Food Forest Gardens

Food Forest Gardens

About the Author

Tonielle Christensen

Tonielle is a designer focused on improving the wellbeing of people and landscapes to generate abundance and efficiency.


Orchards can be much more productive if they are supported by other 'nurse' trees known as 'support species', which assist the growth of the main crop trees.

Converting an existing orchard into a food forest will reduce maintenance, material inputs, improve soil quality and production, and ultimately support the health of the whole landscape system.

Organic Motion designs food forest gardens for urban and acreage land which:

  • Produce food all year round
  • Produce forage for beneficial insects, pollinators, chickens and song birds
  • Create wildlife habitat
  • Save Water
  • Create beauty and sense of well being

A Food Forest is a poly-cultural system that becomes regenerative once it is established.  Natural forests do not require high inputs of resources or human energy, nor chemical fertilisers or pesticides. They are innately productive and generally have 8 layers of plant functionality; canopy, middle story, shrubs, herbs, vines, rhizosphere/tubers, ground covers, and the fungal or microbiology networks in the soil.

Based on mostly perennial plants, it mimics the beneficial relationships of plants within natural forests, which are ecosystems that are very rich in biodiversity and productivity, ultimately functioning as a self regulating system.

With this observation of the pattern of natural forests, we can interact with a landscape and cultivate a diverse and functional system with the intention of obtaining a yield of food, medicine and fibre.  By mimicking the 8 layers, the detail beyond this pattern is the appropriate plant species chosen for beneficial guilds. This results in a variety of fruits, nuts, berries, vegetables, herbs & spices, along side plants for tool making, building materials or art resources.  

The type of forest depends on climate and geography, so the type of food forest you create should mimic your local forest layers. E.g. Dry tropics forests are different to wet tropics. In surburbia, use dwarf fruit and nut tress with a limited canopy layer.

This list of plants (using common names) have been catagorised into the layer that they function within a food forest system. Many of them have multiple uses and functions, and more than one part of the plant can be eaten. For e.g  Sweet potato has an edible root and also functions as a ground cover to protect soil; the leaves can be feed to poultry and are delicious fresh or lightly cooked.

The plants written in purple are some support species to introduce in the first stages of establishing a forest garden, because they function as ground covers to protect and build soil; they can be harvested in weeks or months to provide food; and grow well without much input. They also propagate readily, so it is easy to concentrate these plants into guilds where water is available, and then expand outward as the food forest garden develops.

Support Species are one of the fundamental strategies for ensuring optimum health of soil and plants, so its no wonder why they are widely used in Permaculture practices. By inter-planting support species, they provide a multitude of functions such as:

  • Providing nutrients through decomposition
  • Living mulches (chop and drop)
  • Shade
  • Physical protection from wind or heavy rain.

For e.g. leguminous trees fix nitrogen to feed other plants through ‘chop and drop’ mulching, because they release nitrogen in their root system below and provide organic matter by way of dropped mulch from above, that helps to retain moisture and block out weeds. Native Acacias fall into this category among others.


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