Keyhole gardens originated in Lesotho, a dry African country with few resources, widespread malnutrition, and the second-highest HIV rate in the world. If you think that’s irrelevant to garden design, read on.
A keyhole garden is a raised garden built within a circular stone wall. Soil lies on top of a bed of wood, cardboard, and other organic matter, and at the centre of the circle is a large basket made of metal or plastic. To get to this basket, a ‘notch’ is built into the circle, making it look like a keyhole from above.
Plants are grown in the soil around the basket, and organic waste, household grey water and any other composting materials are regularly tipped into the basket, providing nutrients for the plants. AIDS sufferers are often too weak to do much work, but the keyhole garden is designed to make things as easy as possible for them. Everything is at waist height or a little higher, and the notch means there’s little bending or stretching required.
The keyhole garden not only makes gardening easy for the sick and elderly, but it also provides a rich source of nutritious greens that are more challenging to grow in hot, dry conditions.
It’s an idea that could easily adapt to Lanzarote, where stone walls and raised gardens in the form of terraces aren’t exactly a new idea.
Alpine rockeries aren’t particularly practical in Canarian climate, but the islands offer their own version of a rocky habitat.
Get out to the wild, rocky mountainous areas of any of the Canary Islands and, sooner or later, you’ll spot an aeonium – the fleshy, green, or reddish, succulent rosette-shaped plants that are native to these islands.
There are hundreds of varieties of aeonium available, and they’re a fixture in most local garden centres – one of the most popular expressions of Canarian gardening style.
See them in the wild, however, and you’ll notice exactly how good they are at clinging to steep or vertical rocky surfaces. You’ll see them tightly wedged into cracks in cliffsides or the gaps in a dry-stone wall, getting their nutrition from the thinnest of soils and the moisture that gathers in the rock.
An aeonium rockery is a distinct possibility in any Lanzarote garden, but a vertical frame is an even more exciting challenge – all you have to do is find an adequate planter, which could be anything from an old wooden tray to a pallet, and create a well-packed display. Then hang the planter vertically.
Also known as re-wilding, ungardening is probably a more accurate term for a process that is not to be mistaken for low-maintenance neglect.
Lanzarote has few enough green spaces as it is, so creating a wild corner in your garden is doing a favour to an island where life has usually been tough for plants and wildlife.
The “ungardening” bit involves carefully returning a space to a wild state, but this is harder than it seems. Just leaving it alone will encourage dominant weeds and do nothing for the biodiversity of your garden.
Instead, a bit of planning is needed. You’ll need shelter, in the form of rocks and wood; organic material and, most importantly, a source of moisture.
The real advantage of this style of gardening is that it forces you to get out and about into your local habitat, where you’ll learn so much more about the wild plants and, eventually, animals that surround us.
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