My mama started making keyhole beds after reading “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 more plants into the space, increasing your yield. Another critical element in the mandala garden is the keyhole bed. The keyhole bed 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. Learn more about mandala gardens here.
An essential 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, reducing water infiltration and drainage. If soil compaction happens, you need to spend 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 two or more people tend the garden simultaneously, 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 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.
Note: To avoid stepping on the garden bed, the person in the keyhole must be able to reach at least the middle of the garden bed or the person’s fingertips on the outside of the garden (see the photo of children below).
Keyhole gardens are ideal for small spaces and can accommodate a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers. When I visited 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 were to step into 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. Plant next to paths as the plants 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