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Hart began his forest garden project at Wenlock Edge on the Welsh borders in the early 1960s with the intention of providing a healthy and therapuetic environment for himself and his brother Lacon, who was born with severe learning disabilities. Although starting as a relatively conventional smallholder, Hart soon discovered that maintaining large annual vegetable beds, rearing livestock and taking care of an orchard were tasks beyond his strength. However, he also observed that a small bed of perennial vegetables and herbs he had planted up was looking after itself with little or no intervention. Furthermore, these plants provided interesting and unusual additions to the diet, as well as seeming to promote health and vigour in both body and mind.
Noting the maxim of Hippocrates to “make food your medicine and medicine your food”, Robert adopted a vegan, 90% raw food diet. He also began to examine the interactions and relationships that take place between plants in natural systems, particularly in woodland, the climax eco-system of a cool temperate region such as the British Isles. This led him to evolve the concept of the ‘Forest Garden’: Based on the observation that the natural forest can be divided into distinct layers or ‘storeys’, he developed an existing small orchard of apples and pears into an edible landscape consisting of seven dimensions;
- I)A ‘canopy’ layer consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
- 2)A ‘low-tree’ layer of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
- 3)A ‘shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries.
- 4)A ‘herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs.
- 5)A ‘ground cover’ layer of edible plants that spread horizontally.
- 6)A ‘rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
- 7)A vertical ‘layer’ of vines and climbers.
Hart's vision of the spread of the forest garden is summarised in the following quote;
Obviously, few of us are in a position to restore the forests.. But tens of millions of us have gardens, or access to open spaces such as industrial wastelands, where trees can be planted. and if full advantage can be taken of the potentialities that are available even in heavily built up areas, new ‘city forests’ can arise...
Books by Robert HartEdit
- The Forest Garden
- Forest Gardening Green Books (UK) (1991, 1996 revised). ISBN 1-900322-02-1.
- Beyond the Forest Garden Gaia Books, London (1996). ISBN 1-85675-037-X.
- The Inviolable Hills
- Forest Farming (with James Sholto Douglas)
- A web tribute to Robert Hart
- The Garden of Love an article on Robert Hart's garden by Ken Fern of Plants for a Future.
- , . Obituaries in The Guardian.
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