In spite of the very small average size of the management units, home gardens are characterized by a high species diversity and usually 3-4 vertical canopy strata, which results in intimate plant associations. The layered canopy configurations and combination of compatible species are the most conspicuous characteristics of all homegardens. Contrary to the appearance of random arrangement, the gardens are usually carefully structured systems with every component having a specific place and function.
In general terms home gardens consist of a herbaceous layer near the ground, a tree layer at upper levels, and intermediate layers in between. The lower layer can usually be partitioned into two, with the lowermost (less than 1 m height) dominated by different vegetable and medicinal plants, and the second layer (1-3 m height) being composed of food plants such as cassava, banana, papaya, yam, and so on. The upper tree layer can also be divided in two, consisting of emergent, fully grown timber and fruit trees occupying the uppermost layer of over 25 m height, and medium-sized trees of 10-20 m occupying the next lower layer. The intermediate layer of 3-10 m height is dominated by various fruit trees, some of which would continue to grow taller. This layered structure is never static; the pool of replacement species results in a productive structure which is always dynamic while the overall structure and function of the system are maintained.
The Javanese pekarangan home garden system is a clean and carefully tended system surrounding the house, whith plants of different heights and architectural types, though not planted in an orderly manner, optimally occupy the available space both horizontally and vertically. The home gardens in the Pacific Islands present a more clearly defined arrangement of species following the orientation and relief characteristics of the watershed. The West African compound farms are characterized by a four-layer canopy dominated by a large number of tall indigenous fruit trees.