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Forest Gardens are a great way to grow a large variety of food in a self-sustaining low-input way, by careful design that harnesses natural processes.

Forest gardens are wild by design

Forest gardeners:

  • Model their designs on the natural forms and patterns found in nature, and the natural life-cycle of the plants is left alone.

  • Do not remove fallen leaves for composting, leaving them instead to be incorporated into the living soil below.  The forest floor is basically a mattress of compost that has all the fungi and wildlife to break down dead organic material, retuning nutrients to the soil.

  • Allow annual and biennial plants to seed and spread naturally through the forest where they can find the places they grow best and from there spread and re-grow from then on.

  • Do not use synthetic chemicals, as they know the value of the beneficial insects and the living soil web which supports the system: everything in nature is interconnected.

  • Know that weeds are useful, although the value of some have been forgotten.  Some balance soil deficiencies, others attract beneficial insects or protect soil.  Many were brought by our early settlers who knew their health or culinary benefits, or their use in dyes, pest control and more.

  • Only need simple hand tools, because once the garden is established, the forest gardeners become gatherers and foragers in their own backyard: lawns disappear...

Forest gardens are resilient

 Forest gardens are being established around the world as people are learning that natural ecosystems are more resistant to extremes of weather. Key points:


  • With frosts, the shade of the taller trees protects the tender plants below from early morning direct sunlight which would otherwise damage plant cells.

  • Downpours won’t wash away the soil because the ground is always covered in a variety of living plants or mulch (made up of dead plants).

  • Sunlight removes carbon from bare soil (ref) but in a forest garden system the soil is shielded from the sun: carbon is recycled back into the soil.

  • Droughts have little effect on the forest garden because the shade and mulch holds the moisture in the soil; you may never need to water a forest garden once it is established.

  • Wind can damage plants and blow top soil away if it is exposed. The soil in a forest garden is well protected by the diverse plant cover.

  • With climate extremes, monoculture such as is found in 'conventional' single-species orchards is very vulnerable, for example when a hailstorm comes at a critical time in the plants' cycle.  With the diversity of plants in a forest garden there are always some varieties of fruit and vegetables that make it through, even though others may suffer: there is always a harvest.

Forest Gardens

Join Robert for a virtual tour of the Guyton's 25 year-old Forest Garden!

For a PDF of our  4-page Forest Garden booklet click here.

Riverton Community Forest Garden

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Riverton Community Forest Garden

This is a great example of a young forest garden, situated on the main street of Riverton behind the Anglican Church and Fire Station. The quarter acre section was purchased in 1997. It was originally envisaged that this would be a garden mainly for vegetable growing but over time this was hard to sustain due to the main grass on the land being couch, which is extremely hard to eradicate from vegetable gardens. Over time, donations of various plants have been made by individuals, the Southland branch of the Men of the Trees have donated several fruit and nut trees and Aparima Nursery Enterprise donated a selection of native trees and the land gradually developed into the forest garden it is today. The extensive use of cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) and Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) has built a huge amount of soil and has changed the soil conditions so much that a blade of couch grass is getting harder and harder to find! Please feel free to visit the garden any time - there are information sheets there or 30 minute guided tours are also available.

If you would like to support this community-accessible project, please visit our donate page!


Check our Experiences page to see about upcoming workshops. If you would like to attend a workshop but can’t find one coming up, please contact us.

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