keyhole beds?

Mikal Jakubal mjakubal at
Wed Jun 21 12:05:26 EDT 2000

Hi y'all,
Thanks for all the replies to my query on keyhole beds. It all basically
confirmed my suspicions: that they are just one possible tool that may or
may not be appropriate to any given situation. And that's exactly why I
asked. For someone new to pc it's hard to sift out the "whiz bang" doo dads
from the solid, proven-in-practice material. So much more productive to
learn from others' mistakes! 

(I think it's funny that herb spirals came up in the discussion. They've
always seemed to me to be little more than a gadget. My main objection to
them is that most herbs should rightfully be out in the garden as
companion/guild plants.)

So, what I've actually done is to make mostly parallel-sided beds on
contour, about 4' across. Everything can be easily reached from one side or
another. Paths alternate between 2' wide wheelbarrow accessible ones, and
very narrow walkways of mulch or stepping stones. This way, I don't waste
space with lots of really wide paths, yet still have wheelbarrow access to
every bed. I love having to move plants out of the way to walk through the
garden. Feels really rich and lush to have tomatoes hanging in the path and
smelling good as I brush past. I'm sure everyone's seen gardens with more
path space than bed space. Always seemed really silly to me, and not very

In the middle of a flat spot in the old pre-bulldozer garden there is a
pentagram of wooden raised beds, 13' on the outside, 7' on the inside, with
one entrance to the middle space. It is essentially a "banana circle," only
pentagonal. I really should've torn it up and re-contoured the area to fit
with the rest of the terracing done around it, but it was so much work to
build a couple years ago that I decided to save it. It looks cool, anyway.
Around that I did keyhole beds, the main reason being that I like the
mandala effect, the geometry of it. The sides of the pentagram were made
with low-grade lumber that I sawed with my mill--stuff no good for any
structural use--and it's rotting quicker than I'd hoped. I built the
keyholes around it to the same level as the dirt inside with the assumption
that in a couple years when the wood falling apart, I'll just remove it and
the beds will look like they were all part of the same design. Looking at
the new layout, I'm not really convinced that keyholes have any real
advantage here. But they look kinda neat, and I'll see how it goes. For the
rest of the space, though, I'm sticking with beds on contour.

I excavated the pathways and used the dirt to further build up the beds.
I'm going to fill the trenches with chipped tree mulch from the local tree
"service" company. They deliver it free when they're in the neighborhood. 


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