Our circular key hole garden is starting to take shape!

in gardening •  2 years ago

For the past few years I've been tinkering with gardening. This year, I've decided that rather than wait four more years until we potentially move I might as well do it right.

I also intend to see how much of a difference solar mass heating will make by using stone path ways and a perimeter stone and cob wall once the garden is completed.

I started this project the first weekend of December... and since that day have spent the majority of most weekends digging out the garden.

Our Garden Thus Far

View of garden from front
The garden from the front (west side)

Here is where things were at when I started taking pictures. As you can see, the garden is starting to take shape.

The basic idea is to have a circular garden with a center path and key holes to the middle of each bed. Once done it should look a little like an alien crop circle from over head. Hopefully I'll be able to see it via google earth here before long.

Digging the Beds

Living on a developer created plot our soil is tragic. Virginia soil in this area tends to be very clay based... and when the developer cleared the land it looks like they took what little top soil there was and sold it for extra profit.

Anywise, to make good beds I'm doing the following:

  • Digging what little top soil we have off the top
  • Digging down between one and two feet into the clay

A dug out bed
One of my daughters stands in the dug bed. You can see the clay key holes on either side of her.

  • Back filling with the top soil
  • Adding a good foot of leaf mulch on top of the original top soil

A leaf mulched bed
A bed with leaf mulch, currently soaking. The leaves will compact down and decompose within a couple of months.

  • Adding good soil on top of that to about six inches above normal ground level

Stepped bed filling
Dug on left stepping up to back fill, leaf mulch, and then top soil.

It's been a lot of work, but I don't plan on tilling the garden once it is complete.

Between an outer wall with foundation and a clover living mulch there shouldn't be much need to weed and churn the earth.

The Stone Path

For walk ways I plan on using stone sitting on a thin layer of gravel and sand. Here you can see the central path in progress. To make life simpler I tossed together a quick frame out of some 1x6 lumber I had lying about.

central stone path
The central stone path in progress with 2 foot wide frame.

As you might notice, I'm not concerned about making the garden level, just about having the path not slope too steeply anywhere.

Creating the Key Holes

Rather than have a series of round paths every few feet I want to have just two round paths (one in the middle area and one near the perimeter) in the garden with a series of key hole shaped entry ways to the middle of each bed.

To do this, I built a quick frame out of 1x6 lumber, used as follows:

key hole frame
The key hole frame (with ground covering material in the center)

  • Place the frame on the ground where the keyhole should be
  • Mark the outer edges of the frame with a shovel
  • Remove the frame and dig the top soil out using my marks

dug out key hole
A dug out key hole frame, ready to have clay put in it.

  • Put the frame into the dug out area and fill it with clay from digging out the surrounding beds
  • Pack it down then remove the frame

Later, once the beds and connected path have been put into place I put the frame back to make any shape corrections and then lay down the stone work.

stoned key hole A stoned key hole in the central garden area

If you like what you see so far, be sure to check back once in a while or follow me: @tony.jennings

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That's going to be a gorgeous garden with that nice layout! And I appreciate all that work you've done to deal with subsoil and clay! Do you think that you will have to irrigate at all? I'm looking forward to seeing your garden grow -- better to have a temporary garden than no garden at all!



I've tried to keep costs down in spite of having very poor soil. I'm going to have a lot of extra clay from digging out all of the beds, but that is going to go into building a cob wall and greenhouse eventually.

We will definitely have to irrigate... but with a circular main bed area I expect to be able to stick a rotary sprinkler right in the middle of the garden and have that cover the vast majority of the garden.

There will be a rectangular section on the north side between the circle and the greenhouse... but I plan to water that with roof run off and storage barrels. We are on a well, so most of what we use should go back down to the aquifer.


A cob wall will be nice. It's good you have an irrigation well, for sure. Here's to plenty of rain, though not too much, and at just the right times, lol. : )

Oh, @kendewitt here is what I've been doing... and one of the reasons that I haven't been posting here as often as I would like.


Nice. Wish I had the space to do something like that.


I just wish that we were in the place I want to be. Not planning on staying here in virginia for more than a couple of years.


Where you going next?


Well, if I get my way we will leave the united states and join a native american indian tribe! (came up with that while thinking on how to leave the insanity while still staying close to family... and canadia wasn't exactly my idea of a whole lot better)

Of course, if that doesn't happen then likely somewhere in the area generally known as washington state.

Nice progress, upped and followed!

Very nice...and a lot of work. I too look forward to the finished article.