|This just-planted myrobalan ruby® is already facing up to the wind|
In my previous post, I talked about our need to create a microclimate that is favourable to the trees, shrubs and plants that we want to grow in our forest garden, helping them to develop and fruit better. The aspect of climate that we are dealing with here is obviously wind.
Despite the range of plants offered in our two reference books, Patrick Whitefield’s How to Make a Forest Garden and Martin Crawford’s Creating a Forest Garden, we felt that we wanted even more choice. We are beginners in forest gardening and don’t yet have an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants, so we needed a strategy. One principle of permaculture is that each element should perform more than one function, so we decided that the trees and shrubs in our windbreak should do something more than just cut the speed of the wind. Our criteria were that each tree or shrub should either provide something edible for us, food for bees or fix nitrogen for other plants, and we always like to remember the aesthetic too; why not be beautiful as well as worthwhile.
We searched on the Internet for nurseries that listed plants to be used in windbreaks. We’re English, so although we live in France and speak reasonable French, it’s still easier to conduct this sort of research in English. We found these sites useful:
- RHS Windbreaks and shelterbelts.
- This site with a huge list to choose from (but beware what they say about solid windbreaks, rather refer to Crawford’s book on this point).
- A report on Tresco Abbey Gardens on the Isles of Scilly suggesting Holm Oak and Olearias.
- This one mentions Grey Alder (of which we had two, mistakenly supplied by Agroforestry Research Trust and now finding a suitable home.)
We copied and pasted the plant lists from these websites to add to a list of plants suggested by Whitefield’s and Crawford’s books. To verify that the plants were suitable candidates for our permaculture windbreak we checked each plant in RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants to see if it was hardy and not susceptible to winds. If it passed that stage, we considered how it could be useful. We had a reasonable idea of what was edible and the types of plants that fix nitrogen and we used another of Crawford’s Agroforestry Research trust publications, Bee Plants which is a directory giving details of over 1050 species which are of use to bees, both solitary and honey.
Another aspect to consider is how early a windbreak plant comes into leaf, offering more than twigs to protect delicate fruit blossom from cold spring winds and how long they hold onto their leaves to protect ripening fruit from autumn winds.
To be honest, we could probably have made do with the lists provided by Whitefield and especially Crawford but following this process of searching around reference books and the Internet has helped us to increase our knowledge of plants and their characteristics.
We’ve planted just over thirty trees and the same number of shrubs this winter. We started with the north edge, which needs to be taller. Running out of time and money, we’ll complete the task this winter coming. We planted little plants, which are not only cheaper but will establish better anyway. This is our list but don’t take it as definitive. Permaculture is site and situation specific, so you’re better off following a similar sort of process to choose suitable plants for your windbreak.
After the windbreak comes the tree layer, this latest blog by Patrick Whitefield tells you how to go about it.
holm or holly oak (Quercus ilex)
grey alder (Alnus incana)
willow (daphnoides )
cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera
silver Birch Betula pendula
Dwarf mountain pine Pinus mugo
Elaeagnus × ebbingei
autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata
sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides
Ramanas rose, Rosa rugosa
New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax
daisy bush, Olearia cheesmanii
daisy bush, Olearia macrodonta
strawberry tree Arbutus unedo
barberries: Berberis darwinii
butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii
escallonia rubra ‘Crimson Spire’
blue honeysuckle, honeyberry, Lonicera caerulea
Chinese bramble, Rubus tricolor