Garden Walk Buffalo


There are three major reasons that local people travel to Buffalo: Sabres games, airport, or cross border shopping. I just discovered an even bigger reason to make the trip — Garden Walk Buffalo with 350 open gardens.

Last weekend, with a couple of other garden writers, I was invited to a preview of the gardens and was amazed at the enthusiasm and commitment to gardening in a community that is successfully shedding its image as a tired industrial city. There is now a beautiful, accessible waterfront right downtown, an amazing architectural heritage just waiting to be discovered, and in July, the wonderful Garden Walk Buffalo takes place, and it is all free.

The idea for the garden walk began with a small neighbourhood association in 1993 and has grown to be the largest event in the US. It’s non-profit, run by volunteers. Any money raised by way of donations or sponsors is reinvested in gardens. A current project is a street for front yard makeovers. We visited Newman Place in South Buffalo where nine local landscape companies donated time and material to transform the properties of thirteen lucky homeowners who have been transformed into proud, happy gardeners. 


Gardeners are typically friendly and welcoming, and each one has a story. On the garden Walk we met Ellie Doherty on Summer Street who is known as the guerrilla gardener in her neighbourhood. Not content with cramming her tiny backyard full of plants, she’ll also fill any empty space in her neighbour’s gardens. On quiet, shady Lancaster Street, with its brightly coloured, Dutch colonial homes, it seemed every one had been visited by Ellie, not denying it has its own share of enthusiasts. 

At number 75 is Mary’s garden. Not big enough for Mary and her husband James, they demolished the house they owned on the next door property and filled the space with clematis, mandevilla, hydrangeas and wisteria. Sadly, Mary died soon after the garden was completed, but her name and garden lives on.

At a large Victorian house at 755 West Delavan Avenue, lives Jennifer Guercio where with her husband she embraces the era by donning Victorian dress to welcome visitors to her place. Unlike Queen Victoria, she is amused, and amusing when she tells us how she carries the huge koi from her pond in her arms down to a basement greenhouse for the winter. With the largest almost half a meter long, that is a committed gardener. Did I mention the garden — even more commitment, and truly Victorian.

We saw many lovely gardens on our short tour, but there was one more highlight, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical garden. This alone is worth the drive to Buffalo. Influential landscape architect, Fredrick Law Olmsted, designer of central park in New York, also designed Buffalo’s impressive park system that threads throughout the city, and part of his vision was the Botanical Gardens.

In the garden there is a marvellous, three domed, Victorian conservatory. Built in 1897, it was modelled on the Crystal Palace and the Palm House in Kew gardens in London.

Having visited Kew, I felt Buffalo has a worthy rival that is in fact larger, with an area of one acre housing 20,000 plants, including 300 species of ivy. And it’s certainly easier to get to.
So, see the hockey game, use the airport, and shop, but do take time out to explore the new and old Buffalo, and see hundreds of lovely gardens. Learn more at http://www.gardenwalkbuffalo.com/

 First published July 2011 Waterloo Region Record and Guelph Mercury 

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