Free Compliments of our Advertisers
Sonoma County Gazette
Keyhole Garden

The year was 1997, 20 years ago

Mar 7, 2017


By Sherry McGary

I had been in the house for several years now, the first year I had pulled up all the weeds and discovered a bit of a garden underneath, that was a nice surprise. Then I acquired a bunch of old windows from our family cabin and built a funky ole green house.  It was there next to that greenhouse, a big weedy spot that called out to me every time I passed…. That’s the spot… I’d been looking at….. and turning over in my mind… for months. That’s where it all began for me….my starting place. 

That’s about the time I stumbled upon keyhole gardens while leafing through a book at Harmony Farms. The book PermacultureOne explained the benefits of this style of design. As I read it with a critical gardener’s eye, I was trying to figure out if it would actually work. After going back to the store for the 3rd time I was finally certain it would. It all made so much sense. I would do it! I was certain, although I did feel a little guilty about not buying the book.

Before the rains came

Keyhole GardenI had drawn a sketch of the keyhole design and made my plant list and map. There was a central path with generous garden beds on each side. I designated a compost area at the end of the path. That was the layout. I was ready.

So I prepped the garden beds by double digging on both sides of the path and adding lots of fluffy garden compost, I did this to increase the waters infiltration rate and at the same time increase the soils water-holding capacity (basically to store more rain water).  Next I added amendments: crushed oyster shell, rock phosphate & wood ash to ensure that the fruits and vegetables would be full of calcium and minerals. 

After the rains came I was ready to plant … first the fruit trees; Asian pear, Fuyu persimmon, Satsuma plum and a Satsuma mandarin. Then some drought tolerant vegetables: tree collards, sorrel, chard, arugula and mache. Lastly some self-perpetuating annual flowers: Rose campions, California poppies, Love in a Mist and Forget Me Nots. Then everything was seriously mulched to keep the ground warm, retain the rain water and keep the weeds at bay. 

PlumsFast forward the year is 2002; It was five years after planting that 1st keyhole garden when I realized that I frequented that area more than any other part of the garden. I started to analyze my trips to that area. This is what I found… as I suspected I was going there more often because of the compost pile, but also I noticed… I was picking fruit on the way back to the kitchen. Then I started bringing a basket.

Fast forward to 2017 present day. For 18 years now this garden has filled our bellies as well as our pantry with harvests of Nectarines, Peaches, Plums, Asian pears, persimmons, artichokes, and lots of greens. The success of this 1st project inspired me study Permaculture in 2003 and on it went from there.

Today I show people how to create these kinds of gardens. You’re invited to a FREE garden workshop beginning Wed April 5th. For more info go to   

Sherry McGary is a Certified Permaculture Teacher (2004) and a Certified Master Gardner (1989). She founded Garden Angel Design in 1995.


Login to Make a Comment

Please support our sponsors:

Cloverdale Performing Arts Center - True West

May 17*, 18, 19, 25, 6 @ 7:30pm
May 20 & 27 @ 2pm
Tickets: 707-894-3222
TICKETS *Pay-what-you-can preview on May 17 at 7:30 pm

BeeKind of Sebastopol
Bike Logo

Call 855-483-3732 to find out about Folding, Cargo & BionX Bikes. Perfect for a SMART Train Ride!

Fine Tree Care - Sonoma County Tree Services
Sonoma County Bicycle Shops and Groups

Sonoma County Bike Shops and Groups. Find LOCALLY-OWNED Bicycle Shops for NEW, Used and Rental Bicycles as well as REPAIR. Look for a bike-riding group that suits your needs and style.

Please use the Gazette's Guide to find LOCALLY-OWNED Garden Businesses to support Sonoma County's environmental and economic health and vitality.

Flower Shops and Florists of Sonoma County

Please support locally-owned businesses and tell them the Gazette sent you - THANK YOU!

Locally-Owned Jewelry Businesses in Sonoma County

Find Goldsmiths and Jewelers who create custom designs, offer jewelry repair, estate appraisals, and gems.