Here is the 281th issue of our weekly gardening newsletter for Houston, the Gulf Coast and beyond. We really appreciate all of our readers hanging in there with us, sharing stories and inspiring us in so many ways.
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KEYHOLE GARDENS AND
By BRENDA BEUST SMITH
I’VE ALWAYS WANTED A KEYHOLE GARDEN. I discovered these decades ago when writing about Accessible Gardening. It didn’t take long to realize any technique, suggestion, tool, etc., designed for those with physical challenges were ideal techniques, suggestions, tools, etc., for lazy gardeners!
The idea is said to have originated in Africa as a gardening solution to oh-so-prevalent drought. The keyhole shape starts with a wire cylinder used to make and constantly replenish compost. It is surrounded by a C-shaped, waist-high garden, allowing access to the cylinder, or "chimney," as it is often called. ("Waist-high" = what works best for you.)
Just as I began thinking about a keyhole garden article for this newsletter, an amazing coincidence happened. A wonderful childhood friend, Susie Parks Lilley, and I reconnected after about six decades of no contact. She nonchalantly mentioned she had several keyhole gardens at her rural Lampasas homesite!
I began bugging her for tips, although -- at that time -- I had no amenable site at our old home. Thanks to Harvey (sigh…), now I do.
As you can see from pictures below, designs are as varied as gardeners worldwide. The key is that all soil sections have access to compost so Nature can spread its benefits throughout. It's said keyhole gardens following the general guidelines require as little as 80% less water than inground gardens.
Susie and Ed Lilley's keyhole gardens (only one is shown above) have been constructed with hay rings, stones cemented together, or even old fence staves woven together with wire. After the compost cylinder or "chimney" is inserted, Susie and Ed Lilley fill the planting sections first with layers of limbs and brush trimmings, topped by mulch, compost and finally transplants. On the bottom, Susie uses anything organic: jeans, fabric scraps, newspapers, cardboard, etc.
She advises transplants (rather than seeds) when first starting. After you get a feel for it, switch to seed if you want. Susie also raises earthworms and uses their soil on the beds. It seems to give them a boost after a few years of production, she says.
Below, more approaches:
LOIS MCDANIEL in Willis shared these pictures above of her neighbors Jim & Gerry Edwards' keyhole garden (top), and her own below. Everything grows well so far, she says, joking that hers isn't quite as nice as Jim and Jerry's, but she finds it perfect for those who find physical challenges a bit much as they grow older.
Lois has a chicken wire chimney in the middle of hers. She started with a cardboard floor, then a layer of sticks, then a layer of hay, then soil.
Lois' garden is about 6' in diameter. The Edwards keyhole is around 12' wide. If Lois were starting over, she'd make hers larger. The compost chimney fills up quickly and is hard to turn. On the plus side, it provides heat in the winter. They too used materials on hand so there was very little cost.