The forest gardens of highland Sri Lanka are dense, species-diverse systems. These analogues of natural forests provide their owners with food, fuel, fodder, timber and cash crops, and the native flora and fauna with habitat. The forest gardens have persisted through centuries of socio-political upheaval and economic change, while the natural forests surrounding them have been felled for timber and to make way for large scale plantation agriculture. Natural forest regeneration on abandoned plantations land is hindered by recurring fires during the dry season. Today, in the largely deforested highlands, the villages with their gardens resemble forest islands in a sea of degraded grasslands. The farmers in the traditional villages hold the key to reforestation encoded in the management of forest gardens which are planted in the grassland as villages expand. Principles from the farmers' knowledge, particularly patterns of vegetation change over time, may also provide insight for reforesting marginal lands with ecologically and economically viable agroforestry systems elsewhere in the highlands of the tropics and for buffer zone management of forest reserves.
The Javanese traditionally practice shifting cultivation in those upland areas where paddy culture is impractical. The multi-storied garden is a highly productive, stable system for food growing in such tropical areas.