Tonawanda News

September 19, 2013

KEPPELER: How did the garden grow?

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I can admit it.

This past April, when I first stood with Nancy Rolando in front of the grassy patch of land by the side of Stamps Bar, at Main and Seymour streets across from City of Tonawanda Post Office, and listened to her hopes and dreams for the Tonawanda Community Peace Garden, my main thought about the empty lot could be accurately transcribed as: 


Let’s be honest. The site didn’t look like much. Even Rolando, whose dream it was to turn the plot into something more profound, was realistic — if hopeful — when she gazed at the space earlier this year.

“It doesn’t look very hopeful, does it?” she said that day in April. “I know; It’s not that great, it’s not that big ...

“But there are other places gardens flourish.” 

This past week, I returned to the garden, greeted by Rolando by the metal archway that marks the garden’s entryway, and a sign proclaiming “Welcome to the Tonawanda Community Peace Garden.”

And it’s flourished.

Tomato plants rioted across the plots, a big, orange pumpkin peeked from under the leaves and sunflowers rioted overhead. One plot, an herb garden, perfumed the air with the scents of basil and oregano (there are also chives and banana peppers). The garden produced tomatoes and eggplant, zucchini and squash, watermelons and strawberries. While most of the sunflowers originally started by Salem Preschool students in little paper cups didn’t survive (the huge yellow blossom that is the lone exception now towers over the garden), other donated seedlings did.

There’s a donated fence now, and a spigot donated by Mark’s Plumbing in Tonawanda. (Until July, water had to be carried over.) Miller Marquart Lumber Co. donated wood for the garden boxes. And the list goes on.

Rolano is full of stories about the garden’s effect on others: A stranger who dropped off rhubarb when he heard she wanted some for the garden, the woman who donated the sunflower seedlings, bags of garden produce she was able to donate to someone having difficulty with her grocery budget, countless helpers and donors and people who have simply stopped to say, “Good job.”

Multiple local churches took part in the garden, including Immanuel Lutheran, First Presbyterian, St. Francis, Salem United Church of Christ, Bethesda and United Methodist. Next year’s garden will feature two more plots, and Rolando has further plans for the space —more things to plant, more ideas to try, more people to help.

Those interested should contact her at 578-0039 or by email at Even more, she hopes that other people see the Tonawanda garden and realize that maybe, just maybe, they can do it, too.

“People can look at this garden and think, ‘I could have a garden like this,’ “ she said.

I left the garden plot earlier this week with a bag full of tomatoes, basil, oregano and one fat, deep-purple eggplant — and, just maybe, a lesson in avoiding the cynicism to which we can all be prone.

Not Nancy Rolando.

“It’s to be continued,” she said of the garden. “It’s been a good experience. I’m glad Tonawanda had enough faith in us to let us try it. 

“And it’ll look even more beautiful next year.”

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.