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Unlock secrets of keyhole gardening with Master Gardeners

Joyce Berecki (left), a Highland Lakes Master Gardener, explains the benefits of using a keyhole garden for growing vegetables. On April 3, the group is hosting a free keyhole garden workshop during which members as well as W. Leon Smith, owner of Keyhole Farm (, will show attendees how to build one. The event is 10 a.m.-noon in the garden at The Helping Center of Marble Falls, 1315 Broadway St. Courtesy photo


MARBLE FALLS — With water a precious commodity in the Highland Lakes, gardeners are exploring more water-conscious methods of raising fresh herbs and vegetables. One way that is gaining popularity in Texas is keyhole gardening.

“This garden type combines several permaculture ideas into one vegetable growing structure,” explained Beth Mortenson of the Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association. The association is hosting a free workshop 10 a.m.-noon April 3 in the garden at The Helping Center of Marble Falls to teach people about keyhole gardening.

W. Leon Smith, the owner of Keyhole Farm (, will lead the program and discuss the “keys” to a bountiful garden.

The keyhole garden gets its name from the layout, which is similar to a keyhole, making it easy for the gardener to access all areas of the small garden. And it’s not like a traditional garden laid out on a piece of land or even a raised bed. Instead, gardeners often use local materials to build up the structure to about waist high, which eliminates bending over and kneeling.

A compost basket is set up in the middle of the garden for kitchen waste (but not meat products) and other organic materials. As these materials break down, they serve as food for the vegetables and herbs.

“This type of gardening reduces the need for watering, fertilization and soil maintenance, allowing for greater food production using fewer resources,” Mortenson said.

During the program, Master Gardeners will take down the 3-year-old keyhole garden at The Helping Center to let people see how the organic matter broke down over the past years. After mending any leaks or other issues, Master Gardeners will rebuild the keyhole garden with Smith explaining the steps as they go.

“This will provide attendees with an opportunity to learn the methods of the construction of a keyhole garden, the proper material and ratios for the composting contents, the planting of the garden and the ongoing maintenance,” Mortenson added.

Keyhole gardening originated in Africa when a humanitarian aid group in southern Africa was working in an area where both resources and water were scarce. The keyhole design allowed them and residents to build gardens about six feet in diameter from locally attainable supplies while making the best use of available water. According to one report, three keyhole gardens in that area could feed a family of 10 all year long.

The Helping Center of Marble Falls is located at 1315 Broadway St. Contact Mortenson at (972) 741-7121 or for more information about the workshop.