The Joys of a Forest Garden

by: Sara on 03/14/2016

The dream of combining two of my favourite things, gardening and the forest, comes alive in today's post from Jeanine Davis, the co-author of Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals . I had heard of forest gardens in terms of incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables, but I hadn't thought of just wandering into the woods and planting my favourite herbs! Don't forget our garden sale runs until March 18th, get 35% this or any other New Society garden book when you order online with the discount code Garden16.

Pic 32 beautiful bloodroot flowers KG-001

Beautiful bloodroot flowers

It’s finally March! The days are getting longer, the light is more golden, and the air is usually warmer. For those of us infected with the gardening bug, we head outside at every opportunity to smell the fresh earth and look for early spring flowers and little green sprouts. I have a passion for forest herbs, so I stroll through the woods looking for the first signs of bloodroot and ramps emerging. I love my woodland gardens and am thrilled that so many other gardeners are also discovering the joys of growing in the woods. Think of all the benefits of gardening under the trees compared to in the full sun. Forest gardens are usually cool and quiet. The soil is soft, moist, and fragrant. Most of the plants are perennials, so you don’t have to replant them every year. And there is a wide variety of forest food, medicine, and decorative plants to choose from. Come mid-August, I would much rather be working in my medicinal herb garden in the woods than under the blazing sun in my vegetable garden!

If this is the year that you want to start a forest garden, begin with a well

Pic 40 trout lily (trillium sessile) AD-001

Trout lily

thought out plan. Walk your woods and decide where you want your garden to be and how large it should be to start. Decide where your path or paths will be, keeping in mind easy of walking and erosion potential. Study the trees and the terrain and start imagining which plants could go where. Do you already have some desirable woodland plants to work with? Do you want this to be a medicinal herb garden, a mixed food and medicinal herb garden, only native plants, or a potpourri of forest favorites?

Sketch it out, make a list, decide how many plants you need of each, and start looking for plant sales, spring festivals, farmers’ markets, and community plant swaps. One of my favorite events is a big herb festival that is held in my area the first weekend in May. Tens of thousands of people descend on that festival over a three day period to visit the fifty plus vendors selling every kind of herb you can imagine. You can always recognize the veteran shoppers because they are the ones pulling little red wagons or collapsable carts to comfortably carry large numbers of plants back to their cars.

There are also many nurseries with online stores from which to buy from. Be sure to get recommendations, or at least read the reviews, so you know you are buying from a quality nursery.  Then, from the comfort of your recliner, you can scroll through hundreds of images of plants, make your selections, and have them sent directly to your home. I have a whole section devoted to the home woodland garden in my book, Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals. It provides you all the information you need to start your forest garden along with stories of three of my friends’ gardens.

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