My mama started making keyhole beds after she read “Mandala gardens: a booklet for Permaculture gardeners” by Robyn Francis. At this time we were living at Ecocentro IPEC so we had lots of space to experiment with creating keyhole gardens. I have memories of munching parsley and playing games with my friends in the ‘huge’ mandala garden (or at least it felt huge at the age of six).
A mandala garden is a circle upon circle design. Planting in a circle allows you to fit a greater number of plants into the space therefore increasing your yield. Another key element in the mandala garden is the keyhole bed. The keyhole bed literally looks like a keyhole. This simple design technique increases the amount of space available for plants by decreasing the area reserved for pathways. It also creates more borders, which then provides extra habitat for insects and creates different micro-climates.
An important benefit of a keyhole garden is that it avoids the need to step on the garden soil when harvesting your food. Every time you stomp on your garden soil you create compaction. Soil compaction occurs when the soil particles are pressed together which in turn reduces the rate of water infiltration and drainage. If soil compaction does happen you need to spent a lot of energy making the soil light and porous again. So best not to stomp on your garden.
How to make a keyhole in your garden
Decide where your garden will be positioned. Now crouch down to the ground. The size of the keyhole will depend on the size of your body. If the garden will be tended by 2 or more people at the same time, they can crouch down with you.
- Whilst crouched, stretch your arm out and draw a semi circle that fits your body comfortably.
- Jump back up and and close the circle a little and then create the sides of the keyhole.
- Now either close your keyhole garden or continue making a mandala garden.
Remember: the idea is to avoid stepping on your garden. Meaning that the person within the keyhole must be able to touch the middle of the garden bed or the fingertips of the person on the outside of the garden (see photo of children below).
Keyhole gardens are ideal for small spaces and can accommodate a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers. When I was visiting my family in South Australia we decided to have a working bee and create a keyhole garden for my little cousins. It was ideal for their small urban space. The keyhole garden created a distinct border to guide the children where to step in the garden. They loved it of course and now have ease collecting the cherry tomatoes.
‘Clipping’ plants grow well around the keyhole gardens. They are the plants that need to be clipped regularly, such as flowers and leaves. They are planted next to paths and edges as they benefit from the warmth of the sun and protection from the wind. Plants include oregano, marjoram, thyme, chives, coriander, mustard greens, dandelions and basil.
Author: Laila Helena