Nothing says "I'm clueless but I'm willing to have fun learning" like a plastic, pint-sized, red and yellow watering can.
It was among the tools I brought with me last week to plant in a 4-by-8-foot spot of land inside the new .
To help chronicle the inaugural year of the garden, which is the , Rochester Patch has leased one of the 42 plots carefully laid out inside .
We thought we would plant a few vegetables, watch them grow and then find a local food bank that might be able to use them.
Easy enough. Right?
Tell that to our 5-inch-tall watering can.
Let's be honest
I do have talents — I like to think I can write, for example — but I've never been applauded for having green thumbs.
I am by no means an expert when it comes to seedlings, soil or sowing, so I whom I hoped would guide me in what to plant, when and how.
That's how I came to meet Liz Malburg and her family. I'll give them the credit they deserve: they brought the Patch garden to life.
I visited Liz and her crew of mostly family members at the . Her Sharkar Farm is based in China, Michigan, about 35 miles east of Rochester. They are a permanent fixture at the Saturday farmer's market in our town. Most of their plants are $2.50 and include instructions for growing.
I told Liz what I was doing. She measured one of the tables inside her tent and found it to be the size of our plot. From there, we went shopping.
Choose a mixture of plants — some that grow up and others that stay close to the ground, Liz advised. Stay away from the ones that spread (pumpkins, for example), and even though corn seems like it would be fun to grow, you would need a lot of corn to supply a food bank with any substantial feast, she said.
Liz recommended tomatoes (an "Early Girl" and a cherry variety), peppers (we chose red), zucchini, romaine lettuce and bush beans. I also took a chance on leeks, which in these early stages look like grass; Liz, along with her younger sister, Jessica, told me how to space and divide them for best results.
In the end I bought seven plants and spent $17.50. Liz correctly assumed the garden would be planted in full sun and so she gave me this parting advice: You can't water them too much.
Which brings us to planting day
With my plants and a few shovels—and along with my children, who are always up for an adventure involving dirt—I ventured out Thursday night to plant. When we arrived, we found about half the plots were already full of life. I noticed marigolds, tomatoes, peppers and herbs, mostly.
We were alone in the quiet garden. We found plot No. 30 (from here on out known as the "Patch" plot) and kneeled down to dig and plant.
It wasn't too hard. But then again, it was just dirt and plants, right?
Not exactly ...
"The key to a successful garden is in preparing the soil."
As we were finishing up our own planting, we overheard these instructions, voiced by some gardeners who had just arrived to work on their own plot. We watched them rake their plot until it was level. And then we watched them add compost and rake some more.
We were mesmerized—and a little embarrassed.
I looked at our own plot, nearly complete. Was I seeing things or was there a steep slope from one side to the other? I touched the soil: It was hard and ungroomed.
Our companions could feel my frustration and, perhaps, my unpreparedness.
They introduced themselves and offered their advice.
And then they lent me their watering can.
Gardening lessons learned
On-site at the community garden is a giant, refillable water tank. The watering can I brought along with us held about a cup of water. (Incidentally, it was not unlike one that you would use in a bathtub to rinse the shampoo from a child's hair. And yes, that's where I found it.)
With a can that size, we would have needed about 60 trips back and forth from the tank to our garden. With the one our garden plot neighbors lent to us, we had the garden watered in two long pours.
A garden view
I returned to the garden on Friday morning. The sky was all sun and the breeze carried a momentary chill. My plants were still there, still green.
Here's what I noticed as I took in the scene.
Just like the community for which it was built, the garden represents a blending of choices, backgrounds and experiences. There's something a little bit magical about rows of plants, all handpicked by different people with different levels of gardening expertise and different reasons for wanting to plant there.
There can be beauty in the lack of order and design, after all.
I can't wait to grow, learn and share.
The city of Rochester will hold a dedication ceremony for the Rochester Community Garden at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. The gardeners—and anyone in the public—are invited to attend.