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Tour puts pride in gardens, homes on display

Jim and Susan Piorkowski call their scenic, fenced-in Buffalo backyard an oasis from the city.

The lawn is strikingly green, and brightly colored flowers complement tall, looming plants. Aside from the sound of water rushing from a small fountain, their space is quiet and still -- though only a block away from Main Street.

"There's a quote in 'City of Lights,' " Jim Piorkowski said, pointing to an excerpt from Lauren Belfer's novel that he had written in chalk at the entry of the garden: "Better still, it is a city of homes. Strangers view with delight its shaded streets and spacious lawns."

Sunday, 700 people gathered in the Parkside neighborhood in Buffalo to do just that -- marvel at the homes and gardens of its residents. The Parkside Community Association held its 15th annual Parkside Garden Tour, with gardens on display at 52 homes.

The tour allowed people to wander around the neighborhood and admire the gardening not only in the front yards of homes, but also in the backyards.

"It's not just about looking at the flowers, but the private spaces that are hidden behind the houses as well," said Tom Ziobro, the garden tour's chairman.

The tour ran from West Humboldt Parkway all the way up to Amherst Street and along the Belt Line Railroad. For the first time, the National Garden Festival hosted a Buffalo-style garden art sale at the Lodge on Parkside Avenue in Delaware Park, where vendors sold original works.

This was the first year the Piorkowskis participated in the tour. Susan Piorkowski said she was intimidated by the better gardens in the neighborhood, but this year she chose to open hers up after deciding she was satisfied with how the couple's garden looked.

"I just love the combination of everything working together," she said. "Individually it looks nice, but when the plants and everything come together, the garden looks really great."

Among the most popular stops on the tour is Patricia Lang's residence on Crescent Avenue. Her tall, pink Victorian-style house complements the vast gardens surrounding it. Bushels of roses and decorative ornaments flow deep into her backyard, creating an almost fairy-talelike path to a lit gazebo.

Jean Kiene, of Lockport, said Lang's house was the main appeal of the tour.

"This is what attracted us. This is why we came," she said. "We got here late, but I said even if we just get to see this one house it'd be fine."

She said houses such as Lang's were important for the City of Buffalo, as a way of drawing people in to the beautiful neighborhoods. Kiene owned the former Teddy Bears and High Quality Dolls boutique in Amherst, which she said won nine national awards due to the pink exterior and interior.

"You need a hook -- that's what gets people to come," she said.

Susan Maldovan, of Brooklyn, came to Buffalo specifically for the tour and to admire the gardens, specifically that of her brother William, of Woodward Avenue.

"I'm an avid gardener, and this is a great chance to go into people's backyards and say, 'Look, I love that combination' or 'Wow, that's really impressive,' " she said.

The tour also offered an opportunity for visitors to admire the architecture of Buffalo's neighborhoods.

"It's just so inspiring to see what people are doing, where they live," she said. "And it's so good for the community."