Gardens are a proven way for increasing a person’s well-being. And, this isn’t in just one way. Sure, we know that they can provide fresh, organic food full of vital nutrients and minerals. That’s great. That’s classic garden talk. Gardening is also known to be one of the most mentally calming activities a person can undertake, and for some of us, it’s also the perfect pace for staying physically active. Plus, when done well, they are something to behold, a tranquil place to sit and take in the plants, the birds, the bees and the bounty. They are just peachy, some of them literally so.

A funny thing about big ag type gardening is that it’s not nearly as nice. Those long, endless rows of the same crop just aren’t as pleasant to look at, nor as healthy for our bodies, nor as inviting to natural ecosystems. In fact, big fields of bare rows of monoculture crops could not be more at war with nature. Oddly, it’s also a massive waste of planting space with each row of crops being border by a row of dry dirt. Plants weren’t meant to grow that way, and people aren’t meant to enjoy seeing the plants that way.

So, it’s time that small-scale, home-style gardeners unite, buck the old plowed rows of yesteryear, and get into the keyhole.

The Keyhole Design

Keyhole beds resemble old-timey locks, the sort skeleton keys go in, such that there is a little circle and a small length of a vacant space where the key fits. In this case, the keyhole represents path way, and the space around it is where the garden grows. In essence, this means that much less land is taken up with emptiness, just a small path and a circular place to stand in the middle, than what happens with rows, where essentially half of the space has nothing growing. Once this method is unlocked (I pun for fun), the garden is opened up to more productivity.

From this simple idea, there are several routes to go with a garden design. There can be one planting space with one keyhole, from which all areas can be reached for garden tending (this is great for corners). Or, if the garden space is too large for that, there can be a keyhole, from which half of the space can be minded, with a walkway bordering the outside of the garden, from which the other half can be accessed. This method is called a double reach bed. To even further expand the growing space, an even larger area can be cultivated with several keyholes, such that all places can be planted, weeded, harvested and so on.

Check out this video to learn more:


Other Reasons Keyholes Rock

Aside from the multiplying of growing area, keyhole beds have several other advantages. They create a lot of garden edge, which is where many plants thrive and biodiversity works best. Essentially, it possible to find spots with a bit of shade or plenty of sun or a tad more moisture or a swath of really good draining soil. Most keyholes are raised beds, equating to even more micro-climates with which to play.

Unlike straight-line rows, keyhole beds also encourage us to mix our plants, specifically using a technique called companion planting. Companion planting is finding two or more plants that work well when planted together. Most of us are familiar with the old Native American trinity of beans, squash and corn, but there are many others, like basil, garlic, and tomatoes or carrots and onions. Planted with a plan, each plant can be in the right microclimate and helping its neighbor.

Parting Advice for Beginners

Keyholes are communal space, where plants from different walks of life can mingle. Things grow underneath other things, up other things, beside them or even trellised above them (remember the sun). As we see in a healthy forest, nature likes to be at least a little bit messy this way. It creates more productivity for each square foot of ground space, and the diversity keeps pests at bay, nutrients circulating and provides habitat for garden-friendly wildlife, like bees and frogs.

For those new to gardening, some great tips to help with getting started are: Always mulch like you mean it, feed your soil organic goodness and only till one time (if that), look for perennial plants over annual because they don’t have to be bought and planted each year, and be sure to use what’s around — for mulch, compost, plant pots, or building beds and trellises, etc.—before buying things. Most importantly, though, make it a fun and leisurely activity, not one that is unwanted work, and one of the best ways of doing that is bringing the garden closer to the house rather than putting it in a corner. The closer it is, the easier it is to snip some lettuce leaves for dinner or weed a little between the walk from the door to the patio.

Image source: Flickr