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Garden Party growing <br> Local groups join forces for a five-week summer festival celebrating the blooming of Buffalo

Buffalo is giving new meaning to Flower Power.

Our love affair with gardening has been featured in many national publications, including recently the Atlantic magazine Web site, which called the city's annual Garden Walk "America's best event of its kind."

Now the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau, Garden Walk Buffalo and others are set to capitalize on the city's blossoming reputation for green tourism by launching the National Buffalo Garden Festival, which aims to give visitors "a five-week-long opportunity to experience the blooming of Buffalo."

Running from June 18 to the July 25 conclusion of the two-day Garden Walk, the celebration will include several new features:

*A Front Yard Garden competition in which professional landscapers will build new landscaping and flower beds at selected homes.

*A weekly Buffalo Open Gardens tour allowing visitors to stop by private gardens on Mondays and Thursdays.

*Lectures by award-winning authors and nationally recognized garden experts Stephanie Cohen and Amy Stewart at the Buffalo Museum of Science and the Central Library.

*Garden-themed bus tours each Friday.

The organizers also plan to debut a "blooming of Buffalo" video.

They envision the festival as "a great green marketing umbrella under which existing garden walks, talks and tours, as well as related attractions, new events and innovative competitions, are promoted to a national audience," according to a release from the group.

The organizers, who also include the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, Western New York Nursery & Landscape Association and Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, hope to build on the praise lavished on the city's gardening culture and grass-roots urban revitalization efforts by national media.

In addition to the Atlantic, Martha Stewart Living, Fine Gardening, Organic Gardening and Metropolis magazines and the San Francisco Chronicle have recently covered Buffalo's green scene -- particularly the Garden Walk, which has become the largest event of its kind in the country.

And seven Garden Walk gardens are featured in the spring issue of Great Backyards magazine, which gives each residential landscape a two-page spread.

This summer's walking tour of hundreds of residential gardens will take place July 24-25 and is expected to attract the usual tens of thousands of visitors.

"We believe the time is ripe to make Buffalo the market leader in the growing garden sector of the tourism industry," said CVB President Dottie Gallagher-Cohen.

Building on the national buzz will help establish Buffalo as the capital of garden walks, talks and tours and enhance its "emerging identity as a city of exemplary cultural and heritage tourism experiences," she said.

The festival will broaden the visitor experience to cover 14 other garden tours and attractions like the Botanical Gardens, Erie Basin Marina gardens and Delaware Park Rose Garden and Japanese garden, organizers said.

Special events will include a botanical print exhibition at the downtown library, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concerts in the parks, an extended Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers' Market and a garden themed Gusto at the Gallery -- part of the Free Fridays series at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Buffalo's emerging identity as a city of great parks, garden walks and green spaces gives visitors "another compelling reason" to come here, added Jim Charlier, president of Garden Walk Buffalo.

The garden festival could easily join Taste of Buffalo and the National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival as "one of Buffalo's signature events" said project coordinator and gardening writer Sally Cunningham.

Market research commissioned by the CVB revealed that the opportunity to see beautiful gardens is particularly appealing to those interested in the community's architectural attractions and other heritage sites, the organizers noted.

Promoting the city's abundant gardens could give a significant boost to the area economy through spending at hotels, restaurants, shops and other attractions, they believe.

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