“I’m not sure about radically simple,” declares Lincoln, the Forest Garden’s founder, instructor, and lead designer, “A lot of what we do is pretty complicated!” The Forest Garden is a permaculture project - a holistic approach to growing food.
Permaculture is a design process that establishes productive ecosystems with long-term sustainability for both human and non-human life. With its focus on perennial crops, such as fruit and nut trees, permaculture benefits future generations. With an emphasis on multifunctionality, permaculture strives to create efficient systems.
The existing, natural features of the land play a pivotal role in a garden’s layout. Forest gardens are specifically designed to mimic a natural forest’s layers of growth - from root to overstory. Their objective is to maximize productivity while fostering habitat for flora and fauna, growing a genetically diverse range of crops.
To get to the Forest Garden, we drive 30 minutes due east from Washington, DC to Bowie, Maryland. We park at the cul-de-sac at the end of a suburban street in a middle-upper class, suburban neighborhood, an unlikely location for a forest garden.
Ben, the garden’s soil ecologist, instructor, and consultant, and Lincoln emerge from what seems like someone’s backyard to greet us. The late sun casts honey-colored light on our faces as we introduce ourselves.
We make our way across an open field to the garden entrance. The towering gate is decorated with large, cherry wood letters that spell out Forest Garden.
Just before the fence, we stop to look at some pear trees. Lincoln points to a faint, horizontal line on the trunk where two species were grafted together. This allows them to utilize the already-established root system of the existing tree to grow another, more palatable variety.
Lincoln and Ben’s passions radiate as they begin showing us around the 10 acres. About half of the land, where most of the active cultivation is happening, is relatively open. The other five acres are densely wooded. They lead us along the grassy paths that separate the different beds. Lincoln admits that the garden is still in an experimental phase, as they determine what grows well where and what doesn’t, and remediating the soil with nitrogen-fixing plants.
The Forest Garden doesn’t look like the average American garden or farm, with tidy beds and orderly rows. There is some signage to identify particular plants, but mostly it’s a potpourri of color, texture, scent, and sound.
The hum of bumblebees reverberates through the air as they nectar on some nearby anise hyssop. Lincoln invites us to try some of the mint-and-licorice-tasting leaves. Ben walks over with two heaping handfuls of blackberries. We feel like we’ve discovered Eden.
* Check out Lincoln and Ben's website to learn more about the Forest Garden and other projects, including events, classes, tours, and workshops.