• David Buckton

The Latvian Origins of Turaida Forest Garden Project and Figures in Agroforestry

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

Turaida Castle Mound, Latvia (Photo M White)

In this article we will focus on our own development of Turaida Forest Garden. In addition, we will introduce several authors that we'll discuss in more detail in a following article on agroforestry. In this article, we examine the past from the view of our forest gardening project. Our goal will be to explain the changes that led to the methods and practices we now use. These scouts of agroforestry were observers of techniques and trees which they saw in foreign lands.

The goal back then was as it remains today: quality, selection and volume of yields are balanced with the ability to grow and provide for best production and health of the trees and the forest garden as a whole. Quality and variety of selection are both important for overall health, just like nutrition.

To begin, let's recall that at Turaida forest garden we honour not only the loving memory of dead relatives, their rites and ways, but also work to preserve a living future. This project is therefore also about next generations; their lands, rivers, places, cultures and lives also matter. Literary theorist, professor, and author Terry Eagleton reminds us that Walter Benjamin pointed out how historically wars are often fought over the memory of enslaved ancestors rather than the future of grandchildren (see his 2003 book After Theory, p180). We need to try to keep all parties - from all times - in mind.

However - in reality- we have only the present existing here and now to work with. Existentialist thinking (that can include Judeo-Christian values, depending on which variety we're discussing) is an essential component of the Turaida forest garden concept (see an introduction to Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre, by Walter Kaufman p11-51). For example, Turaida (Thor's Eden) is a word that comes from a dormant Livonian (Finnish-rooted) language of the past in a forest garden project that is under development today. The last speaker passed away in 2013 (see the ABOUT page of this website for more details).

Photo of Livonian timber construction at Araisu. From Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights (2), p 24 (bottom), Osprey Publishing.S. Turnbull and P. Dennis

In the photo on the left, Araisu is an example of Livonian design and materials. David visited this reconstructed settlement during a visit with Latvian relatives to the Latgale region after Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. This trip was in the summer after finishing high school. The settlement is surrounded by Lake Araisu, helped to prevent attack and provided other benefits to their communities.

We can see how much the construction changed after the non-indigenous peoples (ie. others who brought new materials, ideas, and sadly war with new technology from East and West, North and South) arrived with knights on horses. As David was taught in Latvian Saturday school in Kitchener with his brother George back in the early 1990s, the early Latvian settlements were burned during raids (see Crusade Castles book referenced in the paragraph below) while the stone castles withstood the test of time. Unfortunately, even the castles were devastated during attacks. There appear to be few surviving historical wooden structures.

Forested Wooden Latvian Heritage Construction Ethnographic Museum (Photo M White)

Perhaps this explains the huge investment that was made for an open air ethnographic museum located at the edge of the city of Riga, on Brivibas iela, many years ago.

The missionary work and the military conquest are at opposition in so many periods in history. Knowledge (and the people that use it) is a double edged sword, as Foucault discusses in his concept of knowledge-power (see The Foucault Reader, by Paul Rabinow p51-75). Through these lessons of the past, and their lasting sense of permanence, that stone materials are often used at Turaida forest garden. Unlike the vertical walls of the impressive castles and cathedrals, our stone is often on the ground as gravel walkways and as aprons around water spillways and mounds to prevent erosion, improve drainage, offer heat gain and reduce weed problems around shrubs and trees. Wood is still used and highly valued, but the high water table of Turaida Forest garden creates a rotting hazard for permanent structures made of wood.

Likewise, books must be preserved as a means of preserving our past, and our present, so the future will have a past to build off. It is with both past and present in mind, that we encourage new seedling production of disease resistant stock to maintain genetic viability of species, as well as preserving historic cultivars of vegetable, herb, tree and shrub specimens. We live and practice a holistic health of wellness (that includes whole foods, sober and drug-free living). There is some resemblance to the monastic knighthood (explore the history of Turaida link of the book by Stephen Turnbull ) of the medieval past at Turaida castle. While our simple living monogamous lifestyle still resembles that of Medieval Christendom, our attempt is to integrate "the past in the present, and the present in the past" (from Lewis Lapham of Lapham's Quarterly).

David Buckton 'at the wall' of the Bishops Cathedral Buxhoeveden (and founder of Riga) 2013. Photo M White

To be clear, modern technology and ideas are still employed at Turaida. We use electric pumps, cars that operate on gasoline, and digital internet access, electronic devices, etc... We therefore differ from concepts of low or anti-tech neo-Feudalism that some see as a natural extension of post-national eras. There are problems and solutions with technology. Again, it is a double edged sword. Still yet a simple elegance is often sought out, whether we achieve it or not it remains a goal.

There is a desire for using smart design, and simple elegance to models that avoid certain complexities that can create break downs. Da Vinci is often credited as having famously said "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication", (although historically it is debated whether to credit him for this idea).

For us, a rejection of past and existing, and emerging ideas force people to remain stagnant, lost in the realm of science fiction or the history of early twentieth Century Eurocentric dystopian fantasies.

This is similar to what Grace Lee Boggs pointed at the screening of Grace Lee's documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (2014). She was interviewed by documentary film maker Grace Lee (not to be confused with the author and subject of the documentary) following talk we attended in Detroit several years before her death. Her evolution is outlined in her book Living for Change, An Autobiography (1998), (p32-33) where she discusses her relationship with an evolving philosophy of life and the theme of her book. She discussed how people can stagnate if they're not redeveloping their ideas as an academic. Partly, it is for this reason that we try and keep a holistic approach in mind. Some ideas, like people, fall out of favour, are forgotten, move away or die, and there is a need to move on. The beauty of forests is their perennial, long lived nature resemble in some ways the permanence of stone. The memory of the dead live on in a permanent way too.

Maris With a Ring of Oaks Ontop of the ancient mound at Folksong Hill, Turaida Latvia. Photo M White

It takes patience to grow vertically, since each year the trees will only grow so much, even in good drainage. The beauty of forest gardening is that it teaches a person patience since it requires patience. As is often said, patience is a virtue, and good things come to those who wait. We need to try harder to encourage the idea of patience in a world that appears wanting immediate gratification.

In this article, we continue with book reviews in an effort to promote libraries and our coverage of discussion on paper printed books. Unlike digital works that can be deleted or altered, hard copies are still important. In the article About the Writer & Forest Gardener (click link here), we discuss the role of hard copies of books and personal libraries can play in personal development.

While our own copy of Tree Crops (1953) is quite new, the book was originally printed earlier in 1929. In Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture, the author also applies a holistic approach to understanding different species of fruit and nut tree crops. To review, the book title influenced the coining of the term "permaculture" coined by Mollison and Holmgren in the 1970s (from Farming the Woods, pg 31). While many of the chapters focus on tropical and subtropical species, the Tree Crops author gives alternative lists for temperate forests.

For example, the author of Tree Crops points out the differences between constructive intellect and time where he talks openly about using time constructively, and understanding the differences between how "Time appears to be more common than intellect, and neither is used very much" (from Tree Crops, p96). This kind of general advice that extends far beyond tree crops is still valid today. He was making observations to include a holistic approach on how there could be better use of time management to add to his discussions on managing land. The act of growing larger, heavy producing perennials appears to have home use economic value on a small scale. Likewise, coppicing, pollarding and pruning of fruit and nut trees can open up the market.

At Turaida forest garden, we are operating as a small scale homestead and business that inherently limits our ability to grow on the land due to space. We hope these articles will encourage a form of online resources to share while promoting the books under discussion. As a family friend pointed out only years before passing away, the hardcover books act as useful guides that are irreplaceable as hard copies in a digital age where the printing presses are clearly under pressure from the internet.

It was interesting to note in their book Farming the Woods, how Mudge and Gabriel (2014) suggest that in Tree Crops the author was asking for a compromise in terms of land use. Mudge and Gabriel point out how prof. Smith suggested growing on marginal lands that were not typically used by farmers (from Farming the Woods, pgs 102). It's not just about the ability to feed livestock versus human consumption.

Cracking nuts and picking tender fruit from high branches might be an issue with low tech devices, but how much have people tried to build an easier way and relatively affordable method? Clearly, some kind of balance of trust is necessary to allow for both practices to co-exist and cooperate.

Chapter Twelve on chestnut tree systems in (see pgs 127-155 in Tree Crops) describes his encounter in Corsica, where professor Smith was impressed upon by the volume of nuts harvested from these trees. Unfortunately, the drainage requirements are such that heavy soils limit the range of growth for these trees in our low topography (despite several attempts of our own). Consequently, our trials with chestnuts has been limited, but not excluded.

In Farming the Woods (pg 56) the authors include a discussion on the concept of a "shifting mosaic, steady state". This kind of forest garden model can be used as a dynamic model that accounts for the complexity of a forest garden. Phase changes are important considerations, since they model ways of trapping energy during these material transitions in passive systems (see a detailed explanations on how physical properties of different chemical structures serve to hold energy, such as water in concepts like thermal mass).


In this article in the series on "What is Forest Gardening?", we explored the historical background of our own Turaida forest garden project. The context and background for the project under development was explained. The ancestral Livonian settlements and materials were compared against the new materials and designs used by Western influences at Turaida forest garden and at historic Turaida, Latvia. Permanence and transience were themes that were explored, along with the 'perennial philosophies' (also a title of Aldous Huxley's book we'll discuss later )of several key figures including existentialist writers, Grace Lee Boggs, and other writers and their works. Please refer to the book references section for more information. We introduced the work Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture, of the geographer professor. We discussed how his ideas remain relevant today, since agroforestry has changed little with time.


Boggs, Grace Lee.

1998. Living for Change, An Autobiography. Minnesota Press.p30-33.

Eagleton, Terry.

2004. After Theory. Penguin Books, London. p 180.

Kaufman, Walter.

1956. Existentialism, from Dostoevsky to Sartre. Plume Publications. p 11-51.

Rabinow, Paul

1984. The Foucault Reader. Pantheon Books, New York. p51-75.

Lapham, Lewis.

Lapham's Quarterly. Please see: https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/about

Mudge, Ken and Gabriel, Steve.

2014. Farming the Woods: An Integrated Permaculture Approach to Growing Food and Medicinals in Temperate Forests. Chelsea Green Publishing. p 102.

Smith, J R ScD.

1953. Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture.The Devin Adair Company, New York 2nd Printing. Note the first printing was 1929.

Turnbull, Stephen. Illustrated by Peter Dennis.

2004. Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights (2).The Stone Castles of Latvia and Estonia 1185-1560. Osprey Publishing.Images from p24, 62.


Lee, Grace, Libresco, Caroline, & Wilkin, Austin.

2013. American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. New York City

Additional reference: Da Vinci's line about "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" rings true in the forest garden project.


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