Building a Mandala Garden

by Daisy

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:

And from one bad photo to another, here’s the garden, or as much of it as I could photograph from this angle:

Mandala gardens come in all shapes and sizes, from the small, simple one here, to elaborate mandalas which form entire gardens.

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:

As you see, mine is only one example.  If you want to build one yourself, just modify a shape to fit your space.

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.

I plan to have some sort of path material in there by spring, what that will be is still undetermined.  Taking suggestions.


Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.
Lynnette November 29, 2011 at 10:56 am

Thank you for sharing about your garden. I created an herb garden this past summer that looks like the bottom left design without the outer keyholes but it does have the “c” shape in the middle. I tried using tree mulch for the paths but the weeds still found their way through it all. I think using tree rounds would be fun, in fact I just decided I will. =)

Mary November 29, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Beautiful! And so creative. Thanks for sharing your garden.

Carla November 30, 2011 at 4:42 am

I absolutely love your ideas for a variety of reasons, mainly from an asthetic standpoint, but also from that efficiency. What a beautiful & wise use of space.

Jim November 30, 2011 at 5:53 am

What a great idea – not something I’ve seen before but I’ll certainly be using that next spring – when I get a break from renovating the house that is 😉

As for path material, it depends how “green” you’re feeling. There are recycled tire products and recycled glass ones. In part of our garden we’ve used the old terracotta tiles that were beyond re-use and broken them up to provide paving. It works pretty well, although it can get in your boots when you walk from a wet patch of ground on to it.

Lindsay November 30, 2011 at 8:56 am

I love this idea. We’re doing raised 4×16 beds this year, but these beds would be pretty herb garden/salad beds closer to the house.
As for path material, I’m contacting the local power company and having their tree trimmers drop off their mulched trimmings at my house. They deliver and dump for free, which is my kind of price tag.

Blythe November 30, 2011 at 10:31 am

Hemenway’s book totally changed the way I look at my garden, too! I’ve been incorporating permaculture ideas into my garden ever since. At one point, I thought about changing my entire space into a huge squiggly labyrinth. What I ended up with are a series of patterns over 6 squares – each one different. I planted the garlic in beds wrapped around several nitrogen-fixing shrubs. See pics at The paths & what to do with them was a problem for me, too. Some paths are just weeds piled in to decompose. For the main paths, I ended up laying down cardboard and piling bark & wood chips on top (which, unlike Lindsay, I had to buy – ouch!). Weeds still get through, but they are easy to pull and not as many. I put handmade stepping stones, river rocks, and bricks in different places along the paths. In a previous garden, we laid out gravel paths – which proved disastrous years later when we tried to take them out and ended up with a ton of rocks in the garden. My advice: put something in that will eventually turn to soil or is easily removed in case you later decide to change things around.
Just want to say thanks for your very fun & informative blog. It will be fun to watch your garden grow. 🙂

Tomato Lady November 30, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Blythe–Your garlic garden looks amazing. I love it. I appreciate the gravel advice, very wise. You never know when you’ll uproot everything and revamp your entire garden philosophy–case in point–permaculture. I deal with gravel next to my driveway, which used to be gravel before it was paved. It is like chipping through granite to dig within five feet. That stuff spreads. Thanks for the link to your pics!

Blythe December 1, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Hey Thanks! I deal with a gravel driveway, too – I’ve been able to plant a little thyme, sage, & lavender along it – things that can live in dry, hard rocky ground – but not much else. We keep adding more gravel to fill up the potholes, and I keep wondering, where does it go? I think it just keeps migrating downward & outward. I’ve been rotating my garlic around 6 plots, so it seems like I’m always moving things around. By planting more trees & shrubs & permaculture plants, I’m hoping to create more “permanency” – less work!

Previous post:

Next post: