Attempting to write about Deb Tolman is a formidable task because there is a lot to tell. Dr. Deb Tolman holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences/Resources and Geography from Portland State University. With over thirty years experience in academic research and landscape design, she also has extensive training in plant nutrition, economics, and environmental education. She is currently owner of Avant Gardens, a multi-purpose business with the mission of developing sustainable approaches to landscaping, education, and sustainable coaching. She is also co-Director of the Silo Project, a Clifton-based educational facility dedicated to Sustainable Information and Learning Opportunities. Deb balances her time between research, education, writing, and sustainable community outreach. In her spare time, you can find her in her own garden!


Deb Tolman sponsors the annual Keyhole Garden Tour that I attended on Friday--and no wonder since she is the person who has promoted keyhole gardens in Clifton and the surrounding area in Bosque County Texas. Deb is to keyhole gardens what Ruth Stout is to mulch.  Deb holds classes and teaches people how to build keyhole gardens.  In fact, she has recently released an entertaining video that  you can purchase and D.I.Y.  Thanks in great part to Deb's efforts, there are no less than 60 keyhole gardens in and about Clifton, a small town in the Texas Hill Country.


If you wonder why the non-profit she co-directs is called "The Silo Project", you will no longer wonder when you visit the place out in the country where she lives.  One of the main buildings, soon to be her home, is a converted silo.  Currently she lives in a nearby 10' x 10' room, complete with an outdoor kitchen and outdoor shower.  Deb grows all the food she eats.  In addition to keyhole gardens, a few of her other sustainable projects and experiments include building a Trombe cob wall from straw and clay that will enable her to grow her lemon and lime trees outdoors year round; building an outdoor toilet with a composting toilet; designing large and beautiful Thai jars for collecting rainwater; creating art objects such as an outdoor wall hanging of high-heel shoes tied to an old bed spring;

Left is a view of the side of the silo.  The door shown on the right is the door to her current 10/ x 10' living space that is a few feet away from the silo.  Below is a view of the front door to the silo.  The cylinder to the left is the shower.

And in her spare time, Deb cooks gourmet pizzas in an outdoor clay oven that she made herself.  The oven can reach up to 900 degrees F and thus can cook a pizza in one minute.  The photo on the right below shows one of her elegant Thai designed rain barrels that she makes from ferrocement.


Below is a photo of a 15' x 15' greenhouse that Deb built from cob and straw for a mere $50.  The glass is reused patio doors.

Art and style are interwoven into all her demonstrations of sustainable living.  However, once in a while my eyes caught site of certain objects constructed by Deb that are pure whimsy and fun.  For example, her outdoor wall sculpture of high-heel shoes.  Also some of the walkways around her areas were paved with sparkly recycled tumbled glass.  The edges are smooth so one can walk on it barefoot.  Additionally on the property, visitors can see a garden planted in boat that has not seen water for decades, and then there is the truck garden which is planted in an old rusted-out truck.  Throughout the wooded grounds there are places inviting visitors to sit amongst cedar trees.  While I was there I took a rest in one of the wooden chairs in the photo below. It is very peaceful there. Her place reminds me of Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch--not so much the way it looks, but rather the relaxing way it feels.  It has a very similar feeling--relaxed and yet with a very strong underlying current of energy flowing beneath everything like a steady river.

About Deb's Keyhole Gardens

Most of the food that Deb eats comes from her gardens.  Because she is in competition with critters such as deer, armadillo and opossum for her food, all of Deb's keyhole gardens feature designs to prevent these unwelcome neighbors from crawling into the garden and chowing down on her food.



Keyhole gardens are indeed a revolutionary way to garden.  These gardens are particularly suited for drought conditions and urban dwellers.  This series of articles on the 2014 Keyhole Garden tour will conclude tomorrow with Vol. 3: a visit to Leon Smith of Keyhole Farm.

If you are curious about keyhole gardens and how they are built, be sure to come to 4022 Naaman School Road, Garland Texas 5040 on Saturday, May 3 at 1PM.  Members of Loving Garland Green are building a keyhole garden from a kit that Leon donated to us.

Recognize 49062 Views