The Birth of a Permaculture Food Forest – Before & After Photos


The before and after photographs in this article were taken at the very beginning when I first finished planting up my urban backyard food forest, and then approximately three to four years later. Each pair of photographs was taken from roughly the same view point, so the same garden beds are visible, to shown the garden’s growth over time.

Just how much of an ecosystem can be created from scratch is astounding. It’s important to point out that what differentiates this setup from a regular garden is that it’s a living ecosystem which maintains its own balance, it’s a food forest with seven distinct layers, tall canopy trees, dwarf trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines, groundcover plants and root crops, which emulates the layers of a temperate forest. Every tree and plant has a purpose, is strategically planted in a specific location to maximise the benefits it delivers, and is planted with appropriate companion plants. For such a small-scale intensive permaculture system, there is natural order and careful intentional design in the dense plantings, and there is sound design rationale for the inclusion and location of everything in the food forest.

At the end of these photo pairs, I’ve included some photographs taken from a high vantage point showing most of the garden ten years after its construction. The semi-aerial photography was necessary because the garden is now a lush established small urban backyard forest garden in the literal sense.

Food Forest Garden – Facts & Figures

  • Melbourne’s first urban back yard demonstration Permaculture food forest
  • Time to build: 3 months (1 person!)
  • Completed: October 2008
  • Total Size of back yard: 150 sq. m
  • Total size of garden (including paths): 85 sq. m
  • Total area of garden beds: 64 sq. m
  • Fruit trees: over 30 (not including ones in pots!)
  • Berries: over 20 different types
  • Medicinal herbs: over 50 different types
  • Fourth year garden yields (2012) – 234kg from 64 sq. m with only 2/3 of trees established and fruiting, most berries just planted
  • This is equal to 14.8 metric tonnes per acre (36.6 metric tonnes per hectare)!
  • Australia’s average wheat yield is only 2 tonnes per hectare, and even in Europe the yield does not exceed 6-8 tonnes per hectare
  • This garden is water-wise, runs on Stage 3a water restrictions (2 hour long waterings a week) and rainwater in warm seasons.
  • The irrigation system is switched off completely half the year (April-September).
  • Only 2 hours a week of work on average to maintain.
  • No chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides – and no pests (other than snails from the neighbours!)

Yields for First 4 years

Year Fruit Vegetables Berries Total
2008-2009 54 75 2.6 133
2009-2010 128 70 4 204
2010-2011 117 70 7 195
2011-2012 162 61 11 234

There are now three times as much berries, all the trees are productive, and many more trees have been added, both in the ground and in pots, so productivity after tens years will be obviously much higher.

Before and After Photos (3-4 years later)

East facing view of the garden, with fence on right hand side


Southeast view, with grapevine trellis in centre of photograph.


Northwest view of the garden


Southern view from centre of the garden


Southwest view of the garden


South view of western-most side of garden


Western view of garden


Northeast view of garden


North view from side corridor


A Tiny Glimpse of the Produce

Goji berries and babaco (champagne fruit)


Peaches, apples and cherries


Mulberries, grapes, persimmons and pomegranates


Citrus, pepino, figs and plums


Various berries and currants


A List of What’s Growing in the Food Forest

Here is a list of the trees and berries growing in the garden as at the start of 2019, herbs and perennial vegetables, annual vegetables and aquatic edibles aren’t listed here, otherwise it would be a very long list!

  1. Apple, Cox’s Orange Pippin
  2. Apple, Pink Lady
  3. Apple, Red Jonathan
  4. Apple, Royal Gala
  5. Appleberry, native
  6. Apricot, Moorpark
  7. Babaco
  8. Banana, Dwarf Cavendish
  9. Banana, Goldfinger
  10. Banana, Rajapuri
  11. Black Sapote, Tahiti (in pot)
  12. Blackberry, Thornless
  13. Blackberry, Waldo compact (in pot)
  14. Blueberry, Sunshibe Blue (in pot)
  15. Boysenberry
  16. Cherry Guava, Red
  17. Cherry Guava, Yellow
  18. Cherry, Starkrimson
  19. Chilean Guava
  20. Cranberry
  21. Currant, Red
  22. Currant, White
  23. Dragonfruit
  24. Elaeagnus x ebbingei, Ebbing’s silverberry (in pot)
  25. Elderberry, American (in pot)
  26. Elderberry, Black (in pot)
  27. Feijoa
  28. Fig, Dwarf Brown (in pot)
  29. Fig, White Adriatic
  30. Goji Berry
  31. Gooseberry
  32. Grape, Flame Seedless
  33. Grape, Red Globe
  34. Grape, Sultana
  35. Grapefruit
  36. Jaboticaba (in pot)
  37. Jujube, Li
  38. Lemon, Eureka
  39. Lime, Tahitian dwarf
  40. Loganberry
  41. Loganberry, Thornless
  42. Loquat, Champagne dwarf
  43. Mandarin, Imperial dwarf
  44. Mango, Bowens
  45. Marionberry
  46. Midyim berry, native
  47. Mulberry, Black
  48. Mulberry, Black English dwarf (in pot)
  49. Olive, Manzanillo (in pot)
  50. Orange, Valencia dwarf
  51. Orange, Washington Navel dwarf
  52. Pear, Williams
  53. Persimmon, Dai Dai Maru
  54. Persimmon, Nightingale
  55. Plum, Mariposa
  56. Plum, Satsuma
  57. Plum, Sloe (in pot)
  58. Plumcot, Flavour Rouge
  59. Pomegranat, Wonderful (in pot)
  60. Pomegranate
  61. Raspberry, Heritage Everbearer
  62. Raspberry, summer bearing variety
  63. Silvanberry
  64. Tayberry
  65. Wampi, Guy Sam (in pot)
  66. Wax Jambu, red (in pot)
  67. White Sapote, Kampong (in pot)
  68. White Sapote, Wilson
  69. Youngberry
  70. Youngberry, Thornless

The Food Forest Garden Ten Years Later

Due to the density of the foliage in a food forest, pictures are easier to take from above! The tall white round object in the background is a netted tree by the way.

These pictures show close to three quarters of the garden, there’s still more on the far side that wasn’t photographed. The previous photo pairs were taken with fairly primitive digital cameras nearly a decade ago, these pictures were taken with a decent DSLR camera and wide angle lens, lighting wasn’t ideal but it had to do, they give a good impression of how dense the garden is in late summer.








There might be a little room to squeeze a few more things in if we’re lucky!

This is what’s possible in an average urban backyard with a bit of experimentation and a lot of learning and practice, and when you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it isn’t work at all, and that’s how life should be.

Happy growing!

46 thoughts on “The Birth of a Permaculture Food Forest – Before & After Photos

  1. Hey, that’s awesome. Well done! I’ll be returning to Melbourne for the month of March to visit family. Mind if I come for a visit? I’m very into food forests, especially urban ones, and local permaculture action. Diane X

      1. Hey super well done!!
        My question is how you keep birds & fruit foxes from ( understandably) eating fruit & berries? Friends in Melb. hve had to put a net canopy over their ( much smaller) orchard/ veg. garden.

        Thanks )

      2. Protecting the fruit and berries from critters is easy – see my article Netting Fruit Trees for Pest Control

        I also keep my trees pruned low, under 2.5m, which is too low for fruit bats such as flying foxes, and possums aren’t too happy with trees that low either. When I had three active cats, I didn’t need netting…

    1. Angelo you are a wizard of the highest order my friend. What a fantastic urban oasis you have created which demonstrates clearly how urban life CAN INDEED be sustained implementing considered permie principles. Add some good vibing connections to our country friends growing wheat and potatoes and producing milk and we are all set!

      Given what you know, how much urban backyard space would be required at a minimum to sustain 80% of a family of four’s fruit and vegie needs in a climate similar to yours?

      Warm Regards

      1. Thanks for your kind comments! 🙂

        Geoff Lawton taught that a one acre block can support a family of 5, and that would not be an intensive small-scale setup like mine, there would be a lot more space for everything, and room for animals too!

  2. Wow! Impressive, Angelo. I hope my food forest looks like that in 10 years! I just planted my first fruit trees about 6 months ago and plan on spending the next 6 months guild/companion planting.

  3. Well done, Angelo!! Kristin in Idaho

    On Sun, Mar 3, 2019, 3:57 AM Deep Green Permaculture wrote:

    > Angelo (admin) posted: ” The before and after photographs in this article > were taken at the very beginning when I first finished planting up my urban > backyard food forest, and then approximately three to four years later. > Each pair of photographs was taken from roughly” >

  4. Hermoso! Yo apenas comenzar mi proyecto. Acabo de adquirir un terreno de 700 metros cuadrados. Ver qu puedo hacer con l. Antes debo poner en forma la tierra aunque no creo que me d mucho problema porque est en una zona rural en la que existe mucha vegetacin. Saludos desde Honduras, Centroamrica.

  5. Absolutely fantastic work!! Inspiring, and so well documented. Thanks for sharing details with us.
    I have a question though, now that the various plants you planted have grown such a lot, is too much shade an issue of concern? How do you deal with that?

    1. Thanks for your comments! I plant the lower plants towards the north (midday sun side in Southern Hemisphere), and the whole garden is designed as a sloped design, with the shortest plants and trees closest to the sun, wil the trallest at the back, so they shade out as little as possible. Under the trees in shady spots I grow plants that need shade and protection in summer.

  6. Thank you for sharing – before and after photos are so inspiring!

    The low height raised beds in the early photos look like you planned for seasonal vegetables in that location? Is this correct or was your long term plan always for the food forest to grow over the entire prepared garden?

    Also do you have fruit fly in Melbourne? I have lots of trouble with them on my pepinos and raspberries, making me nervous to include stone fruit in the next phase of my food forest.

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Bronwyn, the low beds were there to define the paths, as my philosophy is to create no-dig gardens that are dug by worms and the soil is loosened by plant roots which people can’t step in and compact the soil. It was designed from the beginning as a food forest, there’s a single bed dedicated to vegies as they have higher water and nutrient needs, the rest of the vegies are often planted right through the food forest where there’s some empty space. I also have large self-watering tubs, like mini wicking beds which are commercially made, which also grow vegies.

      Luckily fruit fly hasn’t made its way into Melbourne in the past, but there have been reports that its making its way down, and it’s already in Victoria as the climate warming happens and we can grow many subtropicals down here in our supposedly temperate climate. I have come across isolated reports of fruit fly in suburban Melbourne thanks to irresponsible people doing stupid things like buying cheap fruit trees from some random farmer a in fruit-fly infested rural area and driving the pest problem down into the city! Nursery stock comes from responsible growers with stringent pest control methods so we don’t have this problem – except for the gall wasp problem from Queensland, the production nursery industry up there is totally responsible for shipping that pest down tyo the southern states via road transport!

  7. Love to see your urban garden. Great work! Thanks for sharing, data and what is in there, Gracias. An inspiration!

  8. Superb…..What’s the approximate cost if one want to do such….Or plant this way….?

    1. The whole thing cost around $2,000, but that is in part because there is $700 of new redgum sleepers used to construct the beds, and around $300 in irrigation supplies comprised of drip irrigation and a timer. The timber raised beds aren’t necessary, the paths can just be dug to define the garden beds, real cost would be plants mainly, irrigation would depend on your annual rainfall levels. If you propagate the plants and trees it can be done even cheaper..

    1. So true, wish I had a decent camera back then to take better photos when I first built the food forest! Thanks!

  9. Thank you for sharing your amazing garden. Your an inspiration I’ve shared your post on Facebook to encourage my friends. I’m in the uk so can only envy most of your plants xx

  10. inspirational. I am planting out my trees this winter. Do you have a plan of what is planted where? I am especially interested in how densely you planted the fruit trees. How much space did you allow for the bananas?

    I’m also in southern Vic; what size is your tank that it can provide water over the summer? My tank ran dry some time back.

    1. Hi Brian, where in Southern Vic are you? Maybe a “permie” can help you do a plan, and a water-needs analysis. (There’s also an interesting app called “tankulator” that can help you analyse water needs vs catchment area.)

      1. hi Martin, I’m on the Bass coast. I started summer with a full 5,000 litre tank however we have had less than 20ml rain since mid-December, which is 100ml less than average.

      2. Hi Brian it is all relative – your rainfall, your roof area, your tank size and how much you use all contribute. (We go through 120 000l on an acre in the summer, but we have many young fruit trees and large veg patch in a dry rain shadow area). My rule of thumb is if your tank(s) are already full by June, and you run out in summer, it means you can have more tanks. Second rule is – if you install a tank, go as large as you can afford!

      1. thanks Angelo. My garden is similar area and aspect to yours. All the fruit trees are presently in pots as the soil needed substantial amendment to break down the clay. I will plant out this winter and was contemplating high density as I will keep them under 3m height. In past garden I planted 2m centres but let them grow taller.

        I was undecided whether to repot my banana into larger pot or plant it out.

        You must have been lucky with the rain clouds to have been able to use tank water throughout the summer. Many of the clouds missed my area so rainfall was well down.

      2. We only get 650-700mm rain annually, and I capture my rain off a 30 square metre garage roof into my 2000 litre water storage, it doesn’t cover all my watering needs, and I often run out of rainwater, as the whole 2000 litres is enough to water the whole garden once. Every little bit makes a difference though, as this setup lets me capture 700×30 = 21,000 litres of rainwater each year, it counts for something. Every watering session coming out of my tanks is water that I’m not drawing from the mains water supply and paying for. Bill Mollison talked about self-reliance, which is about going partway to meeting your needs on your own, as opposed to self-sufficiency, attempting to do it all alone, which is often not possible. With a high enough rainfall levels, a big enough roof, big enough tanks, and a big enough wallet, well maybe…

      3. hi Angelo, I misunderstood your comment about rain water. I thought you were saying you had sufficient tank water for all your needs. I anticipated there would be enough rain to keep my 5kl tank topped off through the summer but it proved not to be the case with actual rain being more than 100ml less than average. I too have had to use scheme water. Bill Mollison was right in it being cheaper and convenient to be self-reliant than self-sufficient tho I had hoped for a better water outcome.

    1. The whole garden is north facing (southern hemisphere) so all the garden beds get the midday sun.

      1. I am also in southern Vic however I wondered about the shade from your trees.

  11. Reblogged this on Enter the Grove and commented:
    Growing your own food is a wonderful way to connect with nature and thanking her by offering care. As a practicing druid, I’m learning the value of permaculture and sustainable living by planting seeds and eventually converting my own backyard into something like this.

  12. Inspirational! I am curious as to how you chose what to plant. I live in Colorado, US – a much different climate than Melbourne, so my plant choices will be quite different, I think. Some insight into your decision making would be helpful, though.

    1. There are several factors that need to be taken into account with the choice of plants in a garden:
      Water – will they receive enough moisture or will the soil drain well enough.
      Sun – will they receive sufficient sun or protection from hot afternoon sun.
      Wind – can they handle exposed locations or do they need protection from wind.
      Warmth – will the plants receive enough warm weather to ripen their fruit.
      Cold – will the plants receive sufficient chill hours to fruit, do they need protection from frost.

  13. hi Angelo, two questions – if you had a chance for a do over then what would you do differently?

    Second, I cop criticism from the family for wanting to have my food forest whereas they want an entertaining space. I am planning to integrate the two uses to an extent by planting much less densely than you. Do you have a separate area?

    1. You learn a lot in a decade, and I’ve been making gradual changes along the way, so the food forest system has been evolving over time. Nature also evolves a food forest t, favouring the things that work and removing the things that don’t, so it doesn’t ever really need a major overhaul.

      The big lessons have been learning which varieties and types of productive plants and trees work in this climate, and which ones are easier to care for. For example, I have two varieties of astringent persimmons, it would have been more interesting to have one non-astrigent variety. Spur-pruned grapes are much easier to prune at the end of the season than cane pruned grapes. Full-sized apricot trees are extremely vigorous and require pruning often, so perhaps a dwarf apricot trees may have been a better design option in a north-facing location!

  14. Angelo,
    I moved onto a two acre former cow pasture in western Washington two years ago, and my first impulse was simply to fill it with trees. My project has since evolved into a food forest, with dozens of berries, added emphasis on fruit trees and a few random patches for veggies and French melons. Given the change in emphasis, however, and a number of failed plantings, I find that I am going to move a number of trees, with all the attendant risks. Have you found it necessary, or advisable, to move many of your plants in the years after planting? If so, any general advice?

  15. Hi Angelo, thanks for the photos which really help along with words. Is your garden floor concerete? I see the brick walls and wood raised beds. How did you decide how deep and how deep in range are your beds- especially for the many tree n a hold orchard planting that you desrived which i found fascinating and want to try perhaps spaced closely. Thank you Tania

  16. Amazing pics!!
    I’m subtropical Queensland so have other needs.
    My biggest question would be about watering requirements for so many plants.
    How do you go with that please?

    1. If you’re in the subtropics you will be able to grow plants and trees more easily, you’ll just have to select varieties more suitable to your climate, and you will have a lot more rainfall, around four times as much!
      The high-density planting creates a microclimate which ensures that more delicate plants are more protected from harsh sun and wind, so they don’t dry out as easily. The whole garden is heavily mulched, with the drip irrigation is located below the mulch, and it’s a no-dig garden, so the soil is never bare, and very little water is lost due to evaporation. Half the year, the irrigation is switched off, so it just uses rainwater captured from the garage roof.

  17. This is awesome! I live in Palm Bay and do you offer tours? I am wanting to start a permaculture lawn. I have a few things but I’m in a quandary as to how to layer these things other than guess work. Thanks for your time.

    1. Thanks Amy, I do offer garden tours, but I’m in Melbourne Australia, not Melbourne Florida, that’s around 9,730 miles away! 🙂

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