To forest garden, is to garden like a forest. Nature wants to be a forest in nearly all places on land and this is how it will express itself if given a chance. Every single plant and animal (whether it knows it or not) is helping to move the process through the slow and incremental stages of succession (the bird that pooped the seed on the concrete, the weed that cracked the concrete, the root that dug the hole and left the humus). Nature has many ways to find itself as a forest and this is its climax expression, whereby it stabilizes and hosts apex predators that keep the rest of life in check and provides great planetary services such as facilitating the return of water beneath the earth and the raising of clouds for waters distribution on land. The beauty of being a human with our dexterous hands and versatile minds is the ability to replicate and facilitate the processes of nature by accelerating the stages of succession, so that we can reap the bounty of a mature forest and all the stages of succession along the way.
And thus, make a living by working with nature not against it.
The difference between a forest and a food forest is that forest gardens produce much higher yields of food, such as fruit, nuts, greens, flowers, shoots, fungi and many other products such as timber, medicines and dyes. The gardener selects the plants suited to their personal needs and those of the environment and then designs the forest to function as a natural forest. Unlike an orchard that has just one kind of tree, all at the same age, a forest garden has many layers of trees and plants that each serve different functions and support each other. For example, canopy trees, with smaller trees below wrapped in vines, and bushes and shrubs below that, followed by herbs, ground covering plants and even fungi. The key is in the layering, occupying niches and maximizing diversity whilst utilizing microclimates.
A forest garden is a closed loop ecological system, meaning that it produces its own fertility, takes care of its own pest problems, produces its own wind breaks, nurses its saplings, and takes care of its own moisture needs just like forests in nature do. It does all of this whilst providing homes and habitat for wildlife who are also in service to the forest. Forest gardening is an ancient agricultural practice that was largely extinguished because of a trend towards grain production, raising herd animals and tree monocultures. Indeed, Guatemala was once covered in vast forest gardens that fed cities. Although forest gardens are rare today they can still be found in many parts of the tropics and a renaissance is also occurring worldwide.
This kind of agriculture does not require the investment of machines that superimpose a forced regime onto nature. Instead the main investment needed is in knowledge; as every piece of land is different, not one template fits all. Practices like forest gardening whisper the promise of human integrated symbiosis with the earth.