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on 8 February 2011
This book is the first of two volumes that lays out the vision and theory for sustainable food production systems modelled on natural woodlands. Forest gardening has a history of use in tropical climates, but the concept of multi-level food producing systems for temperate climates was explored by Robert Hart in his book Forest Gardening: Cultivating an Edible Landscape. Other books have followed on from this early work, including Patrick Whitefield's How to Make a Forest Garden: 1 and the recent and excellent Creating a Forest Garden: Working with nature to grow edible crops by Martin Crawford which gives a great deal of practical information on how to set about planning and planting a forest garden.

The subject of the review complements these other books and provides a great deal of depth that underpins them. In Part One: Vision, it discusses the motivation for forest gardening, the vision of creating a new garden of Eden .. "Picture yourself in a forest where almost everything around you is food". The need to move beyond our current agricultural systems that can't operate without fossil fuels. The benefits of a permaculture self-sustaining system capable of producing food, fuel, fungi, fibre, fodder, fertiliser and "farmaceuticals".

Part Two: Ecology provides a detailed understanding of the interactions within a forest system. Four chapters cover the elements of the forest architecture, the social structure within the ecosystem, the soil and succession. This part gets into the details of some of the ecological theory, but it helps the designer and gardeners understand the principles behind why a forest garden works.

The back of the book includes three appendices, the first of which gives a list of top 100 species for a forest garden, secondly plant hardiness maps and thirdly a list of publications and organisations.

The book is written in an engaging way. There are lots of box-outs to break the denser theory sections. The book is very well illustrated with black and white as well as colour line drawings and photographs. There are three case studies covering particular gardens including the Robert Hart's and Martin Crawford's forest gardens.

This book is probably not the one to start with if you are new to forest gardening. It is quite expensive and you would have to do a lot of reading and move onto volume two before you get to most of the practical advice. It also aimed at North American climate rather than the UK, although much is relevant to the UK and hardiness zones are given. Martin Crawford's book Creating a Forest Garden: Working with nature to grow edible crops is a much better choice to get started with. However, this book is an invaluable addition for those who want to dig deeper and appreciate the wonder and complexity of a forest ecosystem and how it provides a model for a truly sustainable productive system. Inspirational!
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