The berry plants are now rewardingly productive – from the gooseberries and currants in June to tayberries in August, blackberries in September and autumn raspberries as late as December. The berry plant Rubus tricolor 'carpark' (as named by us as it was pilfered from a car park) is proving to be an excellent ground cover, and so requires some work to prevent it swamping more delicate plants. The plant is reasonably productive, with good tasting fruit which can be eaten raw. They are not, though, as free from pest damage as the fruits of the similar Japanese wineberry which trails over the arch over the seat (occasionally tied in using the leaves of the string plant Phormium tenax). These fruits shine like little jewels – and they are always perfect. On closer inspection you see why. The pretty hairs surrounding each fruit are covered in a sticky substance which entraps any small creature making it's way to the fruit bounty. Beautiful, clean fruit in the midst of little graveyards of failed pests.
The perennial salads are producing nicely. Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is still my favourite, and it is steadily spreading under the Bramley apple tree. Pink Purslane (Montia sibirica) is the most productive salad and is self seeding readily. It has a pleasant enough taste during the winter and early spring before it turns bitter when it flowers. Sorrels also perform well. Overall, as ever, there are plenty of strong tasting salads, but I am still seeking the perennial alternative to lettuce - or for that matter to rocket or mizuna. Jack by the hedge (Alliaria petiolata) is a short live perennial which self seeds readily. It has a garlic-mustard flavour and again is nice in the spring - but then turns tougher and more bitter. Some people advocate the Sedums (eg S. telephium) as a good mild tasting perennial salad, but to me it has a slightly odd taste. The quest for more acceptable tasting and easy growing perennial salads is, I think, one which deserves more attention. Surely this would be a fine project for some participatory plant breeding?
In the design of this forest garden I went for a fairly open canopy to allow enough light for a productive under-storey, and enough air flow to prevent the build up of fungal diseases such as apple canker. As the plum and hazel are still fairly small, the garden is functioning more as a perennial fruit and veg patch just now, and in that it is showing that the technique can be rewarding. It will be interesting though, to see how the garden changes in the future with the formation of a real canopy (albeit a light one), and therefore more shade.