Free Garden Plan: Beginner Garden in a Day

by Daisy

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When I first started gardening, I had no idea what to plant, where to plant it, or what grew well with what! So, for you beginners, we’re going to skip all that and just give you a recipe.

It’s all worked out for maximizing your companion plants and all that good stuff, so relax and enjoy the ride.

You could get fancy with the type of boards you use and get all wigged out about the precise mix of your soils, but let’s put that off till next year okay? This year, we just wanna grow some stuff.

You will need:
4 – 2×8 boards, 4ft long each
12 deck screws or nails
1 electric drill or hammer
(If you have no idea what I just said, walk into the lumbers section at Depot or Lowe’s and hand them the above list. They can make it all happen.)

1 small roll of weed blanket (any kind)
5 – 1 ft bags of potting soil
5 bags of different composts (This guy says that the more different nutrients the better your garden. I have found him to be correct.)
2 tomato stakes (any kind)
1 cherry tomato plant
1 regular tomato plant
2 pepper plants
1 bunch onion sets (at least 32)
1 pkg petite marigold seeds**
1 pkg chard
1 pkg basil seeds
1 pkg bush bean seeds
1 pkg radish seeds
**I have never in my life said, “Wow, this pack doesn’t have enough seeds in it!” So go ahead and get the $.20 pkgs.

Choose any variety of the above plants, but stick to the veggie I chose. I know chard is weird, but just go with the recipe. You can get fancy next year.

1. On your driveway, screw(nail) together your boards in a square. Don’t worry about how crooked the screws are or how maimed the heads of the nails end up. Just make the boards stick together in a square-type shape long enough for you to get it to the back yard.

2. In a sunny location, lay down your square. Cut a big enough piece of weed blanket or layer it to cover the bottom of your square. Figure out where North is. You’ll be planting all your big stuff on that side.

3. Mix all your dirt and compost on a tarp.

4. Fill box with dirt and WATER that bad boy till it’s damp all the way through.

5. Smooth the surface and using your finger (or what have you), divide the square in half both ways and do it again on each side to get 16 squares.

6. Poke holes in your garden with your finger about 1/2in deep so it looks like this:

*People in cool climates may be able to put up to four basil per square.

7. Open your marigold seeds. Pinch out four seeds. Put two in the first hole, and two in the second and cover. Put two seeds in each hole in your garden corresponding to the names on the grid below:

North Side

8. Put your plants in the dead center of the corresponding squares on the chart. Dig down to the bottom of your bed and set the tomato plant about an inch from the bottom. Bury it up to the gizzard. I also do this with my peppers, but you don’t have to.

9. Go eat dinner.

10. Water it tomorrow, and the next day, and as needed after that.


Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie December 31, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Love your beginner garden – but what can I use instead of chard, which no one in my house likes? Would you suggest something in the cabbage family?

Ivory Soap January 1, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Chard is in the goosefoot family, so I’d put in spinach, beets, or the like.

JavaLady January 24, 2010 at 12:18 am

Hey, I am reviewing this chart for use this year, in 2010. I am so glad someone else already asked about planting some thing else than chard. My kids love salad, seriously, but do not like chard. We do eat our body weight in fresh spinach leaves though!! I can’t wait to try growing spinach this year , especially since the local grocery has started charging gold boullion prices for a bag of spinach!!

rowena___. January 26, 2010 at 11:54 am

i’m coming back to say that this garden was SO SUCCESSFUL for me! i will be planting this again this year, actually going to make a second square of this one.

javalady, i used our swiss chard in quiche, it was WONDERFUL and nobody at my house even asked what it was, they just ate it and asked for more.

Ivory Soap February 16, 2010 at 9:10 am

Rowena, you are my new best friend. I’m SO GLAD this went well for you! And you were right about the homeschooling. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it!

Sarah @ Mum In Bloom February 21, 2010 at 7:51 am

I put this post in my Link Love today. This is so helpful to a newbie gardner like me. Thanks for the Inspiration 🙂

Lisa B. March 14, 2010 at 7:59 am

I found a link here while reading a different blog. Love this idea. I needed idiot-proof. This looks like the ticket. I tried my own thing last year. I harvested three tomatoes, three pathetic ears of corn, two zucchini, and I think three squash. It was so not worth my time and effort. I want to put something in this year that will actually PRODUCE! I’m not worried about my kids eating anything. They probably won’t. But I have bunnies and they like fresh stuff. Whatever hubby & I don’t scarf down – the bunnies will. 😉 Thanks!

Catharine March 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I tried planting a garden a few years back, but the deer ate everything. I would like to try again and am very interested in using this plan. Can you give any suggestions for keeping the deer from eating everything?

Anna March 26, 2010 at 11:48 am

I am so excited to try this. If this goes well, I’m also going to try your fall garden when everything is nearly out of this one.

I have a pretty bad problem with deer, rabbits, squirrels, (everything that lives and breathes in the wild) etc, and am planning to put netting around the sides and the top, so hopefully I will actually have a crop! Thanks!

brandi March 30, 2010 at 11:25 am

I put together my first square garden yesterday. I am very excited! My husband and I spent time together at the hardware store buying everything. Then we came home and built the boxes. Afterschool the kids helped fill and plant. It turned into a real family project. It is harder for us to have family time now that the kids are teenagers. So thank you for this garden plan!! And, thank you so much for all the info on this site!

Amy April 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm

How could I modify this for more peppers and tomatoes? I’m thinking maybe extend the squares with tomatoes and peppers into a rectangle with marigolds and herbs around them?

Thanks for the plan, I can’t wait to get started.

SweetP May 2, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I’ve only done container gardening in the past. This year I am doing a larger in ground garden. I’m sure I could replicate this plan without the raised bed boxes, just wondering if any in ground gardners put down landscape fabrics to keep out the weeds?

Ivory Soap May 7, 2010 at 6:31 am

I haven’t heard of it under the garden, but many put black plastic or something over the top before they set in their plants.

Ivory Soap May 7, 2010 at 6:32 am

Certainly. LAst year I was obsessed with companion gardening, that’s the only reason it was so strict. As long as your tall plants are on the north side, you’re good.

KG March 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm

As I tend to kill any and all plant life, I’m excited to try this. Any suggestions for what to use in place of radishes? Really, really don’t like them.

Tomato Lady March 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm

KG–You can do it! As for the radishes, try more of one of the veggies you do like, or sow some easy annual herbs like cilantro or basil. (I don’t really eat radishes much myself, either).

Helen April 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I’m trying your beginner garden this year! Love it! I built the box today and running sprinkler over it now. I had a shredded leaf and branch mulch compost from last fall. I mixed that with bags of potting soil from the garden center. If anyone is curious of how much an investment in this would cost this year, we spent just under$250 at Home Depot for all the supplies, plants, seeds and a couple of tools. We could have gone a little cheaper but bought the fancy tomato stake things. I wanted to get the box built today and start the seeds inside to be put outside after the last weekend in April.

I will let you know how it goes. I’m also trying Rag Rugs! Love your site – so much good informaiton. You are amazing!

Kate May 8, 2011 at 8:38 am

Okay – maybe I should never garden. Once the four 2×8 boards are cut in four foot lengths – am I supposed to make two 4×4 boxes and put one on top of the other for enough soil depth? And on another note…I’m very good at selecting warped boards!

Tomato Lady May 8, 2011 at 9:24 am

Kate–Bless your heart, you’re doing great. I, too, can warp up a storm. But, no, you’re making two boxes. Twice as much planting space!

Kate May 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Thank you, TL. Everything is planted and ready to grow.

Christine May 12, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I’m so glad someone posted your link! I totally have a brown thumb and want to give our community garden plot a try this year. This will help a lot!

Helen July 28, 2011 at 4:54 am

My tomatoes did great! I will try adding a second box next year and expand. I had lots of critters trying to help me eat everything this year lol

Amy February 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Can you mention what to do with the tomato stakes? That part was left out (wink). I’m assuming they are meant for the tomatoes, but do you put them on the outside of the box, or inside, right next to the plant itself? And how do you train them up the stake? Do you have to tie them to it?

Ivory Soap March 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm

You do have to tie them. And I like to stake them outside the box.

Jenn March 12, 2012 at 9:08 pm

So, the tall plants on the North thing. I was originally planning on placing my garden alongside my deck, which will leave my North plants against the lattice under my deck. Will that cause an issue at all? Does the bed need to be more out in the open?

Ivory Soap March 13, 2012 at 8:48 am

Out in the open is always good, but is your lattice then south facing? If you pretended your lattice was a plant, is the tallest thing in your garden on the north side? (If you stood with your back to your lattice and pointed, are you pointing South?) If so, it won’t shade it to much. You want TALL on the north side to keep it from shading everything else. Whether that’s a house, or corn, or a lattice.

Paige March 18, 2012 at 11:52 am

LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS! I’ve been researching vegetable gardens for a month, and am seriously no closer to planting than I was in February. With intercropping, succession, relay and crop rotation, companion planting, warm and cool seasons, heavy and light feeders, seeding or transplanting…. I feel like I seriously need a PHD to plan a vegetable garden. Thanks for getting us started… this is a great idea.

Ivory Soap March 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

YAY! Paige, I’m so glad this is helpful! That’s what I want. For people to get comfortable and get gardening. The intercropping, succession, relay, rotation, feeders…that’s al NEXT year. Cool and warm seasons, you need to know for your first garden and seed versus transplanting FOR SOME, but the rest is for fooling around once you get started.

Sandra Pearson May 12, 2012 at 9:00 am

is it 2 late 2 plant this gardem now?
Thanks Sandra

Ivory Soap May 12, 2012 at 10:59 am

Not if you hurry!

Rita Johnson July 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm

thanks for the info, we planted some random plants in containers this year, got the cukes too close to the cantelope, choked it out, 3 okra plants was not enough, 4 tomato plants (don’t like mini tomatoes) still not enough, bush beans flourished, then died – why? no clue, bell peppers did not produce as promised, had 4 of those, all gave small little bitty bell peppers, not big ones, the only thing that worked like it should have was the cukes, got them out our ears now. This was our second attempt at gardening, 2 years ago the deer ate everything we planted. With a family of 6 ranging from 4 yrs old to 61 yrs old, we need a garden DESPERATELY.

Sharma Perera May 8, 2013 at 4:52 am

Thanks for your valuable suggestions for beginner. Since I am living in Sri Lanka do you have anything suitable plants for our climate . We can find tomatoes but other plants are very rare therefore can you please give name other suitable varieties of plants to grow in my garden.

Elsy Kay May 28, 2013 at 6:57 am

I’m with Kate – should I garden?? Once I drill the now 4′ x 4′ boards together to form the square, I will have 2 4’x 4′ squares — are the plants you have designed to be put into ONE of those 4′ x 4′ squares? Or do I spread them across both squares?

gino carolo June 17, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Hi, I love your article and want to start my veggie garden at my new house .
Question: I live in Port Elizabeth in South Africa, so I assume that because I’m
in the southern hemisphere, then the tall plants which you plant on the Northern side, I should plant on my Southern side. Have I got it right?
Best regards

Delphine February 20, 2014 at 8:32 am


I’m about to have the first backyard I’ve ever had, and I’m so excited to try this. Thank you so much for creating this recipe for us beginners.

Could you point me in the direction of some info on how you designed this. Where can I learn about why you choose the plants you chose? Why does north matter, etc? I’d love to get my head around all of this so I can do a good job with it.


Daisy February 20, 2014 at 9:38 am

Hi, Delphine–I’m glad you’re excited. This plan is designed to be simple. Often beginners want someone to TELL them what to plant because everything is so new and confusing; this plan takes you by the hand and removes some of the anxiety. Secondly, the plants chosen are selected for ease of growth and care, read: foolproof. They are also pretty easy to grow in most climates. North matters because the plants on the north side in this plan are taller. If they were on the south side they would shade the other, shorter plants from the sun.

It’s a good way to get started and once you’ve got a little more experience under your belt, you can alter it with confidence.

Happy first garden! I’m excited for you!

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