After I started reading Toby Hemenway’s book, Gaia’s Garden, I decided I had to have a mandala garden.
A mandala garden is a form of keyhole garden, which you may be more familiar with. For those of you completely new to the concept, let me explain.
A keyhole garden is a round garden bed with a keyhole-shaped interior path, sort of like a doughnut with a bite taken out of it. The doughnut is the garden bed, the void in the middle is the keyhole path.
The idea is, as Hemenway describes in his book, ” . . . straight lines and smooth shapes reduce the amount of edge, while shapes with lobes, notches, mounds, pits, crinkles, and crenellations will increase edge.”
Keyhole gardens have more “edge” than straight beds. They maximize bed space while minimizing path space. Ideally, we would be able to plant every square inch of our available garden space, but that would require us to be suspended over our gardens Mission Impossible-style so we wouldn’t trample anything. While that’s worth thinking about, keyhole and mandala gardens are the next best thing.
A mandala garden is a bed shape with multiple keyholes, like this:
The important thing is to increase the edge. As Hemenway points out “. . . nature never takes the shortest distance between two points. Instead, nature meanders, drifting in graceful but efficient undulations from here to there.” (Gaia’s Garden, p. 38) And of course, permaculture is all about taking helpful cues from nature and applying it to deliberate gardening.
Here are some illustrations of this style of garden bed from Hemenway’s book (p. 39), to give you more of an idea what I’m talking about:
This is the shot I took this morning from the comfort of the house, showing the growth of the cover crop and what sodden weather we’ve been having.