Keyhole garden

A Mandala Garden is a raised garden bed using keyhole pattern.

It is meant to be a domestic garden able to feed a family all year. It can also be scaled up in order to feed more people. It is usually a circle shape on a flat area.

Bill Mollison talks about it in his Permaculture, A Designers' Manual, as the Gangamma's Mandala [p.269, picture p. 274]. He took inspiration from Taiwan and the Philippines to design this polycultural garden. Linda Woodrow's book, The Permaculture Home Garden, seems to give a more detailed approach to this concept, adapted to tempered climates.

Why do we use the word Mandala?[edit | edit source]

We talk about Mandala as it presents a circle centered pattern drawing. Originaly this word refers to Hindu and Buddhist vocabulary. It is a figuration with mystical and ritual value representing, under the form of a varied aspects geometrical diagram, the cosmos and the different relationships that are established between the material and the spiritual (
Indeed, the Mandala Garden is usually described as a circular area, but it doesn't have to be a circle, it can be a square shape garden with a circle inside and compost heaps at the corners or an ovoid shape to fit the land form. It just has to incorporate different keyhole patterns.

What are the advantages of it?[edit | edit source]

The advantages of it are:

  • to allow a very dense crop association in varied patterns permitting an improvement of soil building, pest control, etc.;
  • to maximize edge effect as trees are associated to veggies, tubers, water area, or whatever you want to put in it;
  • to be particularly aesthetic;
  • to gain space in your horticultural area because the ratio of path to garden is less;
  • to avoid water wastage;
  • to be able to practice (if wanted) no dig agriculture;
  • to be sure that each plant benefits from the same amount of attention as they are all together.

This type of garden seems to be really useful when built close to the kitchen as it permits having all desired veggies and herbs whenever you need. It can also be widened and placed in another area (for example zone 2) in order to provide a market scale production.

How does it work?[edit | edit source]

In the center we can put, for example:

  • a pond;
  • a washing area or external shower with a banana circle to filter grey water;
  • a nitrogen-fixing tree;
  • a compost heap;
  • etc.

Those elements are meant to provide humidity, shade and ecology to the garden. All around the keyhole beds it is mulched to keep in the moisture and prevent the need to weed. This allows a high diversity of crops in a quite reduced area.
The keyhole bed is usually more efficient when it reproduces the permacultural zone system. In this order, it is advised to place the more frequently picked plants (herbs) closest to the path, then the one that get picked regularly (as ladies finger, beans, tomatoes, etc.) and finally the long term crops that usually get picked in one time (any root crop for example). In this pattern we can also include small fruit trees at the back of the keyhole beds in order to provide shade and mulching to the garden. It is deeply advised to build the keyhole bed keeping in mind that we should be able to reach the two first zones at arm length.
All around this Mandala circle, it can be good to think about building a hedge, planting barrier plants for example, in order to protect our garden from animals. A windbreak can also be useful to prevent evaporation, insect invasions, and of course to protect from winds.

Adding the action of chooks or the action of worms to the Mandala Garden provides a real efficiency to this technique. In fact the chooks clean the area before any plantation. Then they help maintaining the garden while protecting it from insect attack and weed invasion.

"A chook dome is placed on the bed for two weeks. For the first week the chickens scratch and eat either the grass or remnant crop. The bed is then covered with mulch which the chickens scratch through for insects and weed seeds while spreading manure and cultivating the ground. When the dome is moved to the next site the bed is ready for planting out with seedlings raised in the propagation house." (Purple Pear Organic)

You definitely will need to spread the mulch evenly over the raise beds before planting.

If you choose growing worms, you can be sure they will turn your mulch into the best soil you've ever seen.

" The paths are filled with the garden own production waste organic matter, which is turned into compost by worms, and returned to the beds annually" (quote from Mandala Garden design in 1998 IIEA Permaculture Design Course –

While building the garden it is quite important to deeply think of which crop association we are going to plant. For example "things such as cabbages are interplanted with bok choi, at the center of the circle. They both need harvesting only once and the bok choi is harvested long before the cabbage, giving room for the spread the cabbage will need." (Purple Pear Organic)On the other hand we should also think of rotating crops in order to avoid pest buildup and soil impoverishment.

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