Posted in 1 Garden

Keyhole Gardens: Efficient, Ergonomic, and Beautiful!

Classic American gardens are usually arranged in straight lines.

But straight lines are boring (unattractive to me), too convenient for insect pests (hopping from one plant to the next to the next), and anti-ergonomic – hurting our bodies during planting, tending, and harvesting.

What’s the alternative?

Keyhole gardens! – with plants arranged into companions or “guilds.”

From Toby Hemenway's book, "Gaia's Garden."
From Toby Hemenway’s book, “Gaia’s Garden.”

Keyhole gardens offer the greatest amount of garden space relative to the area needed for pathways.  No other garden shape results in this much economy of space.

Check out the designs here, of a simple keyhole garden and two keyhole clusters.  They can be perfectly round or oblong to fit a space.

What’s best, I discovered, is the ergonomics.

I only realized this benefit after volunteering at our local community farm for six weeks.  After crouching down to pick beans or other veggies for hours at a time, scooting my upended plastic bucket seat a foot or two at a time, I realized how good it was to move the bucket farther and then stretch farther to the left and farther to the right.

At home, my keyhole garden does even better:  It allows me the comfort of twisting wonderfully as far as I can in each direction while letting me forego all the awkward clumping down the row with my bucket seat!

My original garden design had no keyhole gardens – though I knew the concept – because I had only a solid-rock hillside outside the kitchen door, along which I was building stone terraces in a narrow space, essentially forcing me to use lines, though they could meander a bit.

My front yard had been designed for drought-tolerant evergreens, minimally planted in a conservative two-foot border around the perimeter.  Years later, with my partner to share the work, we decided we had a lot of unused space in that front yard and decided to expand the gardens.

DSC04421We expanded all of them to fill every bit of ground except for what was needed for a winding pathway and two chairs and a table near an existing bench to catch both summer shade and winter sun.

Wherever the new gardens were too wide to reach fully into, we created short keyhole pathways to their centers, creating lop-sided keyhole gardenDSC04667s!

In this first, you can see the cat door into the sun room, graced with a pink rose overhanging.

Here’s a side view:DSC04675

I feel very strongly about avoiding straight lines – for one’s psyche.

Think about it:  most of our life has been turned into straight lines:   our rooms, our homes, our furniture, our streets, our books and games – even calendar time!  There’s no reason our gardens, our lovely patches of nature – created just for us! – should be straight!

Let’s get ourselves out of our boxes wherever we can!  Our gardens are our chance to bring nature – and all its wavy, meandering, branching line glory – back close to us!

Yes, I know that rectangles provide some wonderful efficiency:  making standard size shade screens and cold frames to sit on top of multiple beds is easiest when working with rectangles.  But we can also shade our oddly shaped gardens with pruning materials of various plants and use those same materials to hold down plastic in the winter (plastic which can be rolled tightly and take up less space) – and I like those looks much better.

Obviously, I put more value on the psychological healing benefits and the beauty of my garden than its food production.  But it seems I can have both!

How do you arrange plants inside these shapes?  Think of nature:  scatter your seeds.  And combine companion plants.  For ease of access, put tall plants toward the back or outside edge, and place short ones near you.

Like most of life, it’s a puzzle.

Enjoy it!

Posted in 1 Garden

Healing in the Garden

How many of you have had times in your garden so powerful that they’ve challenged your philosophy of what’s real?

Or times when you were overwhelmed by sensuousness, luxury of relaxation, love, beauty of flower buds opening, turning to fruit, birds, bees, lizards, sun (moon and stars!), breeze, exhilaration of exercise, lazy rambling thoughts, prayers, understanding, or connection?

All these are common blessings in the garden (along with vegetables, herbs, and wildlife habitat).

So I want to be more consistent, more dedicated to my garden, not only as a growing, productive, and beautiful living space, but as my personal healing place.

The best place for healing, I assert, is the Garden, where we learn about consciousness and life, unconscious, mistakes, and death, forgiveness and listening and more.

I’m so grateful for this work.








Posted in 1 Garden, 3 Chickens

Garden weed/waste as nutrition for the chickens and other uses

Cleaning up the garden the other day was a delight, as so little was wasted, now that we have chickens.



This sunflower quit being beautiful weeks ago, then poured the rest of its life energy into producing these sunflower seeds – a major treat and excellent nutrition for the chickens.  I pushed the outer leaves back to expose more of the seeds, and left a bit of stem on it so I could wind it in the fencing to support the flower head for aggressive pecking.


The scores of sunflowers in our yard are not only beautiful, but they also add essential (and in NM too rare) nitrogen to the soil, and then they produce this otherwise-costly treat for the hens.

Other excellent nutrition from the garden all summer – and continuing – includes dandelion leaves.  We eat some of them, but give the majority to the birds, which seem to crave them over all other treats.  The roots, of course, are an excellent medicinal – just wash, dry, and put in a jar for later.


We also pulled up all the stickweed – which goes by many names, but most recognize it as the one with bothersome seeds this time of year.  We left it in the garden until now because the flowers are pretty, and also because the herb, I’d heard, is a good medicinal.



However, I find there are many plants with the name stickweed, so I’ll have to do more research before I report on this.  Anyone want to help?


hanging herbs

One site I read said that poultry loves it, but my birds didn’t; either it doesn’t compare to the other food we offer, or else it’s the wrong stickweed.

Also hanging today are catnip trimmings to give the cat in the winter or make relaxing bedtime tea (with flowers – a little late in the season for perfect tea, but still useful).  And a little Russian sage that had become bent and broken from hanging in the walkway.  I usually wrap it as a smudge stick before hanging, but dried as is for a dry flower arrangement later.

Finally, we harvested the last of the red flame grapes:

DSC04150 DSC04158


Now, to relax, sit with the cat, eat some grapes, and share some with the hens – who LOVE to eat all those that we’d otherwise compost directly.  Now, they’ll go through a bird first.