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Choosing Plant Groupings for the Forest Garden

Primary habitats


Based on the wetland and eventual canopy locations, I filled in plant groupings on the map above.  This was a pretty complicated step, which I'll go into in far more detail than you'll care for.  First, I listed all of the plants I was interested in growing, focussing mainly on plants which will increase fertility of the soil but throwing in some nectary and edible plants as well.  Then I narrowed the plant list down to those which I can get my hands on for free (primarily on my own property), or which I'm willing to spend money on.

Next, I grouped the plants of interest into categories based on disturbance intensity, sun/shade, and moisture level.  The categories are as follows:

  • Canebrake --- wild cane and mint growing along barn with some kind of barrier so it won't invade the rest of the garden.  Regular disturbance as I harvest cane poles for building and mint for nibbling.
  • Fertility wetland --- alder shrubs (if I can find them), with horsetail and watercress in standing water.  These are all primarily being grown to be cut for mulch and to feed nearby trees.
  • Edible wetland --- elderberry, with cranberries between them.  This habitat is primary for berries, with nectaries for the beneficials, so it won't be disturbed much.
  • Sun-loving herbs --- Fertility plants (yarrow, chamomile, and comfrey) which I will regularly harvest for mulch with the addition of fennel as a nectary.
  • Fertility shade shrubs --- Hazel, with comfrey, dandelion, violet, and groundnut.  Regular disturbance as I harvest for mulch.
  • Fertility shade herbs --- the category above, but without the hazel.  I'm not sure whether I trust shrubs not to compete with my trees, so I plan to stick to herbs close to their trunks.
  • Edible/nectary shade shrubs --- Currants with bee balm.  Not much disturbance.
  • Sunnier shrubs --- raspberries/blackberries with bee balm and chives.  Moderate disturbance as I maintain cane fruits.
  • Lawn --- just what it sounds like.  For our picnic/work area.

If you're still reading, here was my reasoning behind choosing individual species.  First, the uses which are important to me.

  • Building the soil --- these fertility plants will be used for mulch, chicken feed, etc.
    • Nitrogen fixers are in high demand since only a few species can take atmospheric nitrogen and turn it into a form other plants and animals can use
    • Dynamic accumulators are good at reaching down into the soil to suck up trace minerals.
    • Coppice species are shrubs or trees which can be cut back repeatedly, creating woody biomass for mulch.  (In a larger forest garden, the woody biomass could also be used for firewood or mushroom logs.)
  • Attracting beneficial insects --- nectaries
  • Covering bare ground fast --- ground covers
  • Edible --- I didn't focus on this, but some of the species might make nice additions to our dinner table.

The top species before I narrowed it down (with ones I have nearby marked with an asterisk):

Name
Use
Habitat
*Hazel
edible, fertility (coppice)
sun
River cane
building material
wet, sun
Ramps
edible, nectary
shade
Cranberry
edible, ground cover
wet, sun
*Willow
fertility (coppice)
wet, sun
Alder
fertility (nitrogen fixer, coppice)
wet, sun
Currants
edible, nectary
sun to shade
*Violet
fertility (dynamic accumulator), ground cover
sun to shade
*Groundnut
fertility (nitrogen fixer), ground cover, nectary, edible
sun
*Yarrow
fertility (dynamic accumulator), nectary, ground cover
sun
*Chives
fertility (dynamic accumulator), edible, nectary, ground cover
sun
*German chamomile
fertility (dynamic accumulator), edible
sun
*Horsetail
fertility (dynamic accumulator)
wet, partial shade
*Lemon balm
fertility (dynamic accumulator), nectary, groundcover
sun
*Spearmint
fertility (dynamic accumulator), edible, nectary, groundcover
sun
*Watercress
fertility (dynamic accumulator), edible
sun, wet
*Comfrey
fertility (dynamic accumulator), nectary
sun
*Dandelion
fertility (dynamic accumulator), nectary, edible
sun
*Bee balm
nectary
sun
*Elderberry
edible, nectary
wet, sun
*Fennel
nectary
sun




This post is part of our Planning The Forest Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:




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