Martin Crawford has carried out extensive research into forest gardening – the use of permanent shrub and tree cover to a provide self-sustaining food source – and in so doing has established the Agroforestry Trust with its semi-tropical wonderland on the Dartington Estate where his ideas and practices are demonstrated.
The Agroforestry Research Trust is a charity set up by Martin to research into temperate agroforestry and into all aspects of plant cropping and uses but focused on tree, shrub and perennial crops. He founded it 1992 and its extensive array of academic and practical research projects have been published in a number of publications and in the Trust’s own quarterly journal, Agroforestry News.
The trial site is a 2.1 acre field which since 1994 has been a demonstration forest garden comprising many different levels of trees, shrubs and ground covers, all coexisting and producing useful products such as fruits, nuts, medicinal products etc.. The forest garden is self-sustaining, containing a very diverse number of species and thus very resilient to pests, diseases and the vagaries of the climate. It provides a wide variety of fruits, nuts, edible leaves, medicinal plants, poles, fibres for tying etc.. It is self-fertilising by the use of specific plants which supply nutrients: nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs (particularly Alders and Elaeagnus) which can utilise nitrogen directly from the air and make it available to other plants; and dynamic accumulators (particularly coltsfoot, comfrey, sorrel) – deep-rooting plants which tap phosphate and potash sources deep in the subsoil, raise them into the topsoil layer and make them available to other plants.
Around 140 different species of tree and shrub crops has been used to form the ‘canopy’ layer of tallest trees and shrubs. These range from common species like apples, pears and plums, to less common ones like azaroles, chinkapins, cornelian cherries, highbush cranberries, honey locusts, Japanese pepper trees, medlars, mulberries, persimmons, quinces, strawberry trees, and sweet chestnuts. An area of basketry willows has been planted in a wet area of the site.
Shrubs of varying sizes occupy much of the space beneath trees, including the more common bush fruits (currants and berries) and others such as barberries, elaeagnus, Japanese bitter oranges, Oregon grapes, plum yews, and service berries. Many of the under storey shrubs are be nitrogen-fixers. The grass ground cover has gradually been replaced with other ground cover species of use. Main species used for ground cover will include: Bamboos, especially dwarf species; carpeting species of blackberry; herbs; and deep rooting perennials such as comfrey.
I spent a fabulous morning wandering around this wonderland as the gentle rain wetted the atmosphere and everything in it. It was an experience never to be forgotten – the only downside being that Martin himself didn’t show up!!
For more on The Agroforestry Trust follow the link
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC!]