My Project – Gardening with Sheep – Natasha Arthur

I first came across Ouessant sheep when travelling in France. I quite often visit Brittany and Shathre and from time to time noticed houses which had some lovely small sheep wandering around in large gardens and small paddocks.

I have a long standing interest in what is often called forest gardening and I thought how nice it might be to combine the two.

I have previously set up a forest garden on about 2 acres, closely following the model which Martin Crawford teaches.  Martin runs the agroforestry research trust in Totnes.

The principle of forest gardening is to mimic a natural woodland by layering trees bushes and plants in an integrated system where every plant has a use. Primarily edible or medicinal and with nitrogen fixing plants being a key part of the system. My main variation on Martin’s standard design was to have in inner and outer garden . The inner garden was rabbit fenced and in the outer, I designed around plants that rabbits would not eat. (There are lists of plants that rabbits are not supposed to eat but rabbits are curious will eat pretty much anything while they are young. However if you protect the plant for a year or two while it establishes, they will leave it alone usually!)

So when I moved to a new house and smallholding I thought I would start a larger scale forest garden/agroforestry project and add in some french sheep.

I have about 14 acres in total and I like to experiment. So I planted the structure trees on the lower fields and the nitrogen fixers about six years ago. My land is quite poor and sandy. Apple trees, which are the mainstay of most forest gardens are slow to establish so I have focused mainly on fruit bushes and vines. These are now getting going and three years ago I started a small flock of ouessant wethers. 

Row of Alder nitrogen fixing structure trees. Posts setting are spacing for vine planting.


So far so good! I confess I rather underestimated the climbing ability of the breed. Most of my sheep are mainly content to stay on four legs, but I do have one which doesn’t realise he is not goat. So the sheep have not yet been allowed into the main forest garden area as I need the vines and bushes  better established and/or protected first. 


Sven trying to get to the raspberries! 


It is a work in progress and if it doesn’t quite go according to plan then I can always start a re-wilding project instead!

Natasha Arthur, Trustee.