A forest garden mimics the natural forest system where several differrent species of plants will grow together, using different layers in height such as the ground to tree canopy. This gives a greater yield in a small space. Forest gardening can be done anywhere from balconies, to pots or small to large land based situations.
We have created our Forest Garden starter kits to help bring this technique of growing food to local communities and their gardens, helping to build personal resilience and promote well being. Our kits vary according to which one has been purchased. If you have purchased a kit, please check the label which came with yours, to see which plants it contains.
Below are details about each plant in the kit, how we use them at Wishtree, and which layer of the Forest Garden they fit into. Your kit may contain up to nine different plants. You may even find the odd escapee annual!
How your plants grow will depend on the microclimate of your garden, type of soil and how you maintain them and the area around them. We recommend you feed with a natural liquid feed, such as comfrey and nettle or the chop and drop method.
We have included information on the plants based on our experience of how they grow at Wishtree. This may be a good indication and guide of how they may grow locally, in the areas surrounding Wishtree.
Autumn Olive – Elaeagnus umbellata (also called September Berry)
(Red Cascade or Hidden Springs)
Height and Spread: 5m x 5m
Prefers well drained soil
Prefers sun in order to flower and fruit.
Flower Colour: cream flowers and orange/red berries
Early spring flowering and a good source for bees and other pollinators. We have found bumble bees especially like it. It is nitrogen-fixing, providing other plants with fertility. We use it as a ‘chop and drop’ . We also use it as a windbreak to protect other plants and structures from the strong winds.
It has small orange to red berries, great for jam but best eaten straight from the plant, where you can get its medicinal benefits directly. 17 times more lycopene than tomatoes, source of fibre and omega 3 fatty acids. Source of vits A, C, E and essential fatty acids.
Applemint – Mentha Suaveolens
Height x spread: 1m x 0.8m (Can spread beyond this)
Prefers sun and well drained soil
Flower Colour: small tubular, lilac flowers
Great for bees and other pollinators. We love using this plant as a groundcover too as it spreads where we want it to, keeping grass and other weeds at bay. If it gets out of hand we use it as a chop and drop for mulching. It works really well in a forest garden.
We use the fresh tips for salads or slightly larger for use as a vegetable, but only where the stems are not tough. Contains vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12 and K, as well as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium and zinc.
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
Height x spread: 0.6m – 0.6m
Prefers full sun and will tolerate moist and dry soil
Flower Colour: white umbeliferous flowers
We use this as a support species and systems plant to encourage beneficial insects. Yarrow can be used with other plants as a compost accelerator. It is also a dynamic accumulator, bringing up minerals from the soil.
We use this in our salads but only in small doses as it can be toxic.
We have used this as an astringent to stop nose bleeds, helping to reduce the flow of blood.
Chives – Allium schoenoprasum
Height and Spread: 0.5m x 0.5m
Prefers sun but can grow in semi-shade.
Prefers moist well drained soil. Will grow in heavy clay.
Flower Colour: Pink flowers
We plant chives amongst other plants as part of a guild or polyculture and along the edges of the gardens to attract beneficial insects and add a splash of colour in the hedges.
We eat the green stems and pink flowers. They make our salads look attractive, along with other edible flowers. Pick the flowers apart and sprinkle over your salad.
Soapwort -saponaria officinalis
Height and spread: 1-3m x 0.6m
Prefers shade but will grow in full sun. Prefers well drained soil.
Flower Colour: Pink flowers
Works well as ground cover bringing with it small pink flowers. Soapwort can also be included in the ground cover layer.
This plant contains a chemical called saponins which soap can be made from. We have made a liquid soap from the stems and leaves, as one of the activities with our Children In Permaculture work and for home use. It works well as a shampoo for hair when used with rosemary. The soap is also good for those who have delicate or dry skin.
It can be used for cleaning delicate fabrics.
We do not eat this plant due to the saponins it contains.
Do not plant near or next to a pond as it will harm the fish and pond life.
Ground Cover Layer
Calendula – Calendula Officinalis (pot marigold)
(Annual – can act as a perennial by self seeding)
Height and spread: 0.1m – 0.5m x 0.1m – 0.5m
Prefers full sun and well drained soil. Will grow in heavy clay.
Flower Colour: Various shades of orange
The name Calendula means ‘little clock’ or ‘little calendar’. This is possibly where the name calendula comes from as it can flower every day of the year. In our micro- climate we have found that it doesn’t survive all winter outside but will self-seed. However It does flower all year in our polytunnel. How it behaves will differ depending on the local area conditions.
They are said to help reduce soil eel worm. For this reason we are using them as a systems plant along the edge of our beds to support other plants. They also provide a source of nectar for beneficial insects and adds great colour around the microfarm. It makes a great cut flower too.
Good ground cover plant if allowed to spread.
We eat the petals and have since discovered you can eat the leaves too. We have also made a tea from the petals both as a drink and cooled as part of our medicine cupboard.
Salad Burnet – Sanguisorba minor
Height and spread: 0.6m x 0.5m
Prefers moist well drained soil
Prefers sun but will grow in semi shade
Flower Colour: Red to brown
This plant is in leaf all year. We use salad burnet as one of our systems plants for its dynamic accumulator abilities. This means it collects minerals from the soil providing other plants with nutrients which they are unable to access with their roots. We chop and drop this around the plants to feed them.
We harvest the younger leaves in the spring and eat them raw as part of a mixed salad. The larger leaves can be cooked like spinach, although they can be tough as they get older.
Contains Protein: 11.1g; Fat: 2g; Carbohydrate: 80.4g; Fibre: 18g; Ash: 6.5g;
Alpine Strawberry – Fragaria vesca
Height and spread: 0.3m x 0.3m (can spread prolifically)
Prefers semi-shade to full sun
Prefers well drained soil but will grow on heavy clay
Flower Colour: white flowers and red fruit
We love these plants! They are one of our most used plants for successional ground cover and for suppressing weeds. They have done better in the better-drained beds and areas. They can maintain leaf cover over the winter if they are happy where they are located.
We grow these as ground cover around more upright growing annual and perennials. They will last a long time as long as any weed competition is eliminated. We have planted these along walls and over rockeries where they do exceptionally well.
They produce tiny white flowers which turn into tiny strawberries. Although they are quite small they have the most amazing sweet, floral flavour. They complement the bitter taste of raw, nine star perennial broccoli leaves very well. The fruit can be quite large for such a small berry if they are well cared for. We also eat the leaves as part of a mixed salad.
Clover – Trifolium repens (white) or Trifolium pratense (red)
Height and spread: 1m x 1m
Prefers a range of soils. Although it prefers well drained soil we have found that even in wet conditions it does very well. (Our soil is heavy clay)
Prefers full sun or shade
Flower Colour: White and Pink/red flowers
Clover is another of our go to ground cover plants. We use clover for its nitrogen fixing and green manure properties and its benefits to bees and other beneficial insects. We plant or sow seed into all our beds and grassy areas to use it as a systems plant, supporting annuals and perennials, feeding them and reducing weed cover.
We have eaten the flowers as part of a mixed salad but the leaves are said to be edible too. A wine can be made from the flowers although we have not done this yet. Red clover is suggested to be more nutritious than white clover.
One of our Forest Garden Starter Kit