It’s been over a month since I attended one of Martin Crawford’s forest gardening courses at his garden in Devon. Rather than focus on the course itself (which is great, I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in forest gardening) I thought I would revive my Forest Garden Plants series and focus on some of the species that caught my eye while I was there.
Martin divides the course into several sections, and the first is mainly concerned with shelter. Wind reduces temperatures, which makes photosynthesis proceed more slowly. The upshot of this is that a suitable wind break can double the growth of young trees, and Martin recommends thinking about shelter belts early on in the planning process.
Martin has several species serving in this capacity (but it’s not their only use, since a defining feature of forest gardens is that most of the plants have more than one function). One of the first we came across on our tours of the garden was this Autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, on the eastern side of the garden.
Although the autumn olive is deciduous, it has a dense branch structure that means this hedge acts as a wind break even in the winter. It’s one of Martin’s favourite fruit crops, a nitrogen-fixing plant, and happy with maritime exposure. It grows to 4 metres high, but there are smaller Elaeagnus species.
This Elaeagnus x ebbingei isn’t one of them – it also forms a sizeable shrub. It’s evergreen, and another good windbreak plant. It flowers in October, and the fruits have to overwinter, so it’s not a heavy cropper in the UK climate.
If you have experience of Elaeagnus species, let me know in the comments! You can look back at the rest of my Forest Garden Plants post, a list I will be adding to in the coming days.