Last Friday we brought a very interesting visit to Bois de Rode Bos, an experimental food forest and nursery at the outskirts of Brussels. It’s quite a strange experience driving there, through one of the poshest residential areas of Brussels. But when you pass the last mansion the landscape opens up and there it is, tucked away behind a piece of forest, Bois de Rode Bos. The driving force behind the project is Pierre Barbieux, who after a career as web designer started to get an interest in nutrition and how we grow our food. This is the start of his adventures in the world of agroforestry.

He got inspired by the work by the Swiss farmer Ernst Gotsch, who did a whole lot of research in Brazil around sustainable farming techniques, Martin Crawford, an expert in food forestry and owner of two well known sites in the UK and Stephan Sobkowiak, who has taught fruit production, landscape plants and design, and the natural history of vertebrates at Montreal’s McGill University. Pierre however doesn’t want to just copy them and tries out new techniques and combinations.

The aim is to create a productive forest ecosystem, where, by trial and error, they find the right natural balance for this particular place, with the fruits and crops they want to grow and like. So it is a pragmatic approach to get the best possible harvest, but at the same time also an interesting experiment to see which symbioses can be made between trees and other crops.

Thanks to a large network of professional and amateur nursery(wo)men and collectors they get hold of some more unusual fruit varieties and test out how they do in the local Belgian climate and their particular soil type. On their test field they have about 300 varieties of figs, mulberries, amelanchiers, persimmon, nashi, grapes….

Their nursery is not the main goal of the project, but it is there to finance the bigger project. But as a gardener this is of course an nice opportunity to score some interesting fruit varieties that can not be found in the mainstream garden centers. Personally I love the berries of Amelanchiers and so I bought 3 different kinds. Quite curious to taste the difference. Also interesting is the Cornus Mas big berry varieties they have on offer.

Pierre now also got intrigued by the, so called, forbidden grape varieties. These varieties of grapes were mostly hybrids from French and North American vines. They are very resistant against most diseases like mildew and Phylloxera and even helped the French to overcome a big outbreak of Phylloxera in the 19th century by grafting the “nobel” french varieties on North American roots. By the 1930’s France had issues with a large overproduction of wine and not really knowing how to tackle it, they issued a law that made the North American hybrids illegal. They were put away as inferior and even poisonous, but all this was based on nothing more than protective national tendencies of the French governement. Now some groups try to rehabilitate these 6 varieties, as they have great resistance, good taste and are perfect for organic wine production. I will surely buy some next year, but this year I have too many changes going on in the garden.

If you want to find out more about Bois de Rode Bos, check the website (French only) :

You can always make an appointment or visit the nursery on Fridays.