The Permaculture Garden
Self-sustaining food, fiber and energy producing ecosystems
by Grégoire Lamoureux
Photo (c) Shutterstock Images
The Permaculture Garden will serve many functions. Producing food (vegetables,
fruits, herbs, flowers) is only one. It will also produce medicinal plants
harvested for their roots, leaves, flowers to be used in teas, salves or
tinctures. The garden can also grow different fibers for craft materials, such
as willows, reeds, and others, for basket weaving. Flowers grown will attract
beneficial insects, butterflies and birds; they can be used as cut-flowers or
some as dried flowers.
The garden can also generate income from all of the above as well as from seed
production, bedding and nursery plants, garden tour, research, writing a book or
A beautiful garden is a wonderful place to meditate and to reconnect with
ourselves, Nature and with the spiritual world. Gardening is a great anti-stress
therapy. It helps relaxation and is also good exercise. It can afford a social
occasion – by bringing your friends to help with weeding, mulching and
The garden starts right outside your door. The closest plants are those used
on a regular basis and/or those which require more care (such as herbs and salad
greens). As we walk further from the house, we grow plants that require less
visiting for maintaining or harvesting. Corn, potatoes or squash, for instance,
are only harvested once or twice a year and don't require as much care, so they
can be placed further away from the house.
Using a creative pattern in the garden will create more
edges and often can increase diversity and productivity. The technique called “Keyhole Garden” is
beautiful, simple and productive. It can be adapted to the specific needs of the
gardener. One of the basic ideas is that it provides easy access with minimum
path-to-bed ratio – a “least path” design. The horseshoe-shaped beds are sized
so you can easily reach the entire area standing in the keyhole. The beds can be
situated near the house for quick access, or along your main pathway.
The beds can be constructed in many ways. For perennials, the
raised-bed method works well. For annuals, the
sheet mulch method is a great alternative.
Instead of tilling or double-digging to prepare the growing space, start with a
weed barrier of wet newspaper (black ink only) or cardboard, layered over the
entire area. On top of this, use sawdust or straw to define your keyhole
pathway. Then around it, put a good layer of
compost for your annuals. You can
add a bit of soil or sand to hold your seeds. Cover it with straw or old hay to
keep it moist. Now you can plant your seeds or transplant your seedlings and
your garden bed is done.
One example is the “tomato-polyculture keyhole.” The bed can be around six
feet across and three rows deep, with basil/chives in the first row; then a row
of tomatoes interplanted with marigold (tagetes) which reduce nematodes;
followed by an outside planting of Jerusalem artichokes or sunflowers to act as
a wind-shelter and reflect the sun, creating a good micro-climate for tomatoes.
The keyholes can be used along a pathway or they can be combined around a
circle to create a beautiful mandala or circle garden. The center circle can be
planted with herbs, flowers, a small tree or a shrub. The center is also a good
place to have a small pond in the garden. It would be a great place to sit and
enjoy a meal, surrounded by flowers and an abundance of food. And if you need a
little more salad you can reach out and pick a few leaves. Enjoy!
Grégoire Lamoureux is the Director of the Kootenay Permaculture Institute,
Box 43, Winlaw BC V0G 2J0.