The National Garden Festival is growing like a weed.
The second annual festival begins this afternoon at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, then spreads to venues throughout the region for the next five weeks, ending July 31.
"We invented the concept, and we have the best and the biggest the most gardens, the most gardening activities," festival director Sally Cunningham said Thursday in a news conference at the Botanical Gardens.
A complete listing of activities, including maps, schedules and fees for some programs, is available at www.nationalgardenfestival.com.
Three of the 15 community garden walks are scheduled for this weekend: Williamsville's is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; Lewiston GardenFest is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and the Parkside Annual Garden Tour is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Beginning next week, more than 60 private "Open Gardens" -- from Youngstown in northwestern Niagara County to Holland in southeastern Erie County -- will welcome visitors on Thursdays and Fridays. Registration has increased to more than 370 gardens for the marquee event: Garden Walk Buffalo on July 30 and 31.
"We have gotten quite a reputation for our gardens," said Jim Charlier, president of Garden Walk Buffalo, noting coverage by dozens of publications in recent years.
"There's nary a professional garden on the Garden Walk tour," Charlier said. "It makes our city very unique in how we present our gardens."
Newman Place in South Buffalo, which faces the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Cazenovia Park, is the site of this year's Front Yard Garden Competition. Inspired by a similar competition in England, professional landscapers will donate their time and materials to transform 15 yards.
Homeowners will collaborate on a design and get a free education on how to maintain their new landscapes.
"The project helps the neighbors to take pride in their neighborhood," said Neil Stern, director of the Western New York State Nursery & Landscape Association.
Last year's competition featured 19 properties on North Parade Avenue in Buffalo -- adjacent to Martin Luther King Park. Neighborhoods are chosen based on their proximity to an Olmsted park, high level of owner-occupied homes and the potential "wow" factor of the transformation.
Buffalo's Olmsted parks system "gives the city a green infrastructure that is the envy of many communities," said Thomas Herrera-Mishler, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
He encouraged visits to the public gardens in the system, including the Rose and Japanese gardens in Delaware Park and the Botanical Gardens in South Park.
The National Garden Festival also includes appearances by nationally recognized gardening experts, Friday afternoon luxury motor coach tours, daylong seminars at local garden centers and special events in Olmsted parks, including a July 16 performance by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in Cazenovia Park.
"Become a tourist in your own backyard," said Cunningham.