Three-Dimensional Forest Gardening

Three Dimensional Farming is a system of agriculture/gardening in which trees, shrubs, ground crops, vines, and root crops grow simultaneously, in the same space. The benefits are incredible.

Originally published 2010

The term “Three Dimensional Forestry” was pioneered by Toyohiko Tagawa, in Japan, as mentionedin Robert Hart’s excellent book Forest Gardening. His inspiration was a work he came across while studying at Princeton: Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture, by J. Russell Smith.

In such a “forest” system, trees of different heights grow closer to one another than is ordinarily the practice — more like a forest, than an orchard. Under the trees grow a variety of shrubs, ground-layer plants, root crops, and vines. The result is anywhere from 5 to 9 layers of producing forest, depending on the heights of the trees. (On the coast of India, where palm trees grow, there are as many as 9 layers. On Hart’s farm in England, there are 7 layers.)

What’s In A Name?

One difficulty in finding information on the subject is the wide variety of names it goes under:

  • Three Dimensional Farming
  • Three Dimensional Forestry
  • Forest Farming
  • Forest Gardening
  • Edible Landscape
  • Permaculture
  • Agroforestry
  • Multi-storied Agroforestry
  • Tree Crops
  • Biodynamic Farming/Gardening

Another difficulty lies in finding out which plants will work together in your particular climate. In time, I expect such problems will be addressed. But in the meantime, figure on doing a lot of reading and a lot of experimenting to find out what works in your particular neck of the woods.

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Would obviously smell as sweet. Or in this case, an apple by any other name would taste just as good. Whatever you call it, there are major benefits to be gained from a three-dimensional forest garden:

  1. The land is 7-to 9-times as productive.
    (You’re growing food in three dimensions, after all, rather than just one.)
  2. There is no plowing, tilling, or seeding.
    (Basically, you set up plants that sustain themselves.)
  3. It’s energy efficient.
    (No plowing, no fertilizing.)
  4. It’s organic and sustainable.
    (Companion planting lets the plants feed each other.)
  5. You get a healthier soil.
    (Because you’re not plowing it up, killing the worms and the microbes that bind minerals in the soil so that they are taken up by the plants, and because of companion planting.)
  6. You get food that tastes a million times better.
    (Partly because of the organic mineral content, due to the soil microbes, and partly because food is picked when ripe. It’s not the kind of commercial farming operation where a combine and picks things clean, while it’s still green so it will survive the trip to market.)
  7. Once everything is set up and running, there isn’t even much weeding!
    (There’s a lot of it start with. But once every square inch is taken up in a dense growth of things you want, there is no room left for all but the most determined of weeds to grow.)
  8. At that stage, the garden is seriously time-efficient.
    (Robert Hart spends a few hours a week managing a one-acre farm that supplies the needs of an entire family, and then some. It took 8 years to get things to that stage, but now it’s mostly about picking and plucking.)


My favorite books:

Particularly inspirational source works, important enough to be mentioned in Hart’s early pages:

Expensive Books for the dedicated:

More books:

Web sites:

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