Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Keyhole Gardens

In our research on gardening methods we’ve come across keyhole gardens, which are extremely functional because they allow easy access to the interior of the garden. We particularly like the style of keyhole garden that is used in Africa, which includes a compost basket in the center.

We built a compost basket out of sticks and stakes we had lying around the yard. We wove the basket with pliable pine branches, keeping it loose enough to allow the compost to work its way out over time. We dug a drainage pit in the keyhole area that will hopefully collect water to build up a small aquifer beneath it,  ideally reducing the amount of watering we’ll need to do this summer.

We like the keyhole concept so much that we wanted to build another one at our Iowa Street garden (formerly Dave’s Place)!

We had a lot of open space to work with, which unfortunately included a very intrusive grass. We laid down cardboard to smother and hopefully kill it. We then outlined the shape of the keyhole garden with “urbanite,” which we got for free from someone tearing up their sidewalk.

Next we added some of the soil that had been in that area, as well as some leaf compost, straw, and our own finished compost (thanks to the hens). We’ll continue to build up the soil before we plant– we just got some granite dust and sand to add.


Instead of weaving a basket, we used a roll of wire, similar to chicken wire. As you can see, the wall is 2 rows high. We’ll probably continue to build it, as the taller the retaining wall and the higher the mound of soil, the less bending we’ll need to do.

Between our two new keyhole gardens, we’ll have lots of new space to plant this year. We’ll be trying new plants, like ginger, jerusalem artichokes, and some new flowers and herbs.

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2 responses to “Keyhole Gardens

  1. Mom March 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Looks like a lot of hard work. Good luck with you new gardens and the soil you added to them. They look great and interesting. Let me know how they work out for you.

    • Becca March 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm

      Thanks! We planted some oregano and parsley in the keyhole garden in our yard, still got to build up the keyhole garden at Iowa St. before we can plant it. We’ll keep you updated!

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