keyhole gardening

What is keyhole gardening and how to get started?

Have you heard great things but are still left wondering ‘What is Keyhole Gardening’?  Keyhole gardening is growing your crop within a structure which is specifically designed to maximize output even in hot and arid conditions.  Keyhole gardening was developed in Africa, and the design has proved so effective that it is now taking off worldwide.

Looking to get started and build yourself a keyhole garden?  We will take a look here at how you can build your own keyhole garden and have a go at getting these excellent results for yourself.

What is a Keyhole Garden?

A keyhole garden is a round structure, 2 meters in diameter with an indentation on one side (the aerial view gives rise to the name ‘the keyhole garden’) – imagine a cake missing a slice. In the main, they are built to around 1-meter height but there is no reason you shouldn’t build yours higher or lower if it suits you.


Again, tradition would have it built of a hard material such as stone, but as you will see when we look at how to get started with a keyhole garden that the choices are all yours.   The use of stone for the walls works because not only do they support the garden itself but they also help to retain moisture and provide excellent growing conditions.

The center of the garden contains a basket for depositing your composting materials into so that nutrients can leech directly into the soil.  The soil is heaped against the basket and slopes down towards the edge of the bed.  Greywater can also be added to the basket, supporting the composting process, and keeping moisture in the bed creating the perfect growing conditions.  It is important not to overwater a keyhole garden, and easy to do – because the nutrients and water is being added from the bottom, not the top.

Great for:

  • Hot places
  • Small gardens
  • Disabled or elderly people as they can work on a raised bed
  • Maximizing crops
  • Recycling and composting
  • Succession planting
  • Low maintenance gardening
  • Encouraging children

What can I grow?

get started with keyhole gardeningA keyhole garden will support most vegetables, and they can be intensively grown with less spacing than normal gardening.  It is not best suited to plants with extensive root systems, so you may want to continue planting your tomatoes and courgettes in a traditional bed.  Herbs, leafy greens, salad vegetables, root crops like carrots, parsnips – all have proven to do fabulously grown this way.

Love the idea?  Let’s look at how to build your own keyhole garden:

  1. Create your space.

You will want to pick a fairly accessible site so that you can pop out with your peelings or washing up water nice and easily.  Clear and level an area around 6 feet in diameter in a sunny spot.

  1. Start in the middle and make your basket.

You can repurpose any suitable container, but if you are working from scratch upright supports can be put into the ground and you can make your basket from chicken or stock wire, in fact, any strong mesh.  It has to be sufficiently strong to keep the soil out and the compost in without falling over.

  1. Put drainage rocks into the bottom of the basket.

Add onto this some soil or compost to get the magic started and be ready to start piling in the composting material.  You need to keep this bed fed for the best results.

  1. Your Walls

You don’t have to be traditional with rocks, how about cinder blocks?  Wood blocks?  Concrete?  Old tyres?  You can build your keyhole garden to be as individual as you like.  A solid wall will save water evaporation which will be important if you are growing in a hot location.

  1. The soil

This is the working heart of your keyhole garden.  It is important to make sure that sufficient nutrients are in place to give your vegetables a great start whilst your composting starts to work.  Put a drainage layer into the bottom, sticks will be great, or rocks, shale, whatever you have to utilize.  Then start layering up your growing medium, soil, potash, compost – build your bed to nurture your plants’ growth, you are looking for a powerhouse of nutrients to grow your vegetables.

  1. Think about sunscreen – is it worth putting a shade over? Are you going to grow climbers, do you need to incorporate a pergola?
  2. Let it rest. For a week.
  3. Plant your seeds or plants.

It is important that you plant a diverse range of plants to improve disease resistance, the soil in just a brilliantly supported environment will allow you to plant a lot closer than you are used to and you will still get fantastic results.

What is a keyhole garden?  A fabulous idea!  A brilliant way to maximize your harvest from a small area even in really difficult conditions.  It is a design that can be used by the elderly, disabled, children or anyone who has struggled to manage larger areas.  How to get started with a keyhole garden?  Build one!  Easy as anything – these gardens have very few design rules, you can adapt your garden to fit your space, using the materials you have to hand.

Author: Kyle Baxter

Kyle Baxter is married with one young son. A very short career in investigative journalism, and a particularly unfortunate experience over the purchase of a major household appliance that took many months to resolve when he could ill-afford the costs led Kyle to his current position as a consumer champion. When not seeking out guidance on the best-on-the-market Kyle enjoys watching baseball and tries to get away from the house long enough to do some off-road cycling.

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