Manchester Drive Forest Garden Project

The purpose of this blog is to document the development of the forest garden project that I have been setting up at Manchester Drive allotment site in Leigh on Sea, Essex, as well as any other random permacultural (or not) rambling thoughts that might happen to stray from my brain. I hope you enjoy it or better still, feel inspired to start your own edible food forest!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Margaret McMillan Forest Garden, Crouch Hill

As well as Robert Hart's forest garden, one of the major inspirations for the Manchester Drive project has been the work of Naturewise, a North London based urban Permaculture project based around the Crouch Hill area. As well as running regular permaculture courses Naturewise have set up two urban forest gardens. The first, established around 1993, was at the back of Bowlers Green Community Nursery on a steep slope on public land, the second, created in 1n 1996, is at the Margaret McMillan Nursery School. Heres an ariel shot from Google maps.

I first visited this project shortly after it had been initially planted up some ten years ago, and spent alot of time their during the full Permaculture Design Course I attended in 1997, when all the trees were very small, and it was still possible to grow lots of annual sun loving crops such as tomatoes, mediteranian herbs, etc in the large unfilled spaces in the heavily mulched beds. I've made various visits back there over the intervening years, either as part of Naturewise courses I've taught on or various permaculture gatherings, workdays, etc, and its been fascinating to watch the evolution towards an edible woodland landscape as the shrubs and bushes have spread, the trees have matured and their canopy has gradually closed. One of the main driving forces keeping the project going was the energy of naturewise co-founder Alpay Torgut, so when he moved away to Wales a year or so ago it was sad to see the forest garden slide into a period of neglect. We visited Margaret Mcmillan during the last design course in the summer of 2005 and I have to say it was beginning to look rather sad, with bindweed getting the upper hand and several of the more rampant fruit bushes such as Worcesterberry in severe need of what Robert Hart termed 'editing' in order to prevent their domination over other plants.

However I'm delighted to say that several volunteers, more than ably co-ordinated by the efforts of course graduate Claire White, have quickly restored the garden to an optimum condition, an abundant balance between wild nature and cultivated edible landscape with a host of yields beyond simply the lush salad leaves curently available and promise of berries, currants and fruits as the year moves on. It was a pleasure to spend yesterday afternoon there amongst the blossom and fresh spring growth with excelent company.

In his latest book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren comments that "Successful gardens do not keep expanding. Instead, they provide a surplus of plant stock and knowledge that help to establish new gardens". There is a story that members of East London based food growing project OrganicLea once took cuttings of an unusual currant which they went on to propogate at their own site. The original bush at the Naturewise garden eventually died for some reason. However they were in turn able to re-establish their stock by taking fresh cuttings back from OrganicLea... An example of the truism that if you give something away it will come back to you threefold. Also of the Permaculture principle that 'Everything Cycles'.

Another permaculture principle is that 'the problem is the solution'. In this case the thinned out Worcesterberry that had begun to choke many of the beds in the forest garden had been potted up and were being given away as plant stock. I took two potted bushes (as well as cuttings of their delicious Strawberry Grape and Buffalo Currant) for the Manchester Drive forest garden, where its rampant qualities may be exactly what I need to compete with my endemic brambles and tough grasses...

For more information about the Margaret McMillan forest garden and volunteer workdays see


At 11:03 am, Blogger King Amdo said...

Looks lovely Graham!...interesting and usful plants also :)

...the birds will be gorging happily!

At 4:11 pm, Anonymous MorbihanPrincess said...

How are you coping with the heat over there? Is the mulching working? How are the young trees doing?
Please - more blog and pics!
Hydrangeas are wilting with the drought and the currants under the apple tree are the only ones showing decent fruit. We are up to 39 degress most days here.
Thought Brittany was supposed to be temperate !!

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