Planning for our May day course in ‘Designing a medicinal forest garden’ is in full swing. It is an opportunity for growers and gardeners to look at the wide range of possible medicinal plants, from ground cover to overstorey, and plan a new project or add to an existing setup. As a case study, we will be talking about how we established Holt Wood Herbs, and transformed the site which was originally a Sitka spruce plantation. Our first plan back in 2006 was a sketch on the back of an envelope!

Holt Wood Plan 2006

Holt Wood Plan 2006

We had permaculture design principles in mind from the start, wanting to work with the land to achieve our aims of medicinal herb supplies but also to conserve resources. As it turns out, the idea of sections with lots of sunny edges has worked well, and we have been able to improve the soil and establish many trees, shrubs and other plants. Plenty of native plants have also popped up now that the woodland is opened up. You can almost see how our sections are still in place in aerial view (courtesy of Google Maps).

Holt Wood in Google Maps

Holt Wood aerial view

In our design course we will be considering the needs of particular trees and shrubs in terms of soil and situation, how to plant combinations to grow together, and we will be reviewing how to manage medicinal trees and shrubs for a good harvest. A particular interest for us has been to explore how coppicing and pollarding can be used to produce bountiful supplies. White willow (Salix alba) gives an illustration of the fresh young bark which can be obtained when pollarded, and this works well on a two to three-year cycle.

Pollarded White Willow

Pollarded White Willow

Other aspects of management of a multi-layered garden design will also be up for discussion in our design course, such as mulching and pruning. Some plants provide useful ground cover through the winter, including the beautiful grey woolly first year rosette of Mullein (Verbascum thapsus).

Mullein rosette

Mullein rosette

We also have a follow-on day course ‘Harvesting from the medicinal forest garden’ in which we cover many aspects of harvesting, processing and preparing herbal remedies. More details about our courses can be found at  at https://www.holtwoodherbs.com/product-category/courses/