Our Forest Garden
In 1991, our family of 4 moved into the Garden Cottage, so named because it sits within the old walled garden of a large estate. Our house was built as a retirement home for the gillie of the estate, in the late 1940’s, when the necessity for the kitchen garden had dwindled rather. When we bought it, the property included an impressive ¼ acre of weeds, with a couple of apple trees chucked in for good measure.
We enthusiastically began building our forest garden, including planting generous quantities of fruit trees and bushes, soft and hardwoods, ground-covering and edible plants.
The building has also changed significantly since then, doubling in size and turning from a laird’s view of what constituted comfort for an artisan immediately post-war, to a family home, doubling in size and becoming much more energy efficient.
Here you can see some of our early experiments – as with any project you can expect successes and failures; although we like to think we’ve had more of the former! A framework of ‘climax trees’ (fruit and nuts and some sacrificial timber crops for fuel) has been planted and is interspersed with understorey plants favouring food crops.
Over the years we have, for instance, succeeded in growing several vegetable and fruit varieties ‘too far north’. Quince, plums, cherries, apples, pears, apricots, pumpkins – all have flourished in our little patch of paradise, when other people said they couldn’t! We have had great success with our nut trees – prolific hazels, but walnuts and chestnuts only just coming to fruition. We are perennially over-run with strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, red, white and blackcurrants, blackberries and a whole host of hybrid berries. A flurry of pie, jam and chutney making usually follows.
We have pioneered wild salads locally and our edible flower salads are legendary. At the same latitude as Moscow and Alaska you can eat salad out of the garden pretty much the whole year round except when it snows.
We grow our own firewood and timber for garden constructions.
Annual crops this year include multiple varieties of: potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, beetroot, radishes, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, peas, broad (fava) and runner beans, garlic, fennel, artichokes (globe and Jerusalem) rocket lettuce and another dozen green salad plants, more herbs than you could consume in a lifetime, pumpkins, courgettes/marrows, We’re waiting to see whether our sunflowers succeed!
We have over the years had many welcome visitors, either on teaching and training, or open days (we still run these in the summer, or for invited audiences, so email us if you would like to know when the next one is!).
Our most frequent visitors are the huge variety of birds, bugs and small animals who have found a happy home here. For many years we kept chickens, and have also housed at various times: guinea pigs, rabbits, bees, Muscovy and Call ducks, and even two pigs. Currently our invited guests are some goldfish and a family of Call ducks, 1 male and 3 female, one of whom also successfully raised 5 ducklings this summer.
We also happily house a huge variety of ‘uninvited’ guests – birds including most of the usual suspects you could spot in a garden, topped off with delights such as woodpeckers, treecreepers, goldfinches, nuthatches, flycatchers, and goldcrests. Last winter we had fieldfares from Scandinavia who survived the snow off our surplus apples. Bugs of all kinds from the inherent scotch midges, the delightful lacewings and damselflies, to bumblebees as big as your top thumb joint. Hedgehogs, and other small snuffly creatures of the night. We discourage pheasants, rats, pigeons and neighbourhood cats and dogs, purely because their effect on the ecosystem can be disastrous if left to roam free!
Our garden, at times, has been a playground, campsite, concert hall, and fine dining establishment (of course with plenty of home-grown produce), ice-rink, pig’s palace, and bird sanctuary. It has aided the local community centre in getting rid of 30 years’ worth of pigeon droppings (lovely mulch, thanks). It has provided hundreds of alpine strawberry plants to the people of Berwickshire, as well as saplings, soft fruit bushes, seeds and fruit.
It has now been twenty years since we planted our first foot on this green, green grass of home. It now tells us the seasons by how much of the back wall you can see from the kitchen window –
Every day it brings us new joy, new experiences, and new fruitfulness.
Come and join us soon at one of our Open Days, and sample our little patch of Scottish heaven. To find out more about the open days, email us using the details in the sidebar.
To learn about permaculture and its sustainable design principles, pick up one of Graham’s books, published by Permanent Publications.
It is standing proof of the success of a permaculture forest garden, and we hope to enjoy another 20 years in it.