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July 29, 2018


Iris in a forest garden setting | Photos by the writer
Iris in a forest garden setting | Photos by the writer

Whilst harvesting courgettes, marrows, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes and a massive amount of huge, purple-black figs and checking the germination rate of recently-sown passion fruit, kachnaar, strawberry guava and canna lily seeds, I realised that this relatively new garden of mine (I moved residence four years ago) really does need more shade. The additional peach, nectarine, apricot, orange, lemon, plum, pear, apple, cherry and pomegranate trees are not enough to safeguard vegetable, herb, soft fruit and flowers — struggling on minimum water — in beds created wherever I thought shade from the summer sun would suffice.

A shortage of shade and water not being a good combination, more trees and more water-saving measures are, I figure, an absolute must and certainly a must for many of you too.

Some of you may wonder why it has taken so long for this realisation to sink in but, please remember, it takes time to get to know your land, in micro-detail, through sunshine and rain and ever-altering climate change. A shady patch in June may not be so come September; a dry slope may, due to sub-soil water seepage from higher up, be a surprisingly wet one for weeks after seasonal rains; and the cacti and succulents you initially presumed would flourish in a dry spell, instead develop rot and moulder away.

Forest gardens have a diverse range of food-producing plants that nourish each other, use different nutrients from the soil and make the best use of space available

Creating an all-year-round garden, one in which there is always something edible, useful and beautiful too, takes years of hard work and lots of learning. The ‘food forest’ I created in my previous home took 18 years of loving labour before I was anywhere close to being satisfied with the result. If I hadn’t moved, no doubt it would be still as good, because such projects tend to be continuously ‘in progress.’

In relatively fickle climates such as ours — this applies wherever in the country you happen to live — growing challenges are often extreme. Blisteringly hot summers may be interrupted by monsoon downpours and become cool. Downright cold with snow, winter in the north with little in the way of ‘real’ spring and autumn to divide them are a part of the complicated gardening challenge.

Trees, shrubs, climbers and creepers of the perennial kind, along with perennial vegetables, herbs and flowers are the backbone of any garden worth its salt, yet many gardeners fail to make use of these to their full potential. Perennials tend to be squeezed together against and along boundary walls, with wasteful lawns and manicured beds of seasonal blooms marching, square cut and ‘sharp’, through the remaining open garden space where, during the hours of daylight, direct sun keeps humans away.


Gardens should be ‘restful’ places of dappled sunlight and shade, of fresh, preferably organic produce and flowers buzzing with bees, floating with butterflies serenaded by birdsong. To create such a paradise we must first create its nurturing structure, which is where, once again, we get back to trees and food forests.

Trees planted at suitable intervals (distance apart varies from species to species) around boundaries are fine, as long as their roots don’t eventually undermine the wall and cause it to fall, but they have a place in other parts of the garden too. A spreading mango tree or floriferous ghul mohr in the centre of a lawn, for example, eventually creates a circle of luxurious shade in which — as the grass will die back — one can grow a wide variety of edible or flowering plants that, in the summer months, won’t grow without being protected from direct sunlight. Feeding and watering these plants would automatically benefit the tree as well.

Furthermore, if one uses the ‘matka’ irrigation technique, from planting the tree onwards and extends it throughout the surrounding beds, very little water is needed. This water could be recycled grey water if you wish to be sensible and environmentally friendly all the way.


For the summer monsoon planting season, it is the ideal time to put in basic food forest structures — a home food forest being a carefully selected mix of fruit/nut trees/shrubs, fruiting vines, etc, beneath which other useful plants are grown in the shade — and the following species are amongst those recommended for this purpose. Don’t forget, however, that you can grow many things in the shade of purely-flowering trees too.

Fruit/nut trees include mango, chikoo, sharifa, fig, almond, date palm, coconut, lemon, orange, grapefruit, banana, guava, papaya, almond, star fruit, mulberries, persimmons, lime, apricot, peach, nectarine, plum, loquat, bair, lassura, pistachio, olive, cherry, apple and pear.

Shrubs and vine include strawberry guava, pineapple guava, falsa, blackberries, raspberries, black currants, gooseberries, red currants, blueberries, passion fruit, grapes, hibiscus for tea, roses for edible petals and rose-hip fruits.

  • Select tree/shrub, vine species suitable for your locality — if they are not available now, they should be so during the winter-planting season.

We will take more detailed ‘walks’ through some exciting forest garden concepts in the weeks to come.

And now ... sit back, close your eyes, relax and picture the forest you are about to create ... then go out and begin!g

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 29th, 2018