Bottle Brick Keyhole Garden Firsts

by 
Betsy Teutsch, for the Shuttle
Betsy Teutsch photo
Eric Sherman with a fraction of the bottle bricks stored on Helen Seitz’s porch.

Upcycling, creating a higher value use for discards, is a challenging goal. But the Weavers Way Environment Committee, Food Moxie, the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, mosaic artist Eurhi Jones and legions of volunteers have collaborated and soon will be building an upcycled Philadelphia phenom.

The first keyhole garden in a Philadelphia school will grace the courtyard of Sayre High School in West Philadelphia. The project is headed up by Eric Sherman from Agatstan. His students at Sayre, located at 58th and Walnut streets, are engaged in the building and eventually will plant, tend and harvest the garden under his leadership.

Keyhole gardens are waist-high, circular raised beds. They feature a compost “column” in the center, a permagardening technique exported from Africa. From above, the structure looks like a keyhole, since there is a break in the circle, a pie-slice opening for access to the compost holder in the center. Eric reports there will be lots of compost produced by the school’s food programs for nourishing the garden and building up its soil fertility.

It’s the world’s first keyhole garden made entirely from bottle bricks. Weavers Way volunteers have stuffed over 800 plastic bottles with household inorganic waste diverted from landfills. Endless thanks to all who faithfully filled bricks with everything from dead pens to mesh bags.

It’s also the world’s first mosaic keyhole garden, adding a community-art component. Keyhole gardens look like fountains with foliage burgeoning upward. The Sayre garden will be built with cement and our bottle bricks, laid horizontally. The exterior facing will be adorned with a mosaic created by local artist Eurhi Jones, as a prototype for further projects.

Not only that, it’s the first upcycled bottle-cap mosaic keyhole garden. We’ve also collected thousands of bottle caps in an array of solid colors. Eurhi will use these to create the mosaic, insetting them on the keyhole’s exterior in a fun and colorful complement to the hidden bottle bricks. More upcycling, creating a beautiful façade out of caps we usually toss in the recycling.

Many thanks are due! Former Food Moxie farm educator Tara Campbell shepherded the project. The Environment Committee believed in this crazy idea of mine and dutifully created hundreds of bricks. Weavers Way Across The Way in Mt. Airy has served as a bottle cap drop-off. Helen Seitz stored hundreds of bottle bricks in her basement. The Shuttle has given us generous amounts of ink, over two years, reporting on this complex collaboration. Then there’s my daughter Nomi and son-in-law Micah, friends with Eric from college, who recommended him when the project needed a new home. Above all, thanks to Eric who believed in the power of this project and said “Yes!”

Stay tuned, and keep stuffing those bottles for the next build, which will be at Ramah Day Camp in Elkins Park. For information, contact Wendy Smith at wendykimsmith@gmail.com.

Many of us are now in the habit of bottling our non-recyclable waste, so pitch us your construction project and we’ll help you bring it to reality.

The University of Pennsylvania-affiliated Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative is dedicated to building and sustaining healthy communities in West Philadelphia.

Betsy Teutsch is a Weavers Way Working Member. Reach her at bteutsch@comcast.net.