Hart began farming at Wenlock Edge in Shropshire with the intention of providing a healthy and therapeutic environment for himself and his brother Lacon. Starting as relatively conventional smallholders, Hart soon discovered that maintaining large annual vegetable beds, rearing livestock and taking care of an orchard were tasks beyond their strength. However, a small bed of perennial vegetables and herbs he planted was looking after itself with little intervention. Following Hart's adoption of a raw vegan diet for health and personal reasons, he replaced his farm animals with plants. The three main products from a forest garden are fruit, nuts and green leafy vegetables. He created a model forest garden from a 0.12 acre (500 m2) orchard on his farm and intended naming his gardening method ecological horticulture or ecocultivation.:45 Hart later dropped these terms once he became aware that agroforestry and forest gardens were already being used to describe similar systems in other parts of the world.:28, 43 He was inspired by the forest farming methods of Toyohiko Kagawa and James Sholto Douglas, and the productivity of the Keralan home gardens as Hart explains: "From the agroforestry point of view, perhaps the world's most advanced country is the Indian state of Kerala, which boasts no fewer than three and a half million forest gardens ... As an example of the extraordinary intensivity of cultivation of some forest gardens, one plot of only 0.12 hectares (0.30 acres) was found by a study group to have twenty-three young coconut palms, twelve cloves, fifty-six bananas, and forty-nine pineapples, with thirty pepper vines trained up its trees. In addition, the small holder grew fodder for his house-cow.":4–5 Seven-layer system Edit The seven layers of the forest garden Robert Hart pioneered a system based on the observation that the natural forest can be divided into distinct levels. He used intercropping to develop an existing small orchard of apples and pears into an edible polyculture landscape consisting of the following layers: ‘Canopy layer’ consisting of the original mature fruit trees. ‘Low-tree layer’ of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks. ‘Shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries. ‘Herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs. ‘Rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers. ‘Ground cover layer’ of edible plants that spread horizontally. ‘Vertical layer’ of vines and climbers. A key component of the seven-layer system was the plants he selected. Most of the traditional vegetable crops grown today, such as carrots, are sun-loving plants not well selected for the more shady forest garden system. Hart favoured shade-tolerant perennial vegetables.
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