- Date published:
7:00 am, October 23rd, 2016 - 58 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, food, sustainability - Tags: food forest, food forests, green activism, resiliency, resiliency gardening, Riverton, robert guyton forest gardener
Robert is a sustainability pioneer who along with his family grows the oldest food forest in NZ. A long time organic gardener, permaculturist and heritage orchardist, he’s a columnist, a regional councillor for Environment Southland, and an early climate change adaptor.
Forest gardens like mine – intentional combinations of forest or woodland with managed food producing plots, are for the moment few and far between. Their numbers are on the rise though, as the idea catches on, especially with the new breed of young parents mindful of the need for homegrown food in the face of climate change. I have the strong suspicion that forest gardens are not a new phenomenon at all and have in fact featured large in the distant past, when according to recent interpretations of archeology, huge tracts of what is now regarded as jungle or forest, show signs of having been managed in a style very similar to that I’m employing here in Riverton.
Without destroying the sturdy framework that a forest provides, past civilizations have grown food crops, material for building and clothing and a host of other useful plant-derived stuff, without clearfelling every standing tree. I like to believe that this was the case and forest gardening is an old practice that served humankind well for aeons, and that it will do so again, once the latest iteration becomes recognised as the way to manage the environment successfully into the far future. These are the sorts of thoughts that occur to someone who has encouraged trees to stand where once there was lawn. The cultivation of a forest garden results in thinking that leads the forest gardener into believing that there is a way to roll back the harm done by industrial agriculture and horticulture and the spread of towns and cities, and that’s through the proliferation of these delightful ‘edible woodlands’ in whatever form, size or style people would like to adopt. In any case, I’ve got mine up and running and I’m not alone in championing them. There are other gardens like mine in New Zealand and beyond and, thanks to the electronic world wide web, anyone interested can browse the efforts of others of my ilk.
Defining a “forest garden” is not a simple task. They take many forms and differ from each other depending upon where in the world they are. Mine sits in a cool to temperate zone, where bananas won’t grow, but apples thrive. Many of the popular forest gardens I’ve seen as film or video, grow in tropical or sub-tropical climates and look more exotic than mine, with their giant bamboos, flambouyant, hummingbird-attracting flowers and huge knobbly fruits. Those differences though, are of detail, rather than broad concept and all can be said to be of the same kind; trees, shrubs, vines and almost every other class of plant, woven together in a way the mirrors the natural world of plants while at the same time being cultivated for human purpose.
Chaotic is the word that springs to the lips of the conservative gardener, seeing a forest garden for the first time, and the order that does in fact exist in these gardens is a lot more complex than that found in a lawn-and-box-hedge garden, giving the impression of disorder. My own house is surrounded closely with a great range of plants that seem to the visitor, they tell me, to overwhelm and threaten the little colonial cottage we live in. From my point of view, those plants are welcome to tower, even come inside if they would, I’m very comfortable living as a forest creature and don’t need to have a demarcation zone around my home. If I was living in fire-prone Australia or any country that harbours snakes or illness-carrying mosquitoes, I’d change my tune, but here in cool, well-watered Southland where snakes are never found, I can afford to have the garden wrap itself close.
This post is part of a series appearing over 12 Sundays. Other parts can be seen here.