foods. A forest garden is planted and then grows together, unlike a vegetable garden which needs to be cultivated and maintained on an ongoing basis. There are no rows in forest gardens, no labels, and no even spacing. The foods that are grown are to be discovered through searching.


(Photo: Fargo Forest Garden, Oregon Food in the City)

Forest gardens are a composition that encourages nature to happen in its own way, as an alive space growing to its full potential. Neat and orderly are not words used to describe a forest garden; it is an ever changing dynamic ecology, that offers a sanctuary to those who discover its virtues. The height, shade, biodiversity, and culinary possibilities of a forest garden is a resource and habitat for all life forms.

A forest garden can often relate to a rural setting, however grown within an urban space it offers a positive remedy for neglected and abandoned areas. A forest garden underscores the significance of companion planting, which most often refers to the way that particular plants grow well together. Yet companionship is also forging a relationship with people, a garden being always there when you need it.

pear guild 8-2010-1

(Photo: Beyond Companion Planting, Gaia Creations, Ecological Landscaping and Permaculture Solutions)

Within urban environments the randomness, complexity, and spirit of untamed nature, offers a metaphor for daily living. Stepping off the pavement into nearby nature restores good humor and energy levels. Forest gardens soften the hard edges of buildings and invigorate the geometric order of city streets as a resistance against predictable urban designs. These gardens are unpredictable, and encourage this trait in those willing to share in the anarchic nature of food forests.




Creating A Forest Garden

September 6, 2010

Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops is a comprehensive reference book written by Martin Crawford detailing the methods, philosophy and edible plants grown within a forest garden. He writes that “a forest garden is a garden modelled on the structure of young natural woodland, utilising plants of direct and indirect benefit to people – often edible plants. It may contain large trees, small trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, herbs, annuals, root crops and climbers, all planted in such a way as to maximise positve interactions and minimize negative interactions, with fertility maintained largely or wholly by plants themselves”.

He continues to describe the forest garden as an ecosystem, which is self-fertilising, biologically sustainable, aesthetically beautiful, requiring (once established) low levels of maintenance.  A forest garden is a biodiversity garden, an integrated planting of many layers of edible and useful plants. Martin Crawford is an expert in the field of forest gardens, Director of the Agroforestry Research Trust (,  his valuable experience has produced this essential book for anyone interested in developing large or small scale forest gardens.