Tour a Thriving 23-Year-Old Permaculture Food Forest – An Invitation for Wildness

My philosophy about what to do in the world
isn’t, go to a pristine area and live there and enjoy your life. It’s to find a place that’s degraded and
fix it up. Twenty-three years ago we started developing
the food forest system here. A food forest is a permanent planting. So you want to set it up just like a forest
system. The big trees and the middle-size trees, the
bottom layer and the ground layer. They work together, some plants take up some
minerals and give others back and another one does something else. It’s really lovely to put them together
and create a forest system that’s for birds and insects and for us. We’ve got 480 different species of plants
at last count and that doesn’t include the 80 different types of apples and the 16 different
types of gooseberries. Growing out in the forest garden there, aside
from the native trees, which I’ve used as a framework or a platform for building everything
else – and those provide me with shelter from the wind and also nest sites for the
birds, and the birds are a really important player in the management of the garden. In the second layer down to that we have our
fruit tree layer, which is our heritage apples and pears and plums, and nectarines and peaches,
apricots, those kinds of “production trees”, I suppose you’d call them, but that’s
not really how I think of them. In our forest garden I’ve got about 120
fruit trees, there are 80 different apple trees alone of all different names that I’ve
got from the old heritage orchards. The apple trees are a special favourite of
mine because each one has a different story and history, and some are more than 500 years
old. So as I walk around here I know each of the
trees very well and the… some are eating, some are cooking, some are sweet and crunchy,
some are quite dense and firm, and, like humans, they’re very individual and they’ve all
got a special way that they’re worth passing on. And then below that a layer of berry fruits
and currents, red currants, black currants, white currants, and gooseberries, worcesterberries,
all of those sorts of shrubby plants that like to grow in the semi-shade. In December you start getting berries and
then the plums come on, then the pears and apples, and so we have fruit here to harvest
10 months of the year. Wrapping around all of that are the biennial
and perennial herbs, some of which are edible, some of which are medicinal, and then below
that there are bulbs and root crops that grow, such as parsnips and wild carrots – those
kinds of things. And then winding their way up through these
things are vines like grape vines and kiwifruit and Manchurian gooseberries and hops and all
sorts of things, which kind of bind everything together and tie the forest together. So what I’ve tried to do here, even though
it’s Southland and grapes struggle a little bit to produce – good grapes down here,
good crops down here – is that I’ve multiplied out, propagated out dozens and dozens of grapes
that I’ve collected in from all over Southland and Otago, grown them and planted them at
the base of the various trees that we’ve got here. Like this one underneath this cabbage tree
here – this one’s been in for a few years now and has really taken off up into the canopy. But I’m taking that idea and spreading it
right throughout the whole forest garden – in a way trying to bind together the canopy in
a way that I’ve never seen before in any other forest garden. And not only will it give a different layer
or level to the garden, it may even get to the point where we could travel along those
vines, if we were adroit and nimble enough! We’re in the temperate zone at the bottom
of the South Island and quite exposed to the elements, especially the sou’westers that
come in off the southern ocean. We’ve got a hill behind us sheltering us
from the southwest winds and we face north, looking over the estuary and the mountains
and the hills, so it’s a really ideal situation. When we first came up to have a look at this
place it was ramshackle, to say the least! This area where the house is now was completely
covered in junk and the remains of the old house that had caught fire. So, most people would have not even crossed
the threshold of the property to have a look at the property, I don’t think, because
it didn’t look very appealing. But to us it did. Because I thought, well for one thing, nobody
wants it so it’s probably going to be cheap, and it was: cheap to buy. And secondly I thought: I can fix this. One of the really fortunate things about this
piece of land, and we saw it the day we came here for the first time, was that it had a
creek flowing through it, although initially it wasn’t flowing at all. It was just a muddy sink-hole, really. The creek and spring that we discovered had
been the neighbourhood rubbish place. They threw all their things in there. So at first we got all these aluminium cans
and then coke bottles and then we got right down to hobnail boots and Victorian pottery. And now it is this beautiful open spring running
across a rocky bed and even the spring over here to my left. With that in place and opened and planted
out I noticed that there were fish in it, swimming up stream. The stream runs right down to the estuary,
the Jacobs River estuary, at the bottom of the landscape here. And the galaxhids, the native whitebait family,
of which there are 7 or 9, a whole lot of different ones, they swim up these streams,
heading up as far as they can possibly go. We don’t feed them, we don’t fuss over
them, but I do sneak up and look at them as often as I possibly can. But it’s a huge bonus because, because of
the approach that we’ve taken, rather than having it grassed down to the edge of the
creek or straightened into a drain the way so many people do when they see a water body
that they can’t control, by leaving it natural with all of its stones and its fallen leaves
and so on, these fish find it good, good habitat to come up into and we’re kind of blessed
by having them here. I think that as a forest gardener one of things
that you do come to realise is that you’re a bit-player, you’re not, you’re not the
main driver out there! And really, you’re responsibility becomes
learning more about how that works, stepping back, being a bit more relaxed about the whole
thing and just watching those processes and even changing the way that you think about
harvest and about what you eat, or what you need from your garden. And so your diet could changes, as ours has,
and rather than looking to eat lettuces, we might eat alexanders or a perennial French
sorrel. If you really want to live off your land and
have everything that you want, you have to diversify your food. And so we have things like nettle soup and
those kinds of things that you otherwise wouldn’t eat, but you realise these actually are really
good vegetables and they are really good for you. But we do really like to have kumera, but
can’t grow it here so we still buy kumera and avocados and things. So we’d say probably about 70% of our food
comes from here. What I really love about living in a forest
garden is the change of seasons. So this is early spring, it’s early October,
and it’s time for the apple blossoms and at this same time the, all the herbs that
pollinate insects come up, and they start flowering. At the same time the undergrowth comes up
from being just a ground cover, protecting the ground, it comes up and becomes, like
this level, and in two weeks’ time they’ll be this high. And we use all this lovely herbal lay sort
of stuff to feed the tress and to put around the place. We do have cabbage trees, which are really
wonderful, as our canopy. They don’t give a lot of shade, but they
do provide homes for the starlings. In the ti kouka, the cabbage trees, that I’ve
got growing there, the starlings nest in almost all of them, and those starlings as they’re
feeding their younkers, their babies, are flying out and finding any soft-bodied caterpillar
or grub they can, so there’s our pest management for that kind of thing. Hundreds of birds and insects come and live
here naturally. So it’s really lovely, once we’d set up
the trees and the insect-attracting herbs and the insects came, the birds came, and
we have a huge range of native and English birds. And we do introduce some: we’ve got some
chickens – you can hear them in the background. Three seasons of the year they roam in the
forest garden, so they’re free, all the hens and the rest we’ve got, but in the
spring we’ve got little seedlings going out we have to keep them in because they know
where we plant them – they’ve got instincts. So I think they’re pretty lucky and it’s
nice when they’ve got an acre of a forest garden to walk around. They’re very happy. There’s a profound difference between a
forest garden and a conventional vegetable garden with a forest growing beside it even,
even a vegetable garden surrounded by shrubs. And I think it’s more to do with how you
think and of course how you think affects your actions. But, I think it’s the invitation for some
wildness to come into your garden, forest, and play its part. Because that’s the most powerful factor
in any growing situation like this, is what’s going to happen anyway, what the natural world’s
going to bring to you. The more intervention you make, the more mistakes
you’re likely to make. So I like to think that I often stay my hand. I see what I think is an issue or a problem
and instead of rushing in there and clear-felling it or destroying it or burning it or whatever
I would have done in the past and generally seems to happen in the wider agricultural/horticultural
world, often I’ll stop and think, Oh hang on, maybe I just need to change the way I
think about this. Which saves my back of course. I don’t have to lift anything, or dig anything. One of the biggest challenges to any gardening
or food production system is the management of weeds, or the understory. In our forest garden here we’re wanting
to have as great a diversity of plants as humanly possible and when you do that you
get this wild vibrancy as an understory and so you have to manage it in a minimalist way
if that’s, if you can get away with that. So what I’ve done here is use as many plants
as possible, such as comfrey, which we’ve got here, fennel, cardoons. But the main player is cow parsley, or wild
chervil. When we first introduced cow parsley to the
garden I was using the usual tools, sickles and scythes and so on to manage it. But then I began to wonder about, was there
an easier way. And I discovered that there was. And that’s simply going about your business,
checking on your trees, and as you do that, walk on the plant – particularly striking
its crown, so that slows… it doesn’t kill it. This is a biennial plant. But it does knock it back sufficiently so
that anything else you’ve got planted there, such as these raspberries, or red currents,
black currents and so on, can get away, get plenty of light, as those cow parsley recover
and can come back up again in order to flower. Because we need them to flower because they’re
attracting hover flies as part of our integrated pest management programme. So just walking around on top of these very
crunchy cow parsleys, without using any tools at all, it’s a bit like making a salad on
a grand scale. It’s very pleasurable to do and very effective. It’s not annihilation of the plant, it’s
just suppressing its growth for long enough for everything else to flourish. In a forest garden like ours, the major player
is wildness, is, you know, the natural world and all of those things that happen in there,
and my job is just to kind of mould that to suit our purposes – to a certain extent. We really enjoying living in a forest garden
because you can sit on the veranda in the morning and you look out and there’s no
lawns to be mowed and there’s no weeding to be done and all the birds and insects are
just having their life in the paradise you’ve created for them, so it’s very peaceful. Your conventional annual vegetable garden
growing in rows needs a huge amount of input and control from the gardener. There are not many people who would run a
rowed vegetable garden and say, Oh I don’t really do much in there, because you have
to. I haven’t done anything clever at all; I’ve
just stopped interfering with my garden basically. I’ve stopped destroying stuff, and I’ve
allowed it to become wilder and do what it wants to do, with just a little bit of management
from me. From the early days when we were setting up
the forest garden I chose to use native plants. That was the thing I was interested in most
at the time, so I knew how to propagate them. I had a lot of them already – I didn’t
have to buy them from a nursery. I had seed resources and I knew how to propagate
from cuttings. So that seemed to me the logical choice. I felt also that they were long-lasting and
somehow more appropriate for the land because they used to grow here and I kind of had a
very strong interest in indigenous everythings. From that time to now I’ve undergone something
of a change about what’s appropriate and what’s not. More so that I think everything’s appropriate
and I’m more interested in biological diversity and multiplicity and complexity. So what I’m doing is bringing in a lot of
the exotic plants that produce some product, such as food or medicine or, or even fuel,
and easing them into this native plant area, which we’re standing in now surrounding
the creek and the spring. Even though we’ve set up what we’re calling
a forest garden, it’s constantly developing, as we the people who live in it, think about
what it really means. It’s so peaceful when you walk about, and
it’s just the, all the different flowers and the energy and the action and all the
insects. And the birds have their own little life. And so the birds are doing all their thing
up in the trees and coming out and feeding and the insects are flying around and having
babies and flying off on missions. It’s like being in a, in another universe,
it’s just amazing. And it’s, to me it’s how life should be
with that livingness and that interconnectedness of all the plants and the bees and the herbs. It’s nice that the bees and the birds can
live here and we can also come and get everything we need. Like, we’ve got herbs for medicine, we’ve
got herbs for food, we’ve got things that you can eat. And so it’s like living in a, within a greengrocer
setting: you just go and pick everything you need. We’ve got probably 30 different plants in
the carrot family and this is my particular favourite. It’s called Sweet Sicily. The leaves are like stevia: they’re a natural
sweetener. So if you boil them like a herb tea and put
them in a pot with your rhubarb you don’t need so much sugar. So it’s really nice. It smells like aniseed. The seeds, at this stage in spring and summer,
the seeds are like little aniseed lollies. When we have school groups visiting the children
love eating them and they’re really gorgeous. And when they get older the seeds go dark
and you can use them to polish fine furniture, they’ve got an oil in them. It’s a really useful plant. I’ve got probably about 90 different herbs
here, so I don’t have to buy herb teas, I can just go out to the garden all year round
and get some lemon balm or lemon verbena or apple mint of raspberries. So it’s really wonderful to have this garden
here as your supermarket. And your chemist. All the time that I’ve spent here, learning
about and developing the forest garden, I like to think has actually had quite a, quite
a significant effect outside of the boundaries of this garden. Not only because I sneak out at night and
plant things along the roadside! The Environment Centre that Robyn and I conceived
of and started many years ago has been a powerful player in all of these things that I’m talking
about, because it’s offsite; it’s not us. Some people might not like the idea of this
kind of gardening, but they will go in and buy a beautiful scented natural organic soap
from the Environment Centre. So that allows a whole new layer of society
to be involved at the periphery, at the start, in some of the ideas that we’re doing here. You know we have workshops in there, we have
visiting speakers, it attracts a huge number of volunteers, so there’s that whole generosity
thing coming from the wider community into the Environment Centre and then of course
it goes out in terms of things we offer people. So yeah, it’s a beautiful little focus in
a town, which is quite different from – or a village – different from being in a garden
like this. In terms of making a positive change in the
world, creating a forest garden has to be one of the most effective things a person,
a community or a city council can do, especially if it’s done in a way that respects the
natural rhythms of the world and doesn’t fight natural processes. Through building a forest garden an incredible
amount of life is generated and sustained. The microorganisms in the soil, the birds,
the insects, the fish, the plants, and the people, who are just as integral to that web
of life. It’s really important at this stage in human
development and where we’re at in terms of what we’ve done, you know? we’ve been
so powerful, and we’ve impacted so much on the wild world around us, that if we don’t
do something fairly soon the wild world is going to consume us, and so, let’s make
a deal with the wild world, or at least get an understanding of the wild world, and that
understanding is around lack of separation. We are not separate from the wild world. We are as wild as it is. We’ve worked towards a form that is not
fitting in with the wild world at all well, and it’s going to… it’s going to realign
us, fairly soon, in my view, unless we can recognise that we need to be fully integrated
into, into that world, you know? There’s lots of things that could depress
you out in the world. But if you take each negative act as an opportunity
or a provocation to do your thing, which is the opposite of that, you know give more life,
then it’s fun, then it’s a winnable game. That’s how I see it. Thanks for watching the third film of the
Living the Change series. This is the first film that we’ve shot and
edited while being on the road. We’re in Christchurch at the moment and
we’ve been experiencing a few earthquakes, but we’re heading north now for the last
leg of the journey. If you want to learn more about the Living
the Change project you can check out I wanted to say a special thank you to Pierre
Blom, Bronwyn Plarre, Joshua Richmond and Greg O’Keefe for their generous donations
to the project. Thanks again for watching, guys, and I’ll
see you all in the next film.

100 thoughts on “Tour a Thriving 23-Year-Old Permaculture Food Forest – An Invitation for Wildness

  1. most likely one the most important videos ever on the internet. this man knows that the earth will protect herself. She breathes and knows when she is threatened. Mother will straighten out humanity.

  2. Degraded? If it isn't the arrogant gardener, my favorite half wits from the UK. And you have a single generation garden probably using Round Up to do it. One question: who's going to spray the RU around when your gone? Nature will take back what is natural and you'll be rotting in your flower beds. cheers

  3. I have something similar, but it's in the middle of a town and is 1/3 acre, including the house, a cottage and my vegetable garden. And here 7 months of the year are between cold and sub-zero.

  4. I wonder how many times bigger wildlife have discovered this little garden of eden and decided to move in haha. They have everything there that they could possibly need.

  5. Masanobu Fukuoka would be very proud of you!
    Amazing fruitful landscape!
    Your lifestyle & outlook clearly demonstrates the integral, reciprocal relationship the natural world has on human development & consciousness.
    Nature is an amazing, profound teacher!
    You both totally understand the role of good stewardship in the web of life.

  6. These people have such a beautiful garden and way of thinking about life, it really inspired me!! This way of living is truly my dream. Their forest garden kind of reminds me of the garden of eden!!

  7. Would love to hear more about the transition years and how someone from the city can work towards zero experience to start producing food from the land

  8. While I love Forest Gardening, I’m against the use of Chickens, cos it relies on the unnecessary control and slaughter of animals

  9. I'm 29 seconds in & I think this is the most beautiful video I've seen, amazing! I agree! I would prefer to live in a degraded place I can help to heal & to see the massive transformation.

  10. Amazing plot and amazing people. Just as I think myself but can’t convince the husband to change our life to a more natural setting.

  11. Lifestyle Change; Going Big, Organic:

  12. What a dream . Absolutely beautiful to see people like yourselves create natural habitats.
    So well done .

  13. wow it looks like so much more land – thank you for sharing it's absolutely beautiful. We have started to build our cottage on 3.7 acres and I plan to do a forrest garden. Since I am coastal (sand) with old oak and pine trees it's going to be fun and challenging to plant in an acidic environment. I have been digging through videos to learn as much as I can – what you have shared will help me further plan.

  14. this is true meaning of gardening: shaping the nature while being a part of it and by this entering a state of relationship.

  15. What you've done is pleasant and looks planned and natural at the same time. Although many would like to neglect their property and claim the same idea . And even though it's beautiful, I'm too add to not have dedicated manicured paths ,lol

  16. i do same – in essex england – dense foliage makes the human neighbours disappear and all the other creatures share it with me. i live in a forest like these two. like listening to my mind. should horticulture be spelt haughtyculture

  17. Do they have children?
    One wonders what happens to such a garden in the next generation.
    Have families, folks. This is the only way to ensure that these projects in improving the world will keep on beyond our lifetimes. You have to have the long view…

  18. Working towards this…its helpful to start with one plant. Eventully, you will have many plants and know lots of different ways to use them.Good Luck

  19. Seems like you’d have to drastically change your lifestyle :/ I don’t think I could go to Roberts extent of a forest garden

  20. I would love this but I garden best as I can, my climates too cold and I have 3 of the worlds most poisonous snakes in my garden

  21. Wow. This is great. Some dat, I'll make an attempt to plant a garden like this. I can't stand that most people in the Netherlands are placing stones everywhere. This is what more people need.

  22. Basically this is just pulling up any plant in your yard that has no valuable use to you and planting useful everything.

    Also, this type of gardening takes far more education and knowledge than other methods, and cannot be relied on for consistent growth and delivery timelines.

  23. I couldnt agree more. The world will be fine… it's the ability for humans to live in it that is at risk. What a beautiful story. This couple is an inspiration

  24. Simply awesome, the way ya built from the ground up to create a forest garden and living with the wild life is honorable to see.

  25. Inspirational! Inviting wildness into the garden is such a wonderful way of thinking. Thanks for posting. 🙂

  26. Beautiful environment in a beautiful place. I too have started trying to develop a food forest, but climate change in my area, central Texas, is making it hard. The native oaks, cedar elms and pines are struggling with the long hot summer droughts making them more susceptible to fungus and insects. I have lost 40 trees to stress related diseases in the past 3 years and that number continues to grow.

  27. Fucking up a plot that could have been a beautiful racetrack. How long is it gonna take to remove that root system before putting down the tarmac? Think before you act

  28. Super video. But it makes me wonder. The garden was substantial in size and it provides 70% of what they consume. With seven billion humans how much arable land would be need to feed everybody? It seems other forms of farming such as hydroponic and vertical farming is still required.

  29. So lovely. The only problem doing a thick food forest like this in Australia, unlike NZ, would be snakes – one would want slightly more defined pathways to be on the safer side.

  30. Honestly I love what these guys are doing. But their accent makes me want to drive nails into my eardrums ha ha. I live in New Zealand for one year and I'm convinced half the reason I left was because of the distorted and ridiculous accent people have </3

  31. Thank you for making the world more beautiful. You are truly inspiring. If only more people would take your approach to life.

  32. btw why dont they remove weeds & keep their land tidy… it looks as if these people are not well aquainted with the life of farmers! i dont like weeds growing on my land and extracting resources, competing with my plants

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