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More than just the flowers are blossoming in city neighborhoods around Elmwood Avenue.

This weekend's fourth annual Forever Elmwood Garden Walk is the largest self-guided garden walk in its history, which, at more than 90 private gardens, has grown by more than 50 percent from last year's event.

The garden walk, sponsored by Forever Elmwood, is headquartered at the 231 Norwood Ave. home of Marvin Lunenfeld and his wife, Gail McCarthy.

It is highlighted by self-guided mapped tours of private residential gardens stretching from near Symphony Circle to Bird Avenue. Also included is a rare opportunity to view the Lucas Varity Corporate Gardens on North Street at Delaware Avenue.

"This is the one of the only events in Buffalo you really get to meet people and see the neighborhoods," Lunenfeld says.

In all, some 15,000 visitors are expected to have meandered through the backyards of inviting gardeners to gaze at the horticulture, trade seeds and exchange gardening tips by today's 4 p.m. finale. The event begins at 10 a.m.

The idea was sprouted by Lunenfeld and Ms. McCarthy after they visited a similar event, the Sheffield Garden Walk, in Chicago about five years ago.

"It's all about civic pride and belonging to a community," he said. "Buffalo gets its knocks for being an old, grubby industrial town. There's a growing aesthetic sense that Buffalo had a beautiful design years ago and, while it deteriorated, it's now making a comeback."

Organizers estimate that close to half of those who attend this growing two-day event on the last weekend of July are actually from outside the city.

"There are a lot of people who come in from the suburbs and say, 'Gee, I didn't realize how nice it is in the city,' " said Marty Burritt, 154 Norwood.

Known as "The Lemonade Corner" for the refreshment specialty Burritt provides to visitors, this is the third year he has opened up his gardens to the curious. Colorful annuals, perennials, exotic shrubbery and an extensive rock/herb garden is what they'll find.

"This is a really nice thing for our neighborhood," Burritt said. "I just like the socializing. People come in, you talk about plants and you learn things."

It is already one of the largest garden walks in the country, but Lunenfeld projects a gradual expansion of the event -- one that will reach out further into surrounding neighborhoods over the next few years.

This year's event will be rounded out this afternoon with a 4 p.m. free concert by Jim Mabry's Nightlife, featuring big band, jazz and Dixieland music. The performance will be on Elmwood Avenue between West Utica and Hodge streets.

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