Growing plants in pots can be a challenge, but one worth embarking on, and often in the city it may be our only real choice.
Several years ago I grew tired of thinking ‘one day i’ll plant my own fruit trees on my own land’ and tweaked my thinking a little. Having tried to plant surrogate patches for friends and family, and run into all the expected difficulties with that process, I changed tack. I started a mobile orchard, or better put, a mobile forest garden.
A forest garden is a pretty simple idea with a complex background and significant implications. Think of it terms of pot plants. How many times have we’ve all had plants die in pots, or at least get a bit sickly. Maybe not enough water? Maybe too much? Not enough food? Perhaps too much? Too hot, too dry, too compact too restricted, too lonely? All these are potential flaws in our pot garden but for me this last one is the key for me.
Plants get lonely. Seriously.
Even trees in an orchard can get lonely. Fruit trees are bred a little like cats and dogs. They’re tweaked and pinched and pulled and culled and genetically selected over long periods of time to give us the best strength and the best fruit. But at what cost? Is it possible that we sacrifice their social intelligence, their ability to communicate with other plants? It sure is, and the evidence is building for just that. The evidence for the importance of inter-plant communication is a whole other story (links at the end for digging deeper).
So I like to give my plants company and lots of it. Put them in little crowds with plants of different ilks (that all have something to add to the group of course). Simply clustering pots together can have huge benefits. It creates a micro-climate that benefits them all. This is just one of the key differences between an orchard and a forest garden.
I take this a step further by ensuring that they have the company of other roots in the soil too. A forest garden is packed full of diversity. It has layers. It caters to animals and to beneficial microbiology too (above and underground), the ones that protect our trees rather than attack them.
Scent, colour, size, root depth, productivity and growth form are all part of the important party mix, as with people. Without diversity in the system the system gets a bit grey and lacklustre. A traditional forest garden is making this mix in a forest. In pot, things get a little more restricted, but the same principles apply. So I make what I call Micro-Forest Gardens, in wine barrels, by planting a strategic mix of plants together to create these layers of diversity, and it seems to be working pretty well. My fruit trees are not lonely, not at all, and it shows in their general vibrancy, health, growth and productivity.
Plants Have a Social Life Too:
Plant Sentience Is Not a Myth:
The book that first shifted my thinking: