Keyhole Gardens: The ultimate garden bed?

Published Categorized as gardening Tagged , 2 Comments on Keyhole Gardens: The ultimate garden bed?
The next garden will sprout here
The next garden will sprout here

I’ve been in the process of designing my new garden. Being that we’ve been moving every year for the past three, it’s been hard to get a garden established. I’ve tried the traditional raised bed design, also the more hybrid approach. Not to long ago I saw a post on Root Simple’s page about a straw bale only raised bed, this seems like a good plan but I feel like there should be more of a mixture of materials. His experiments with it do look great, however. All of these techniques are good and they all work, if appropriate to the location. All that being said, I’m always left with the feeling there is something more to my liking out there. Hugelkultur definitely fits the bill, however I feel that it would be more fitting if I had a larger area to work with.

Considerations for the garden:

  • The soil where I live is leaning heavily towards the clay side.
  • I hope to have as much diversity of nutrients and microbial activity as possible, so as to not continuously maintain the soil
  • Something about the aesthetics of raised bed gardening appeals to me.
  • Living in a semi arid climate tends to dry out raised beds faster, leading to heavier water usage.
  • I semi-religiously compost. Semi, only be cause I don’t compost all of my paper for fear of the inks.

The solution? I think it might just be keyhole gardens. Or a bit of a hybrid. I know, I can’t just let a design be…


Keyhole Garden features:


keyhole garden
Original photo from David Snyder

As the name implies this design has a keyhole pattern in it. This is to access the center or the bed. One of the most innovative features of the Keyhole garden design is the introduction of the compost pile onto the center of the bed. I’ve seen gardeners dig up their garden bits at a time and bury some fresh kitchen scraps. I did some of this in the Silverlake garden and with good success. The idea behind this is that it takes the nutrients right to the plants and skips the need to move the compost twice.

Also, well rotted wood is added to the soil mass which allows for more water retention of the soil and improved soil biodiversity. This is similar to hugelkultur and it does seem to work pretty well here in the more arid climates. In essence, this makes it a giant sponge that will release the moisture slowly and build rich soil.

And they look great



  1. While trying to find a watering solution to our 4 year drought conditions. And not wanting the expense of an irrigation system. And also trying to find a solution to the problem of the compost just drying up and blowing away…I came across key hole gardening. I do believe it is indeed the ultimate garden bed! However, I was unable to do this on a rental property. And I am not a strong person, and lack physical stamina at any leval. I instead used food grade 5 gal. buckets. Drilled holes in the bottom and low on the sides. Fashioned with plumbing (and window screen to keep mosquitos out)a place to water through the lid. Not nearly as great as a keyhole garden. But it works pretty darn good!

    1. I hear you! I’m also renting and will eventually have to take whatever I build, or modify, apart. As with most things I talk about, there is the ever present principle of appropriateness. If the design is not appropriate to the site, then don’t build it :) I struggle with this often and wish I had the land to work on more of these projects. However I share and do what I can when I can, and hopefully inspire some people to take on some of these ideas.

      What you are describing sounds like S.I.P.s
      Have a look at this link from my friends over at

      Also I’d love to see some pictures of your planters.

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