Plan a garden around a path for easy tending
Keyhole vegetable garden
Norman A. Plate

More: The perfect raised bed

SIZE: 11 by 12 feet

TIME: 2 days to plant, plus preparation, as in a French-intensive garden

COST: About $350

Veggies wrap around a central pathway in this garden, which makes working the beds a snap. Orient it so that the keyhole faces south; the larger plants (beans, tomatoes, and sunflowers) will be on the north side, where they won’t shade smaller plants.

To prepare the soil, till it 8 to 12 inches deep, picking out roots and rocks as you go. Don’t till the 3- by 7-foot center-access path (the keyhole); as long as the ground there is packed, weeds will have a hard time sprouting.

After the soil is well tilled, spread 2 yards of compost evenly over the beds and till again. Level the beds, which should form a 9-inch-tall, U-shaped plateau around the path. Rake the sides of the beds steep. Finally, spread 6 cubic feet of coarse ground bark or wood chips over the path to make an all-weather surface and to help keep down weeds.

(Numerals indicate number of plants; spacing given in inches)


A. Sunflowers, 5; 18″

B. Pole beans, 60 seeds (5 tepees); 6″

C. White cosmos, 24 (grouped); 6″

D. Parsley, 18 (grouped); 9″

E. Tomatoes, 5; 24″

F. Peppers, 9; 10″

G. Zucchini, 4; 18″

H. Swiss chard, 9; 9″

I. Herb mix, 6; 15″

J. Chives, 3; 9″

K. Sweet basil, 4; 9″

 Next: what to grow 

Which varieties to grow

Choose varieties of vegetables and flowers that are suited to your climate. For reference, here’s what we chose (and the sizes they come in) for our test garden in Menlo Park, California.

Basil: ‘Cinnamon’, ‘Dark Opal’, and ‘Sweet’; sixpacks

Chives: Common (blue flowers) and garlic (white flowers); sixpacks

Cosmos: White ‘Sensation’; sixpacks

Garlic: ‘California Giant White’; cloves

Oregano: 1-gallon cans

Parsley: Sixpacks

Peppers: ‘Golden Bell’, ‘Long Italian’, ‘Red Bell’, and ‘Yellow Bell’; sixpacks

Pole bean: ‘Blue Lake’; seed

Rosemary: ‘Tuscan Blue’; 1-gallon can

Sage: ‘Purple’ for keyhole, plus ‘Golden’ and ‘Tricolor’ for French-intensive; 1-gallon cans

Sunflowers: ‘Autumn Beauty’, ‘Double Sungold’, and ‘Lemon Gem’; 4-inch pots

Swiss chard: ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Ruby’; sixpacks

Tarragon: 1-gallon cans

Thyme: English and lemon; 1-gallon cans

Tomatoes: ‘Better Boy’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Early Girl’, and ‘Sweet 100’; 4-inch pots

Zucchini: ‘Eight Ball’, ‘Gold Rush’, and ‘Ronde de Nice’; 4-inch pots

MoreVeggie 101: How to grow veggies