Gardening Basics

All you need to know about keyhole gardens

October 13, 2011

Keyhole GardensKeyhole garden beds are more commonly permaculture in nature and ideal for productive small spaces, accommodating a variety of plants. It can easily fit individual needs of the garden and can recycle as it grows. It offers a great mobility for the gardener to work from a small radius located in the center of the plot. Where good soil is scarce this method can be an advantage for producing those healthy vegetables.


The design resembles a keyhole from above. It is a combination of the square foot gardening and herb spirals, creating something far more practical by blending the best of both. It actually evolved as an African garden design suitable for growing vegetables in a dry climate. They are raised bed gardens, with a path to the center and walled in by stones. There is a basket in the center holding manure and other organic waste material for compost. The ‘Send a Cow’ Charity Organization in Lesotho has been promoting the creation of these gardens. It is becoming quite popular not only in dry places but for confined limited spaces as well.

It is an excellent method of involving the interest of children and adults for composting and using ‘gray water’ towards sustainable principles. The response has been positive with families being trained to grow enough for consumption and for marketing the produce.

Key components

It is quite simple to create a keyhole garden. First of all, a suitable site is chosen and a stake driven into the ground as a pivot point. Attaching a piece of string to the stake with a marker, you got to draw out a 50 cm inner circle. This is the gardener’s standing point for working. The outer perimeter must then be marked at 1.5 m away from the stake. This enables the gardener to reach all areas from the inner pivot position. An access point of at least 50 cm should be allowed into the center of the garden when it has been built. The next step is to build the raised bed using rocks, bricks, sleepers or any other material that can retain the soil within the beds. The height of 1 m is recommended for holding the soil within. Once this is done, it is filled with soil, compost and manure for the gardening plot.

What’s so great about it?

It is an appropriate technique useful not only for dry climates but for places where garden space may be limited. The rich soil is safely retained since there is no erosion of the surrounding areas. The compact round shape of the structure retains moisture despite its size. Further the raised beds are most convenient for the sick and elderly to help around in gardening. For the compost and reuse of gray-water, the center in the middle of the raised garden is most appropriate.

What goes against it?

It does require more garden planning as one has to ensure that taller plants do not overshadow the shorter ones. Since the plants grow more clustered hand weeding is the only option. This makes the initial stages more costlier and one has to wait a while before the harvest outweighs the initial costs. Hotter regions are likely to require more water as well.

Things to watch out for

In this type of garden you work from within the bed and rotate to access every inch of it. The raised bed makes it convenient for the gardener to stand rather than squatting uncomfortably. It is highly recommended as recreational hobby for the disabled and elderly. The use of space is compactly efficient as opposed to the space used for the square garden. The keyhole garden with an area totaling 9 with a plot size of 5.78 will have an arable portion of 64%. This ensures that valuable space is not wasted unlike in construction of their square counterparts.


Gardening is therapeutic in addition to reaping a rich and plentiful harvest. However, while caring for keyhole gardens, it is always desirable to collect materials and learning resources as best as you can. Making good use of nature in place of pesticides will ensure healthy crops so choosing quality organic manure for your soil can make a big difference. Mulching weeds not only controls weed effectively but also helps tremendously in providing optimal conditions for the plants to grow. Mulching helps tremendously not only in keeping the garden neat but also retains moisture as it decomposes, adding the required nutrients to the soil.

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