The Development of Prestwich Clough Forest Garden: From African drumming to forest garden

The Development of Prestwich Clough Forest Garden: From African drumming to Forest Garden

Account shared by: Debra Pope, Mike Pope, Mark Lockwood, Fee Lynch, and Rachel G (Jane Morris observing)

Conversation facilitated by Nickie Bartlett.

Write-up: Jude Mann

The beginning 13 years ago


Prestwich Clough forest garden started 13 years ago, from a conversation with Rob Squires about permaculture at a party on a farm (including African drumming!). This sparked an interest in permaculture, and enrolment of Mike and Debra on a Permaculture Design course. Around the same time, Incredible Edible had a piece of land available, which provided an opportunity to design a forest garden which was part of the course. In this design process, over that winter, the volunteers were consulted (as ‘clients’) about what ideas they had for the forest garden. Over 20 people responded to this consultation, with offers of help and particular skills and equipment eg. someone with a chainsaw offering to help manage the trees on the site – which is in the middle of an established woodland. The brambles were above head height! The surrounding woodland provided a helpful tree boundary for the garden. The local council was approached, and gave permission for the land to be used by the group, while the park rangers continued to oversee the land. The timing was perfect!

The garden was created at no cost, to show it can be done. Mike grows plants at home, and other people made plant-contributions, from cuttings and seeds. An initial grant of £100 paid for trees, and this money was then given back from funds raised at open days. The Woodland Trust have made two donations, for the creation of an edible hedge including hazel – which is now huge! The group organized an open day, advertised through social media and leafletting in the local area. There was information about permaculture, seed-balling, demos of self-watering plants, and a life-sized zebra! (transported by bike rack from a Topshop window front).  Lots of people came, around 200. 

Regular work parties are organized, via Facebook and the Incredible Edible website. Everyone is welcome, for ½ hour or 3 hours. It’s very flexible. Debbie is particularly good at getting people there.  There are things to eat and the kelly kettle is always on. People pick herbs, make a brew and have a natter. There’s as much socializing as working! As the forest garden develops, there isn’t so much work to do. It’s kept ‘on the wild side’.  There are pathways to explore. People use the garden for picnics, and there’s a home ed group who hold classes there.

By 2018, the garden was starting to mature – and the dry summer that year was the first real test. It kept green! There are apple trees, pears, damsons, plums, current bushes, loganberries, lemon balm and lots of mint. Raspberries have crept all over the garden, originally planted mistakenly as Japanese wineberry. The garden gives local residents a space for getting out into nature. There have been many appreciative comments, perhaps the best of all from a woman who stumbled upon it with her 6 year old daughter who said “Mummy, I’ve been looking for this in my dreams”.

Prestwich Clough forest garden is one of several projects that operate independently but with an overall board, including Mike, Debbie and Mark – a kind of umbrella organization. This brings advantages such as shared insurance, donated plants from allotment projects, and a bigger pool of people to call on. Though not all the projects use permaculture, there’s a common thread of sustainable growing. Some volunteers work on several of the projects. There’s a strong link with the Village Greens shop, which Rachel is on the board of. There have also been overlapping interests with a Transition Town project.

A second forest garden was started about 3 years ago at Phillips Park. A tree had fallen down, which opened up a space which volunteers took as an opportunity for another garden. They got some funding for fruit trees, otherwise it’s a lot more low maintenance, seeing what grows. Looking back, it may have been better to have had more of a design plan… Nonetheless, it will be a great social space, with a big gazebo, pizza making etc..

So, what has enabled the project to keep going? A long-term commitment (despite having other responsibilities, which has sometimes been quite stressful), and volunteers some long-terms and others who come and go. Socializing and inclusivity have been at the centre of the project from the start – building community and hope. Connections with other groups, and conversations between people with shared interests and aspirations have been key. There have been some challenges with lost structures, eg. local kids trashed a ‘twigloo’ that had been made. No signs are put up around the garden, since these might also be damaged. There are ideas for planting more healing plants, and offering opportunities to learn about them; perhaps up to four forests gardens; and funding applications to be made.