I know a number of people who’ve created a Forest Garden say the first tree on their list was the Mulberry. Well, there must be something in the type of people who grow Forest Gardens and Mulberry trees; because it has been a tree I’ve wished to grow for years.
Mulberry is a tree with so many great points. Initially I fell in love with the tree for its lovely, almost loganberry like fruit, its beautiful shape and lovely large leaves. It is the sort of tree that looks fantastic as a centre piece to a garden – allowed to grow old and gnarled.
But this is just the start of what makes this tree so special. If you raise chickens this is a great tree to have over shadowing their run. Not only does its broad shape create good shade, but chickens adore and do well on their fruit and these fruit can drop over a long period.
It is not just the fruit that is popular with animals. The leaves are also very high in protein (in some varieties more than 20% protein) and ideal to feed to animals. As we have both rabbits and sheep on the farm, we have plenty of use for a crop like this!
We have chosen a black mulberry for our forest garden for its flavour. There are also white and red mulberry varieties. White mulberry trees (Morus Alba) are the host plant for silkworms and King James I had a Mulberry Garden planted at Buckingham Palace to cultivate silk worms. Unfortunately it is thought that black mulberries were planted and the venture failed.
The white mulberry is also a good buffer tree to plant next to a black walnut. It tolerates juglone – a growth inhibitor produced by the walnut roots to protect its territory.
Our tree is now planted and we look forward to our first harvest (though it may take a few years). The picking season is through August and September (or more like the shaking season!) The best way to gather the fruit is by shaking branches over a sheet spread on the ground and be warned the fruit can stain.
You may already be growing this shrub in your garden. It is useful as a hedging shrub particularly in coastal areas where it can cope with salt-laden air. Though wind is an issue in our location this is not the key reason for selecting it.
The whole Elaeagnus family are nitrogen fixers. This means they have the ability to take nitrogen from the air and change it into a form of nitrogen that plants can use. Nitrogen is a key nutrient and nitrogen fixers can increase the growth of neighbouring plants.
This large evergreen shrub has dark green leaves with lime-green splashed centres. The small (almost invisible) creamy-white flowers pump out a jasmine like perfume from October till almost January and followed by small orange juicy berries. Even the small shrubs I’ve just planted have had an amazing scent this winter.
In our forest we have a number of these scattered through the forest for their nitrogen fixing. The berries are also worth harvesting. They are reasonable sized with a nice slightly acidic flavour once fully ripened, rich in vitamins A, C and E. The time to look out for these fruits is between April and May.
We’ve planted ours small so that they will establish themselves more quickly – so we’ll need to wait a while before we can harvest any meaningful crop. This is one shrub that has all the makings of a valuable member of our forest!
If you’ve been following us over the last month you may well be aware we have been raising money through Crowdfunder towards the canopy layer of our forest garden.
I’m glad to say with minutes to go we made it to our total and are now starting to get physical with the forest garden and preparing for the 40 trees that will go into the canopy.
As a taster of things to come I thought over the next few weeks I’d talk about individual trees chosen and why we’ve selected them.
One of the first trees you reach as you enter the forest garden is Amelanchier.
Amelanchier is a really interesting family of trees and shrubs that work hard in anyone’s garden for sheer ornamentation. It is smothered in beautiful white flowers in spring followed by thousands of red, purple or blue berries in summer. The leaves appear in spring in a bronze colour turning green in the summer and then becoming a showy display of orange and red leaves in the autumn.
We have not included it for just for its looks, though it could merit its position just on this and bird interest. We’ve chosen it for its delicious berries. This is a native of America and is often referred to by the very dull names of Serviceberry, or Juneberry. They do come with a warning though – it’s important to pick these fruit, rich in iron and copper, as soon as you find them, for birds love them too, and the berries don’t linger for more than a couple of weeks in a year. Think apple and cinnamon.
It is also a star when it comes to ease of growth – it is tolerant of many conditions and some are happy to tolerate wind (great from our perspective).
We’re making the most of this early berry and planting 3 different types in our woodland – can’t wait for our first harvest.
If someone had given it a more imaginative name then I’m sure this would be a better known berry – forming an essential part of our super food diet!! Any suggestions?
e’re just going into the autumn. Our spindle is turning a beautiful shade of red and our hedges are full of cobnuts and raspberries.
We’ve an exciting few months ahead as we plan a new forest garden close to the house and start laying down the
ground work. We’ll be sharing our progress on our diary of how our food forest develops- if you have any questions do get in touch 🙂