In the deep green
A WOMAN wanders through a forest garden in the green light cast by the tree canopy. It’s quiet in here. Shadows are deep. Small creatures in the leaf little are heard rather than seen. Unknown birds call. Bees buzz. Insects flitter through the occasional beam of light making it to the forest floor. The breeze that occasionally ruffles the canopy doesn’t get through to stir the understorey below.
This is no ordinary forest. It is a forest made by people. Like many of those that have fed our species. It looks like the natural forest because it is modelled on it. And like the natural forest this one has a tall tree canopy with an understorey of smaller trees and shrubs adapted to the shaded conditions below. On the ground, other plants silently twist and spread to colonise space that becomes available and to extract life-giving nutrients from the soil. Small animals, a plethora of insect types and the bird life that takes a break on its journeys or finds refuge in the canopy’s foliage appreciate this garden.
This is a small forest, a tree garden, and it is a community forest, planted and maintained by those who eat off it. These are people who believe that our cities can help sustain us and that the small forests we plant can be home to other species that, for the most part, remain aloof from us to live their lives and fulfil the evolutionary destiny of their kind. It is a small forest, this tree garden, because there is only limited land available here on which to grow food and plant trees.
The trees and shrubs in this community garden are a mix of pre-existing casuarina to which the gardeners, over the years, have added nut and fruit species. Enter the forest and you might encounter the tubular stem of bamboo being moved by the breeze above, the wide leaf of avocado, the tangy foliage of citrus and the dark leaf of macadamia nut as well as pawpaw and mulberry. And more, too. Here, there’s little space given over to the cultivation of annual or perennial vegetables and herbs.
Even small forest gardens like this one in the populous Inner West of Sydney offer a type of seclusion afforded by the canopy and short sight lines. It’s a place where you can get lost among the foliage, where you can sit in the quietness of the urban forest, where you can converse quietly with a small group of friends among trees and shrubs.
This is the new urban forest, a timely idea for our cities. It’s a small tree garden that physically and mentally nourishes those who maintain it and the creatures they share it with.
The garden: Angel Street Permaculture Garden, Newtown.
Photo: Russ Grayson