An edible forest garden in Cornwall
Informed by the ethos of permaculture, an edible forest garden sits easily in the Cornish landscape, filled with fragrant herbs, wildflowers and fruit-bearing trees. Words Hannah Gardner, photographs Jason Ingram
Sid Hill’s passion is creating landscapes and plantings that echo wild plant communities. His designs often feature perennial meadows, small-scale woodlands and wetlands – habitats that produce useful resources, restore environments and improve people’s lives.
The origins of an edible forest garden lie in gathering and indigenous culture, where nature and cultivation coexist and benefit the planet. This groundbreaking Cornish edible forest garden was created in 2018 for a client who wanted just such a garden – for wildlife, flowers and harvests. The small plot occupies a southwest-facing slope tucked behind thick hedges. Situated adjacent to the house, the edible plants are close at hand and the wildlife noticeable from the kitchen windows.
The garden is designed to mimic the layers of a natural forest ecosystem while the plant choices focus on edibles and medicinals. The priority is herbs for brewing tea, so fennel, mints and lemon verbena are prolific. Trees and shrubs were selected to offer edible crops and create an open canopy that allows light to filter through to lower layers of planting.
A yellow-flowered Cornus mas lights up the garden in early spring, the autumn fruit delicious eaten raw, dried or cooked. Another forest garden favourite, Amelanchier alnifolia, has a beautiful light habit, producing first a cloud of showy white blossom, and, from midsummer, lush, dark berries.
Blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes mingle with a dwarf apple and a pear tree, while a perennial woodland meadow forms an intricate, biodiverse thatch of wildflowers. Chives and sorrel have been added to enhance the edible credentials of the ‘forest floor’. Such an impressive variety of habitats increases the biodiversity.
What An ecological edible forest garden underplanted with a diverse woodland meadow.
Size A small plot within a more conventional but ecology-focused, one-acre family garden. The forest garden is just 29 square metres.
Soil Fertile loam 50-60cm deep.
Hardiness zone USDA 9b.
A lofty, multi-trunked Cordyline australis, or cabbage palm, rises dramatically above a complex planting of edible shrubs, trees and perennials. Shrubs, such as Mahonia aquifolium with its edible berries and flowers, contribute to harvesting potential as well as the layered planting.
Wooden and stone features pepper this busy, yet unified space. These have been imaginatively crafted by Sid from found materials. Wildlife is encouraged and celebrated, with additions such as insect boxes displayed rather than hidden away.
Habitats for wildlife are a priority in this ecologically focused garden, and include a decaying log stack much as you might find when out walking in the woods. Well placed in a quiet spot at the base of a thick hedge, it attracts beetles and grubs and adds atmosphere.
A simple timber table and chairs create a destination within the garden. A tree fern at the foot of a beautifully carved tree-trunk sculpture is a remnant from a previous planting, and the phlomis was retained for its structural interest and resilient habit.
Stepping stones provide an unobtrusive pathway through the forest garden, and any open ground is covered by a colourful mix of perennial daisies, wild strawberries and potentilla. The informality and density of the sown woodland meadow creates a sense of beauty and cohesion.
The grass-free meadow planting – a jostling crowd of Silene dioica (red campion), Aquilegia vulgaris (granny’s bonnet) and Leucanthemum vulgare
(oxeye daisy) – evokes the romance an open woodland glade and is abuzz with insect life.
8 plants for an eco garden
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Find out more about Sid’s work at sidhillecogardens.com
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