Garden Photo of the Day

Turn a Barren Lot Into a Garden Bursting With Life

Before and after in a central Minnesota garden

Sarah shares the beautiful transformation in her central Minnesota garden:

We’ve lived at our home for almost 10 years now. It was a barren, lifeless lot with not a critter to be found except ants and a few grasshoppers when we moved in. Each year I find new species of birds, bugs, amphibians, and mammals. With the stresses we’ve placed upon the earth, I’ve been very motivated to grow natives the past few years, which I enjoy starting from seed. I love wild, overgrown, unruly gardening that follows the guidelines of nature. I think people make gardening far more difficult than it should be. I skip all chemicals in my garden, water nothing once it’s established, and leave everything up for the native insects that overwinter in our harsh climate by burrowing into the dry stems. Then I chop everything into big chunks and let it fall to the ground below, where it remains as mulch and adds organic matter to the soil.

Before: a whole lot of nothing. A boring lot for people to look at, and nothing to support native insects and other animals.

After: what a transformation!

Simple arches support a vining bottle-gourd plant (Lagenaria siceraria, annual) twining around a cheerful yellow sunflower.

Using a wide range of plants makes a rich, complex landscape that can support a diverse cast of native insects, birds, and other animals.

This garden isn’t just a great place for native wildlife. Humans young and old have spots to sit and play. Ecologically sensitive gardening can work for everyone.

Which would you rather have? Sarah’s lush garden, or the boring empty lawns of the houses across the street?

Neatly mown grass paths wind through the wild garden, beckoning you on to explore and enjoy!


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View Comments


  1. mjensen 11/13/2018

    love it great job,

  2. garden1953 11/13/2018

    Spectacular! You should be very proud of what you have accomplished.

    1. user-7007076 11/13/2018


  3. sandyprowse 11/13/2018

    Delightful to be sure. What a transformation indeed! Congratulations on creating a lovely garden.

    1. user-7007076 11/13/2018


  4. User avater
    meander_michaele 11/13/2018

    Wow, the before picture in comparison to the afters says it all...the metamorphosis of caterpillar into glorious butterfly is what you've achieved by hard work and imagination. I'm sure your evolving garden areas fill your heart with great joy and delight.

  5. User avater
    user-7007816 11/13/2018

    What a beautiful transformation. I did a similar transformation and know the work, and the joy, that creating a beautiful space involves. Well done!

    1. user-7007076 11/13/2018

      Thanks! It’s so nice to be able to continue enjoying the space through the birds it attracts and the snow the collects on the stems...while the gardener takes a break inside.

  6. wittyone 11/13/2018

    My goodness what a change. I bet that lonely little evergreen to the right in your "before" landscape was glad to get some friends and neighbors! A great job.

    1. user-7007076 11/13/2018

      Thanks for the kind words!

  7. Maggieat11 11/13/2018

    Love your garden, what a fabulous job! The passerbys must love it too. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

    1. user-7007076 11/13/2018

      You’re welcome! Thanks for the kind words!

  8. annred97 11/13/2018

    Beautiful garden, Sarah! I think the areas of mown grass provide a wonderful contrast with the garden areas! Pretty much what I have done in my own garden. Feels more like a garden to me than if the whole yard was planted. You have done a marvelous job turning a bare lot into a sanctuary for both people and 'critters'!

    1. user-7007076 11/13/2018

      I agree. Just like a sculpture, a garden should have positive and negative space. Thanks so much!

  9. User avater
    treasuresmom 11/13/2018

    Well, well, well! How wonderful this is! What a really lovely transformation.

    1. user-7007076 11/13/2018


  10. cheryl_c 11/13/2018

    What a transformation! I imagine your gardens are buzzing with life in the summer, and with that great stand of coneflowers, all aflutter in the winter as well. ?Great plant choices - I'd love to see come close ups too!

    1. user-7007076 11/13/2018

      Yes, the yard is finally a flutter in the winter too. This yeR the chickadees appear here to stay along with the sparrows and a hoary woodpecker.

  11. btucker9675 11/13/2018

    Fabulous garden! Now your neighbors need to step it up... : )

    1. user-7007076 11/13/2018

      They’re very nice neighbors. I feel blessed that we have a nice neighborly street! However, it would be cool if the American appetite for sprawling lawns would be replaced with taller greens to absorb more carbon from the air and we could forgo the dependence upon fertilizer and gas machines to mow.

      It’s good to think about what more each of us can do to preserve the earth for the next generations. I’ve got an urban worm composting bin to use over the winter when things are uncompostable outside. Solar seems like another good thing to investigate.

      Getting back...I think, however, that people make gardening more difficult than it should’ve and this in turn makes people dislike or fear gardening or landscaping.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  12. bdowen 11/14/2018

    What a beautiful transformation! I agree with the comments about wouldn't it be nice if your garden inspired the neighbors to create more healthy landscapes. Your garden must be a "stop, look and admire" spot for every person walking through your neighborhood! Thank you for sharing it.

  13. user-5117752 11/22/2018

    Perfectly beautiful!!! An amazing transformation!!! Terrific example of hard work paying off!!! And how lovely to be able to sit in the midst of gardens in your front yard!!!

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