Grow almost twice as much food by planting in spirals instead of rows!
Most people don’t put much thought into the shape of their garden, defaulting to planting their veggies and herbs in simple, straight rows.
While this seems like the common-sense way to arrange a garden, a lot of potential food-growing space is lost to walking paths necessary for the gardener to water, tend and harvest crops.
Luckily, there are plenty of other shapes we can plant our gardens.
“The shape of a garden determines how much of its area can actually be used to contain plants, as opposed to paths to let us reach those paths,” writes Toby Hemenway, author of the permaculture “Bible” Gaia’s Garden.
Hemenway regarded garden paths as a “necessary evil,” and tried to minimize them as much as possible.
“Every bit of path is unusable real estate that could be devoted to a rich polyculture of greens, veggies and sweet-scented blossoms,” he writes.
His book offers three alternative shapes – keyholes, spirals and leaves.
In gardens planted in straight rows, walking paths consume about half of the soil area.
Simply converting the single rows into 3-row raised garden beds, reduces spaces lost to paths to about a third of the area of your garden plot.
“If we bend that rectangular garden bed into a horseshoe shape, even more path will disappear … shrinking to a tiny keyhole shape,” Hemenway writes.
Keyhole gardens sacrifice only about a quarter of the plot to pathways.
Paths in spiral and leaf shaped gardens can take up even less than a quarter of the gardening area, depending on how well they are designed, Hemenway says.
A spiral coils up 30 linear feet of path-side plants into a helical pattern about 5 feet across.
The spiral is mounded up into a “mountain shape” about 3 feet high in the center.
These small, pathless spirals are typically called herb spirals, but can incorporate veggies as well.
There is no need for a walking path between the “rows” of plants as the gardener can reach any part of the spiral from some point around the 15-foot circumference (without even having to bend down for those at the top of the spiral).
Larger spiral gardens can be made as well, with a narrow walking path and a wide planting area, but small herb spirals are the perfect place to start and learn from your mistakes.
Mounded herb spirals not only save space, they save water, as the water on top of the mound spirals down to water the plants below.
Also, it provides several different micro-climates, allowing you to plant a variety of herbs from different parts of the world.
This is because the soil on the top of the helix will be hotter and drier, while the lower you go the cooler and wetter it gets.
“Its mound shape means the herb spiral has slopes that face all directions,” Hemenway writes.
“Varieties that thrive in hot, dry climates, such as oregano, rosemary and thyme, go on the sunny south side, near the top. Parsley and chives, which prefer cooler, moister climes, find a home on the north side, near the ground.”
And finally, California permaculture educator Larry Santoyo has designed a leaf- or branch-shaped garden, whose paths imitate the veins of a leaf – which happen to also look like the branches of a tree.
“Look at the branching veins,” Santoyo said in a class Hemenway attended. “They use the least possible space to get sap from the photosynthetic cells to the rest of the plant.”
The veins themselves don’t gather much light, so the plant minimizes them.
“Why don’t we design garden paths like that? Why didn’t anyone see this?” Santoyo asked. “You make a big central path for a cart of wheelbarrow and smaller ones branching off it for foot traffic to beds.”