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Turning Turf Into Veggies and Native Plants!

How to Turn Old Lawn Into a New Garden

This garden belongs to Joanne S. Dole, an experienced organic gardener who teaches at the Columbus Garden School. I asked her how she created her own backyard vegetable garden and native plant bed; here are the photos she took to show you how she did it.

BTW, Joanne has many talents and living well for many decades is one of them. If she can build a garden -- piece by piece, working with time instead of against it -- then so can you! It’s important to think through your project so you have the tools and materials ready to finish it. Read the descriptions for each photo to begin assembling your own list of needed items.

Please don’t fret that you can’t do everything perfectly before the upcoming garden season. All great gardens take a few years before they start chugging on their own. Simply create one bed and learn everything (and make all your mistakes!) before going on to the next one. Remember, too, that we have the potential for a three-season growing cycle in Ohio. Start today and you’ll be harvesting tomatoes before you know it!


The native plant bed was made by covering the grass with cardboard (wet cardboard thoroughly), followed by a layer of compost and then wood chips. Once everything is settled, you can dig and plant right through the cardboard. (NOTE: This is how we built the floor of the CGS demonstration garden -- and how we recycled all of our moving boxes, too! In the pathways, we just laid wood chips over the cardboard.)


In the vegetable garden, Joanne arranged her raised box frames (made from 2 x 6” untreated boards) with enough space to walk and push a wheelbarrow between them. A piece of cardboard lines the bottom of each box. Then she took the sod she dug up for edging and paths and placed it upside-down (grass-side down) in the frames. Joanne topped off the frames with soil and compost to completely fill the raised beds. The two layers of grass and topsoil decomposed into valuable organic matter.

To create pathways between the beds, Joanne covered cardboard with wood chips. The aerial photo (above) shows the finished garden as it appears during the summer now, and the closeup (below) highlights some of the native plants she grows. Pretty awesome, eh?

Joanne also recommends the following link, “Preparing the Smart Vegetable Garden” ( for excellent advice on improving your existing soil.

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