Creating & Maintaining a Food Forest Garden

Workshop at Rowan Wellness and Gardens

This time we’re joined by Mary McMullen of Rowan Wellness & Gardens – a centre for yoga, breathwork, meditation, nature and all things wellness. Mary’s gardens near Maudabawn in Cavan recently played host to Phil Wheal who delivered a very hands on workshop on creating and maintaining a “Food Forest” Garden. “Learning by doing” was the order of the day and all participants got mucky and active. But first things first…..

What is a food forest? 

A food forest, also called a forest garden, is a diverse planting of edible plants that attempts to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature. A well designed food forest:

  • Places emphasis on trees, shrubs, perennials, and self-seeding annuals,
  • Plants thickly and using ground covers to shade soil and suppress weeds,
  • Uses nitrogen-fixing and nutrient-accumulating plants, chop-and-drop techniques, and returning wastes to the land to create healthy soil rather than applying fertilizer,
  • Plants a diverse array of plants that attract beneficial insects to pollinate the fruit crops and keep pest populations from exploding and causing damage,
  • Creates micro-climates and windbreaks which helps smaller plants thrive.

Through time it will create a diverse and rich ecosystem of productive plants that can be easily maintained and enjoyed.

The Workshop:
Mary explains, “On Saturday 4th March, we hosted a full day Food Forest workshop at my home which overlooks Barnagrow Lake! The views were pretty special, the weather was perfect, food healthy and delicious and the tips, techniques and advice about creating and maintaining a small home-based food forest were top notch. We had ten participants including small farmers, regenerative farming enthusiasts and garden enthusiasts.

The workshop was delivered by Phil Wheal, Senior Horticulture Tutor at The Organic Centre, Rossinver. Phil is a hands-on expert gardener, who specialises in growing and propagating all kinds of fruits, including soft fruits and orchard fruits.

The principles of Permaculture and Regenerative Agroforestry were weaved into proposed design ideas for a food forest. Phil addressed how and where to create the various canopy layers, how to prepare the ground, including using no dig lasagna style layering (of cardboard and mulch), the importance of using and sourcing quality compost and mulch. He demonstrated the skills of pruning the various types of fruits that were growing in the garden and everyone got to use their secateurs to try out the techniques for themselves.

Participants also learned how to propagate fruits by taking cuttings and layering and we also addressed pests that attack specific fruit shrubs and how to deal with them. Locally sourced food for lunch was delicious and I was very grateful for all the hands-on help so generously offered by everyone. This very informative day was, it appears, enjoyed by all, with lots of networking, sharing and connections made.”

Participant Feedback.
Sorcha from Drumsheeny Dexters (farmer of regenerative beef) had this to say about the course: “Phil was very generous with his expertise and clearly very knowledgeable. Lots of inspiration for forest garden planning, spacing, low upkeep varieties of soft fruit like jostaberry. Biggest takeaway was once you buy one fruit bush you can cultivate more pretty much indefinitely. I’ve been potting up cuttings from gooseberry and blackcurrant today for replanting.”

Upcoming Course:

Phil is hoping to return to Rowan Wellness and Gardens to demonstrate the skills of grafting onto root stock, a super low cost way to create your own forest orchard. If interested, get in touch with Mary at Rowan Wellness & Gardens (which you’ll find on facebook), 087 2330836 or email


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