I’ve written a book!

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Since I started blogging about forest gardening in a cool climate, lots of people have asked me – some joking, some seriously – when is the book coming out? Lots of them have told me that a blog is great for learning about individual plants, but what they really need is something more systematic and connected, leading step-by step through the stages of planting a food forest from scratch. As one put it, ‘How do I get from here to there?’

Well, there has been a silver lining to lockdown! I’ve spent the last year and a half writing, taking pictures, conducting cooking experiments… and somewhat to my amazement I now have a finished book at the printers. It condenses all my experience of how to do forest gardening in a cool climate or small garden into one volume, with 180 pages of plant profiles and chapters on

– Understanding forest gardens
– Designing a forest garden
– Implementing a forest garden
– Maintaining a forest garden
– Cooking and eating from forest gardens

Some people I respect greatly have said some very nice things about it. Here are two of my favourite.

It’s great to see a forest gardening book written with Scottish conditions in mind. This is one of the best recent books I’ve read aimed at smaller-scale forest gardens too, and is especially good with its coverage of the many herbaceous crops it is possible to grow.
Martin Crawford

This is one of the more positive things to come out of Covid! Alan’s written a fantastic comprehensive book I would have loved to have had time to write myself, covering a multitude of edible plants suited to all the diverse habitats that can make up a forest garden and with particularly relevance to colder climates. I genuinely enjoyed this book and learned much new from it, not really a surprise as I’ve enjoyed his blog with the curious name “Of Plums and Pignuts” and sought him out when I was passing Aberdeen. Importantly, the book provides the inspiration to growing more climate friendly food in what are often called “marginal areas”. I look forward to making pernicious pasta every year! Thanks Alan.
Stephen Barstow

In the UK, you can get the book through my website. Alternatively, it’s available from my publisher, Permanent Publications, online booksellers and, of course, all (really) good bookshops. In the US it will be available through Chelsea Green Publishing.

Moving site

Scottish Forest Garden has moved! Not the garden itself, which will be staying firmly in Aberdeen, but the website. After ten years of blogging on a shoestring with a wordpress.com site, I have finally bitten the bullet and paid actual money for a domain name and web hosting. The big advantage for subscribers and users of the site is that I will finally be able to leave those horrible wordpress.com ads behind and the new site will be completely ad free. The new site is also hosted by Green Geeks, who match every watt of energy they pull from the grid with 3 times that in the form of renewable energy via the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

If you’re reading this post the redirect has worked and you are at the new site. Yay! If you subscribed to the old site by email you don’t need to do anything as subscribers have been migrated automatically to the new one – but please let me know if you experience any problems. If you subscribe via wordpress.com you will see new posts in the Reader, but you won’t receive email alerts any more. You might want to subscribe by email here. I’ll pay wordpress.com to redirect to the new site for a year or two, but if you have a site that links to mine it would be great if you could update it with the new address.

Forest garden seed list 2020-21

It’s taken a while, but my complete list of seeds (plus a few tubers, bulbils, etc) collected in 2020 is now ready. It’s longer than ever, with over 70 species listed. As usual, I don’t charge for seeds, but am open to swaps (see my Wish list), happy to receive donations and delighted to help out anyone willing to pay it forward by supporting the open source seed community in general.

You can find the list here.

Spinach vine (Hablitzia tamnoides) seeds

Perennial kale breeding

I notice it’s been five years since my last post on perennial kale breeding. Enough time for some progress surely? Happily, yes, and I now have an abundance of seed to share with anyone who wants to join in. I’ve been aiming to produce a population of kales that are mid way between the near-sterile Daubenton’s perennial kale and the traditional biennial kale: that is to say, plants that flower enough to breed from but don’t flower themselves to death. I have been increasing the diversity by crossing all my favourite traditional kales with plants that have these traits.

Not all of the results are finished varieties that I’d want to propagate vegetatively, but all have at least one trait I want to keep in the population. Some of my favourites haven’t flowered yet: these are the ones that I have been able to collect seed from this year. The hands in the pictures are for scale and measure 22 cm. Seeds of all these and a few more are available on my seed list. Please note that they are all open pollinated, so seedlings will show considerable variation – which is part of the fun!

Purple kale tree

This is perhaps my favourite that I have seed for. It is seven years old and still growing strong: the original stem grew to about 10 cm and eventually died, but others have taken its place and it roots itself by layering, Daubenton-style. The leaves are large, tender when young and, of course, purple. Flowering intensity: low. Flowers: white. Some of PKT’s offspring are similar but with even larger leaves and faster growth.

Here is one offspring of PKT that hasn’t flowered yet.

And one that has, imaginatively titled ‘Son of PKT’. It has the same tall growth habit but a leaf shape that might indicate a cross with ‘Cabbagey’ (see below).

Flowering Daubenton’s

This is the most similar to classic Daubenton’s with similar leaves and growth habit, but it flowers every year, with a medium flowering intensity. Not a great kale in itself, but good for breeding off, especially for its strong branching habit and short annual growth which give it a relatively neat, dome-like form.

Deep purple

With deep purple, lobed leaves and a rather straggly growth habit. Hand for scale.

Oak leaf bush

Large, lobed green leaves and a bushy habit. Flowering intensity: high.

Lobed purple

Another of the lobed-leaf group, this time looking like it has Ragged Jack in its ancestry. Strongly branching. Flowering intensity: low.

Cabbagey

Not in fact a single variety, but one original plant and its nearby offspring, all of which I suspect have a cabbage somewhere in their offspring, giving unexciting but mild leaves. With a very straggly growth habit and moderately high flowering intensity.

Tall savoy

Tall, upright ‘kale tree’ growth habit, with somewhat savoyed leaves. Medium flowering intensity.

Big leaf Jack

The flattened winged stems of this variety remind me of Ragged Jack and it has big leaves. Flowering intensity medium-high.

Big green lazy

Not an awful lot to recommend this one, apart from its large leaves. It’s quite susceptible to mildew at this time of year, although the younger leaves that I pick are unaffected. Long, floppy stems that mean that it forms a thicket. Medium flowering intensity.

Nero di Toscana perenne

Three plants arising from a cross between Purple Kale Tree and Nero di Toscana. Need back-crossed a few times to form a true perennial Black Tuscan Kale. All three are very tall, reaching over 2 m in 2 years (too tall in fact – need to breed in shorter internodes). The first flowered strongly this year and, for obvious reasons, this is the one I have seed for. The second flowered very lightly, which would be perfect but unfortunately I only managed to collect a tiny amount of seed. The third (the most NdT-like) has not flowered at all. I have had to give up the site where these were planted but I have taken lots of cuttings, so fingers crossed.

Plant 1
Plant 2
Plant 3
Leaves of 1, 2 and 3 (L to R)

2021 update

The winter of 2020/21 was a cold one in Aberdeen, with temperatures down to -15 degrees C: testing temperatures for a kale. This was great for plant breeding, in that it weeded out the less cold-tolerant varieties, but less good for individual lines.

A majority didn’t make it. My oldest plant of ‘Purple Kale Tree’ died, but another grown more recently from a cutting sailed through. This is often the case with perennial kales. Unfortunately the survivor plant barely flowered this year so I can’t offer seed for a while. The oldest individual plant to survive was ‘Flowering Daubenton’, adding to its list of impressive qualities. The Nero di Toscana crosses also did well, although this might owe more to them all having had to be regenerated from cuttings last year than inherent hardiness. Plant 2 didn’t flower at all, but 1 and 3 did so I have seed from this line for others to experiment with. This year’s to-do list includes sowing some actual NdT in the same bed to do some back-crosses. One purple-ribbed plant both made it through the winter and seeded. It wasn’t one of the ones that seeded last year, so it doesn’t have a name yet. Come to think of it, I might call it Purple Rib.

Another plant, with greener leaves, both came through the winter and is showing impressive mildew resistance at a time of year when many plants get badly affected – but unfortunately showed no inclination at all to flower. Some others which sprouted last year and survived the winter had the opposite problem: they flowered too much to be considered good perennials and were removed from the gene pool. I also decided to get tough with a tendency to straggliness in one group and removed all plants that were too floppy.

You can’t keep a good perennial kale down though, and everywhere where one has died several more have sprung up over the course of the year. I have thinned these to leave the more interesting and sturdy ones and now have nothing to do but wait to see how perennial they are.

Seed list 2019/20

That’s pretty much all the seeds I have added to my online seed list now. This is a good time for sowing seeds that need stratification (winter cold) before germination, which in the forest garden is a lot of them.
New seeds this year include angelica, Manchurian spikenard (a continental version of udo), common storksbill, spignel, evening primrose, orpine, fen nettle and Scottish-grown chamnamul (Pimpinella brachycarpa). As usual they are offered for swaps, donations or the love of plants.
One new thing I have done this year is add codes to the plant listings which should save me spending ages hunting for them. Please quote Latin names with the code. The list is at https://foodforest.garden/forest-garden-seeds/

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Common storksbill, Erodium cicutarium

Forest garden courses 2019

I have set dates for a couple of Introduction to Forest Gardening courses in the next few months. These are the only courses that I’ll have time to do this year.
Day courses
The one-day course will cover all the basics that you need to start forest gardening, including designing, planting, looking after, harvesting, cooking and eating from your garden. It should be particularly relevant to those growing in an allotment, small garden or community setting. It will cost £50 and will be on the dates below. I can take a maximum of 8 people on each, so please book in advance. You can book by clicking on the booking link below. If you would like to come but really can’t afford the fee, email me.
Saturday 27th July  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Tuesday 8th October 11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Accommodation
If you need to stay over in Aberdeen for any course I can put one person up in my spare room (two if they are willing to share a small bed). First come, first served!
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Late autumn harvests 2018

The leaves are all off the trees now and autumn is shading gently but firmly into winter, but there is still plenty happening in the forest garden. Low light and wet plants make photography difficult, but a friend with a better camera and better skills than me recently took some shots, which prompted me to write a round-up post.

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Photos by Julian Maunder


It’s counter-intuitive if you are used to an annual garden, but autumn is a major sowing and germination time in both nature and the forest garden. Many seeds require stratification, or a period of cold, to germinate, and the easiest way to achieve this is to sow in autumn and let nature take its course. Other plants are self-sowing and coming up in autumn, taking a punt on managing to survive the winter and seed early. A mild autumn can be a really productive period with such plants: I’ve particularly enjoyed having copious supplies of rocket this November. I wonder if, after many generations of self-sowing, rocket is becoming hardier in my garden? Last winter – by no means a mild one – was the first time a plant survived the whole winter through and managed to seed in the spring. It is the offspring of this plant that are growing so vigorously in the cool weather now.
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I was also very pleased to see miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) self-seeding freely. It has been a bit frustrating watching this species thrive in unexpected places like the nearby university car park while taking a long time to really get established in my allotment. It is a really nice, mild salad crop, so I’m sure the wait will be worth it.
Miner's lettuce
I particularly like getting biennial carrot family members established as self-seeding populations in the garden These are often quite difficult to grow each year from seed, having often short-lived seed with demanding stratification requirements and vulnerability to various diseases that are ingrained in our long-established allotment site. Saving seed, or allowing plants to self seed, is the only way to really guarantee fresh, viable seed. Parsnips, coriander, fennel, celery, angelica, alexanders and turnip-rooted chervil all self-seed this way. Of these, autumn is a particularly productive time for the celery and alexanders. I’m also getting there with Hamburg parsley, a variety of parsley that produces an edible root.
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Seeds of alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) can be put in a pepper grinder and used as a spice


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Angelica (Angelica archangelica) showing a wonderful deep red at the base


Another pair of related plants providing both food and colour at this time of year are the pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) and chop suey greens or shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium). Both are producing cheerful yellow and orange flowers against the gloom, and the flower shoots of both can be used in stir fries. With the marigolds I use them flower bud and all, but the bud of the shungiku is very bitter so I remove it.
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Chrysanthemum coronarium


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Calendula officinalis


The wood mallow is also still going strong, providing edible leaves and flowers, and the little seed-heads known as ‘cheeses’. When you add in the kale, the leeks and the veritable treasury of root crops still to be dug up, winter may be coming but that is no cause for the forest gardener to worry.
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Forest garden seeds 2018

It’s that time of year again, when every time I go down to the garden I come back with a pocket full of seeds. I’m going to take a slightly different approach this year to what I usually do. I normally wait until I have got all the year’s seeds in, then make up my trade list. The trouble with this is that by the time the last seeds are ready, the earliest ones have been in store for over six months and in some cases have already missed their ideal sowing time, so this year I am simply going to list seeds as I pick them.
One of my motivations for seed saving is that I find a lot of species, especially those in the carrot family, difficult to grow from bought seed. This applies not only to forest garden exotics but to well established crops like parsnips. I know I’m not the only one and I’m convinced that this is the reason why some crops like turnip-rooted chervil and Hamburg parsley aren’t more popular, despite how delicious they are. I’m hoping that this approach will help other people around that barrier.
My seeds are listed on the Forest Garden Seeds page.

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Parsnip flowers

Update on forest gardening courses 2018

I’m happy to say that the the first forest gardening course went very well, apart from me almost losing my voice from talking so much! The two participants who made themselves my guinea pigs were great company, and the weather was so good that we didn’t leave the garden once in the whole six hours (thanks to the Kelly kettle).
I’ve now added one more day course and settled on dates and a format for the evening course. This should be all the courses I do this year now (but if a date is booked out or you can’t make any of the dates, email me). A quirk of the booking site that I used meant that booking for the August and September courses closed after the July one, so if you tried to book and were told that there were no tickets, try again!
The full course details now go like this:
Day courses
The one-day course will cover all the basics that you need to start forest gardening. It will cost £50 and will be on the dates below. I can take a maximum of 8 people on each, so please book in advance. You can book by clicking on the booking links below. Please note that for the August and September courses the booking site will tell you that there are no tickets for sale until you choose a date.
Sunday 12 August  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Sunday 9 September  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Sunday 14 October 11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Evening classes
The evening classes will be more informal, and will be about having a look at whatever crops and tasks are happening in the garden on that date. Over the course of a year, participants should get a full picture of the workings of a forest garden. The cost per evening will be £5. If you are interested in the evening classes please email me at dalancarter@yahoo.co.uk. The dates and times are below – note that the times change because it gets dark earlier each time!
Thursday 16 August 19:00 – 20:00
Thursday 13 September 18:00 – 19:00
Thursday 11 October 16:30 – 17:30
Accommodation
If you need to stay over in Aberdeen for any course I can put one person up in my spare room (two if they are willing to share a small bed). First come, first served!
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Forest gardening courses 2018

After many requests, I have finally organised some official forest gardening courses, based in the garden itself. There are two kinds: a one-day introductory course and a monthly evening course.
Day courses
The one-day course will cover all the basics that you need to start forest gardening. It will cost £50 and will be on the dates below. I can take a maximum of 8 people on each, so please book in advance. You can book by clicking on the booking link below. Please note that for the August and September courses the booking site will tell you that there are no tickets for sale until you choose a date.
Sunday 15 July  11:00 – 17:00
Sunday 12 August  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Sunday 9 September  11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Sunday 14 October 11:00 – 17:00 – booking link
Evening classes
The evening classes will be more informal, and will be about having a look at whatever crops and tasks are happening in the garden on that date. Over the course of a year, participants should get a full picture of the workings of a forest garden. The cost per evening will be £5. If you are interested in the evening classes please email me at dalancarter@yahoo.co.uk. The dates and times are below – note that the times change because it gets dark earlier each time!
Thursday 16 August 19:00 – 20:00
Thursday 13 September 18:00 – 19:00
Thursday 11 October 16:30 – 17:30
Accommodation
If you need to stay over in Aberdeen for any course I can put one person up in my spare room (two if they are willing to share a small bed). First come, first served!
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