Building a Mandala Garden

Building a mandala garden is a great way to break up your garden beds into a riot of living colour, allowing easy accessibility and visual interest. It looks great too. Whilst filming at the Yandina Community Garden with Geoff Lawton we came across this very easy to build mandala garden bed that was tucked away in the shady end of the garden. It’s circular in shape and has a number of keyhole paths or spokes that invite you to look closer at the assortment of plants on display.

The paths allow you to crouch and inspect the garden without ever stepping on the beds. The idea in Permaculture is that you never step on the garden beds and crush or risk compacting the soil.

Permaculture gardeners like Geoff Lawton believe that by applying mulch and compost, you never need to dig and disturb the soil biota.

The bacteria and micro-organisms are best left undisturbed. This way you gain a rich array of soil life which creates an abundant thriving vegetable garden. Geoff says that “You never feed the plants. You feed the soil creatures.”

It’s the microbes and billions of bacteria that do all the heavy work in fostering soil fertility. The only effort needed is to apply some regular soil mulch and good compost and then allow time to have nature break it all down for you.

The advantage of keyhole paths is that you can easily kneel down and touch any part of the garden bed with your outstretched arms.

It’s all very accessible and allows for easy maintenance.

An easy way to design a Mandala Garden is to lay out the keyhole paths first using a length of garden hose to define the boundaries. A perfect circle can also be defined by inscribing an arc with a string or hose attached to a central hub post to mark out the boundaries.

Bricks are placed roughly in position to mark out the design. This one had the main boundaries defined in a snaking brick path of three key hole “spokes” that where flipped over to create the final circular wheel pattern.

In the center or hub of the mandala garden was a sunken pond that now had a large Taro root plant as the showpiece.

According to Geoff Lawton this garden could easily feed two or three people.

We saw Eggplant, Borage, Chinese Cabbage, Tomatoes, Parsley, Japanese lettuce and various herbs growing with minimal care.

“This is a health food shop.” said Geoff Lawton. “Everyone should have one of these.”

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10 thoughts on “Building a Mandala Garden

  1. That Yandina community garden is an inspiring place,such a diversity of useful plants and so many knowledgeable gardeners,they are a real model of just how a community garden should be.

  2. Eric

    I’d say it could feed 2-3 people or at least supplement their eating requirements. As the garden matures it will likely feed even more people.

    I’ve created a couple of mandalas on my property. I’ve made mine slightly bigger and with less paths. Mine only have one path that bisects and links each mandala. If you look at that first picture its pretty evident a lot of space is wasted on the paths. An interesting design i found and considered was having two mandalas linked. The first mandala i created with the paths i found quite diffucult to ascertain the correct angles and more or less did it by eye. When i made later ones I’d just fill the whole circle and cut the paths. Much easier!

  3. I say feed, that means feed, get a feed everyday feed three people at least one meal each, good nutritious fresh food.

    The minimum space to produce all the vegetables required for one person per year is 50 square meters, continuously gardened while temperatures allow. The day length of the northern and southern latitudes compensate for the shorter seasons.

    You can easily feed 3 people from a mandala garden of this size. What does that mean? Could you pick 3 meals a day from this garden YES very easily. Would that impress the average first world person new age or not, NO not if they are use to a position of privilege on a supermarket or health food store supply line. Would it impress a long term refugee residing in a aid funded camp on minimum ration YES it sure would.

    May I suggest we start a mandala garden productivity research contest using exactly the same size mandala garden as in the video, human reach gives you the proportions then it is just a matter of counting the key holes, and the rest just falls into place.
    Please put this proposal up on this site so anyone can join in and record their production on a daily calendar and report in on their discoveries.

    Let us all discover how productive small intense gardens really are.

  4. I would love to see that Geoff,great idea,the great Mandala challenge.

    A few questions.
    Do you use these at PRI,and if so what success have you had with them?
    What productive food systems do you have at PRI that you have seen work well and could recommend?
    I would love to see the results of when the best guys around(PRI) take up the challenge and what the readers come up with in comparison.
    It would make the competition side of it a bit more interesting and fun!!!
    I am going to have try this now,as I have a family of three,I will let you all know how we do.

    Cheers Anne

  5. I don’t think from what I saw at PRI on my PDC(2years ago)that PRI has many productive food systems,we were fed from non-organic store bought food 90% of the time and the gardens were an unproductive mess.The information was excellent,Geoff is a wonderful teacher.

  6. We serve an average of 25,000 meals a year here at PRI/Zaytuna Farm with an average of 25 people on the farm all eating 1000 meals a year each. We now spend an average of $100 a week at the shop and $75 is the best we achieved so far. We try to buy what we can from the health food store though some does come from the supermarket. It is sometimes hard for students to understand that our poly-cultural systems of produce comes in on a seasonal basis.

    Because of these sorts of comments, we decided that we would make a diary catalogue of everything that comes to the kitchen from the farm, including milk, eggs, meat, vegetables, fruit, herbs, nuts and seeds etc. This enables us to track what we’re producing, and we ourselves have been surprised by the continuous volume that comes off the farm. There are many meals that are 90-100% produced the farm. It is difficult, if not impossible, to satisfy all of the people all of the time, so we’re just trying to average out so that we can satisfy most of the people most of the time. We also accept that some people will never be satisfied, but hopefully their experience starts here as to what is possible.

    We don’t have many ‘fine’ or mandala gardens here because we’re on a broad (66)-acre property. We don’t think it is a major priority for us to demonstrate these kinds of gardens here as there are so many great examples already demonstrated all around the world. What we are focusing on is how to move into that broader/wider production where you can supply a high volume of meals, every day of the year, and only go to the supermarket to spend $4 or less per person per week.

  7. I think that it really important that we have real documentation in Permaculture systems.Many Permaculture farms are able to supplement themselves because they make good money off “education”.Most farms don’t have this luxury.I am an organic farm hand, and I have seen a few of these places they don’t seem to be able to produce in comparison to a standard organic farm,that’s here in the states.I would be interested to see some hard data as I think anecdotal evidence and averages just won’t cut it in the real world.We can get about 130-170 bushels per acre(ohio) I was wondering what sort of production you have?
    Adam

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