Transformation Garden creates learning, research and outreach opportunities

Just beyond the south end of campus lies the Old Rotation, the historic one-acre plot of row crops that has been a continuous research experiment at Auburn since 1896. Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of contemporary college life, this plot melds the old with the new, connecting the past and present to the future.

It’s also home to the College of Agriculture’s Transformation Garden, a 16-acre tract that will soon become the university’s largest and most distinctive classroom. This space will include state-of-the-art features like the recently established “vertical farms”—shipping containers transformed into hydroponic growing stations—that will exist side by side with old-school elements like the Old Rotation and an existing vegetable gardening site.

This juxtaposition is by design, not default, and according to Desmond Layne, head of Auburn’s Department of Horticulture, is inspired by the university’s land-grant mission.

Auburn has served communities and the agricultural industry in the state through research, outreach and teaching programs for 150 years, and today remains Alabama’s oldest land-grant institution. The Transformation Garden will carry that tradition forward and create new, unique experiences for
the entire Auburn Family.

“Imagine a place where students from a variety of majors, faculty and community members can get their hands dirty and experience the outdoors in a way they never have before—where their eyes are opened and they learn to think about plants, the environment and our food system completely differently. The Transformation Garden will be that place,” Layne said.

Promoting learning and research experiences in disciplines from biology and engineering to history and business, the garden’s spaces are both a classroom and a lab space.

Developing this extensive outdoor learning and engagement site is no small task, and work will roll out in phases beginning this year.

Among the garden’s priorities are research, education and outreach on topics like food systems, access to local food, sustainability and food security. Students and faculty will also grow produce for Auburn’s Campus Dining program, the Hotel at Auburn University and the new Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center’s rooftop garden.

The Transformation Garden will be a permanent fixture on campus and will join other green spaces with pedestrian access like the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center, the Donald E. Davis Arboretum, the Garden of Memory and the president’s estate.

“The Auburn Family has an opportunity to help the next generation understand aspects of our food system, the benefits of plants in our environment and so much more. That’s a really powerful thing.”

“This beautiful space will draw people to it whether they are studying, researching, taking an afternoon walk, enjoying the natural environment or visiting campus on the weekend,” Layne said. “I see this becoming a destination that will offer so much to the community.”

With the support of donors, the Transformation Garden will include a children’s garden, pollinator garden, medicinal garden, landscape construction work yard, vegetable teaching garden, invasive plant garden, shade garden and lath house, rain garden, composting facility, teaching orchard, trial garden and many others.

“Philanthropy is absolutely vital to our project—it won’t happen without it. But I love that,” Layne said. “Because the Auburn Family has an opportunity to help the next generation understand aspects of our food system, the benefits of plants in our environment and so much more. That’s a really powerful thing.”

Learn more about Auburn’s new Transformation Garden

Investing in

Transformational Vision

With deep roots in the Alabama soil, Bonnie Plants, the nation’s leading grower of vegetable and herb plants, has been helping people grow their own food for more than 100 years. This dedication to horticulture development and research naturally led to a strong partnership with Auburn. Recently, the company solidified this collaboration with a $1.2 million commitment to the Transformation Garden to create and support the children’s and pollinator gardens.

“The Bonnie Plants Foundation is proud to partner with Auburn University to establish the children’s garden and pollinator garden, which will be a destination for students and the community alike,” said Mike Sutterer, president and CEO of Bonnie Plants. “We’re confident this space will provide invaluable experiences to grow a love of gardening in young people and even inspire the next great generation of horticulture leaders.”

The relationship between Bonnie Plants and Auburn is more than a logical connection or natural fit—it’s a strategic partnership.


“Their mission is very much aligned with the education, research and community outreach we will do in the Transformation Garden,” said Desmond Layne, head of Auburn’s Department of Horticulture. “We’re also training students who will be experts in the field and potential resources for them, too.”

The children’s and pollinator gardens will create experiential learning and play spaces to help children and families engage with plants and the natural environment.

“This generous gift from The Bonnie Plants Foundation will have an enormous impact on our vision for the Transformation Garden and will help us design outdoor spaces that encourage people of all ages to learn about horticulture and the outdoors,” Layne said. “Their support will influence countless children’s lives, inspiring a passion for gardening and contributing to numerous agricultural innovations, which may ultimately change the way we grow food.”