Growing Money On Trees, Or How I Turned A Concrete Jungle Into A Tiny Urban Forest Garden: Part 2
A Feast For The Eyes And Free Food For Our Bellies
Choosing Shrubs For An Urban Forest Garden
I have started to change my tiny front yard into an urban forest garden full of free food. That’s an ornamental garden in which every square foot of earth is expected to grow at least two plants, in layers stacked one above the other. A garden that looks pretty and is a pleasure to spend time in but also produces free food for my frugal kitchen. Last month I created my “canopy layer” by planting trees, building two arches and sizing up the potential of all my walls and railings for supporting climbers. Next up is the shrub layer beneath it.
I want some soft fruit that will fit into the spaces left below my new trees and arches; fruit that won’t get eaten by the birds faster than we can pick it – without ugly netting; fruit that will look reasonably pretty; that is fairly low-maintenance and that will produce food over as many weeks as possible. Here’s what I finally settled on.
Fine Foliage, Flowers And Frugal Fruit – The Final Cut For My Urban Forest Shrub Layer
“Black Lace” is easy to grow, produces striking blue-black, feathery foliage and frothy pink flowers with a sherbet smell, followed by berries. The berries I will mix with my crab apples for an autumnal jelly. The flowers I will use to make (pink?) elderflower champagne. You know, when I figure out how it’s done.
Rasps are tasty and easy to grow, but birds love the red berries. I am hoping that the apricot and yellow berries from a little thicket of “Valentina” and “All Gold” will escape their attention. “All Gold” is an autumn-fruiting variety, to extend the number of weeks we can eat fresh raspberries.
Blueberry “Top Hat”
I had intended to pop in a hebe for its foliage. I have replaced that plan with a dwarf blueberry. It will give lovely foliage colour in autumn and a handful of fruit every few days over several weeks. Enough to pop in lunch boxes and pancakes.
I was planning on planting a smoke bush for it’s lovely purple foliage. But then I spotted this gorgeous purple-leaved “Crimson Bonfire” peach. It is a dwarf tree, so fits into the same vertical space as a shrub. And it is a standard (a lollipop-shaped tree or shrub) which means that I can grow other plants beneath it.
I have planted this low-maintenance chaenomeles against a low wall, partly for pretty flowers in springtime, and partly to make fragrant jelly from the little quince-flavoured fruits. They are easy to grow and come with flowers of red, pink or white. Good news if you have a not-very-promising spot in your garden; bad news if you are working a strict yellow and blue colour-scheme.
I have an awkward corner – a square space tucked in the lee of two walls, with paving on the other two sides. The soil is not deep and anything substantial will struggle to spread its roots very widely. I have never grown a fig before, but all the experts say that the way to deal with these handsome plants is to restrict their roots severely so they grow lots of fruit. I am taking a punt on my tricky corner being perfect for a fig. If nothing else, it will at least provide privacy. If all goes to plan, it will also provide us with FREE FIGS!! Thrifty score!
Although I have provided links to buy a fig at Amazon, I have to advise you to check out your local supermarket first – both Morrisons and Asda are selling Brown Turkey figs right now for a few pounds a plant. They are the same size as mine and in the same glossy condition. Bargain.
I have planted two bushes – a green fruiting one for crumbles and preserves, and a red fruiting one that will (theoretically) give us fruit we can eat fresh. I suspect the red ones will catch the birds attention. With that in mind I am growing it between the garden bench and the edge of the balcony, in the hope that the amount of traffic both areas see from us will scare them away. If not… I like birds.
I am wall-training the gooseberries by pruning out any branches that grow towards the wall or directly away from it. I used this method to grow gooseberries in my last garden. “Grow” is a euphemism for “stick in the ground and never feed or water again”. They produced kilos of fruit every year, and the wall-training made it a good deal easier to pick the fruit without pricking my fingers. Although, had I pricked my finger, I might have fallen into an enchanted summer slumber from which a handsome prince would eventually have awoken me with a kiss… A wasted opportunity.
The Next Stage
So that’s all my shrubs and trees in place. I now know how much support I have for climbers, and how much soil-space I have left over for herbaceous plants. And, although the proof of the food forest is in the eating, I am beginning to feel like this is, maybe, possibly, going to work. Time to finish planting.