On the path into our Visitor Centre, at the main entrance to Eden, you'll see our wonderful Forest Garden. Every plant has a purpose, whether it's enriching the soil, providing food and habitat for wildlife, giving us food, medicine and materials, or any combination of these. The plants work together to create a self-regulating productive ecosystem.
Plants in our Forest Garden
We have a variety of plants that are great for wildlife and for us. Soil-improvers like Italian alder (Alnus cordata) and the Siberian pea tree (Caragana arborescens) fix nitrogen for the soil, aiding the growth of other plants. We have lots of medicinal plants too, including sweet woodruff (Gallium odoratum), used in the Middle Ages as a treatment for digestive and liver problems.
What is a forest garden?
The layered planting of a forest garden mimics a natural ecosystem – in the case of Eden, a young woodland. The layers fit together to make the best possible use of space above and below ground. This allows suitable habitats for a wide variety of insects, birds and small mammals whilst providing products for human use such as fruits, roots and wood. The natural competition and co-existence of plants in a forest garden promotes growth and self-regulation.
The layers of a forest garden
Forest gardens consist of different layers of plants which, when combined, mimic a natural woodland or forest ecosystem. In a forest, there are different habitats categorised by distance from the ground.
The upmost layer is the canopy layer where tree canopies act as windbreaks and shade, regulating the temperature underneath. Below this is the shrub layer, home to berries and woody-stemmed shrubs, which provide a habitat for small mammals and birds. Closer to the ground is the herbaceous layer with typical woodland flowers, such as wood anemone and bluebells – great for pollinators. On and in the soil are the root crops with large, starchy rhizomes. Across the soil surface is the ground cover layer, stabilising the soil and helping to retain moisture. Finally there is the vertical layer, or climber layer, that helps provide nest sites for birds and bats and produces fruit such as strawberries.