Forest gardens are based on the structure of young natural woodland but with a planting composition of perennial food plants and functional species. Originating in the tropics, they have been adapted for temperate climates in the last two decades, principally through the permaculture movement. We conducted a preliminary productivity assessment of forest gardens compared to organic kitchen gardens (annual vegetables and mixed fruit) at Schumacher College.
Yield was substantially lower in forest gardens than kitchen gardens but with proportionately lower labour requirements. Forest garden plots were established in 2007 so yield is anticipated to increase as fruit trees mature. Yield was also subject to the practicalities of perennial greens as food crops and environmental constraints due to locality and design. Challenges with perennial greens relate to seasonal availability, labour associated with harvesting and food preparation.
One of the major benefits of forest gardens is ecological and yield stability in variable climates, a consequence of high species diversity. Forest gardens are highly resource extensive, requiring little or no material inputs, as well as minimal labour. Species used as leaf crops in the forest garden are proven to be higher in dietary fibre, macro- and micronutrients than domesticated leaf crops.