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Garden walks delight many across six Buffalo Niagara communities

One week before Western New York’s biggest and best-known gardening showcase, Garden Walk Buffalo, green-thumbed homeowners from Amherst to Lancaster proved Saturday that it doesn’t take an Olmsted-designed parkway in your front yard to have a landscape worth showing off.

The tail end of a storm early in the day did not deter gardening enthusiasts from flocking to suburban garden walks held in six communities. A total of 217 gardens were on display, ranging widely in style and size.

History and horticulture went hand-in-hand at the 10th annual Village of Williamsville Garden Walk as the village debuted a new heritage garden commemorating its role in the War of 1812.

Overcast skies and a steady drizzle gave way to sunshine just in time for a flag-raising ceremony at the new Garden of 1812 at Main and Evans streets. As a pair of re-enactors from Old Fort Niagara played a patriotic tune for snare drum and fife, a Korean War veteran helped hoist a replica 15-star U.S. flag above the newly christened garden, which marks the general area where American troops under Gen. Alexander Smyth took shelter after a failed invasion of Canada.

Event organizer Deb Habes said the garden was carefully designed to recapture the look of the area circa 1812. Some of its period-appropriate features include rustic fences, benches made of rough-hewn wood, and native grasses, perennials and limestone boulders, all of which “harkens back to our heritage,” Habes said.

The garden serves as a gateway to Williamsville, and gives people a chance to “take a break from Main Street,” said Habes. Village officials soon hope to complete the site with a replica cannon.

This year, for the first time, Williamsville joined forces with the Town of Amherst to synchronize and co-promote their respective garden walks in hopes of drawing bigger crowds to both. Now in its fourth year, the Amherst Garden Walk beckoned visitors with a total of 49 gardens, as well as soil testing and a “homegrown cooking” demonstration.

Elsewhere in the region, another pair of communities teamed up to showcase the beauty of residents’ well-tended lawns and backyards. For the 11th year, the Town of Tonawanda and Village of Kenmore co-hosted the Ken-Ton Garden Tour, a two-day affair featuring 54 gardens scattered between Military Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Unique to the Ken-Ton garden walk is an after-dark feature titled “Saturday Night Lights.” After sunset, gardens throughout the community took on an almost magical air as homeowners illuminated their prize plants with a variety of outdoor lighting.

Earlier in the day, under blue skies and cotton-swab clouds, evidence of the nighttime transformation to come was not readily apparent at one home on Delaware Road. But sharp-eyed visitors noted a series of small black solar panels hidden amid the garden’s 300 annuals and perennials. Those panels, the homeowner said, stored energy for an array of light fixtures, including glowing glass cattails and a spotlight aimed at a cheeky water feature – a statue of a peeing boy.

The homeowner, who preferred not to give his name, said he has added to his garden bit by bit for nearly 20 years now. Asked whether the earlier rain had dampened his spirits, he shrugged it off like only a committed gardener could: “We needed the rain anyway.”

Back in Williamsville, another gardener took a positive approach to the stormy weather. Jane Vohwinkel of North Long Street said umbrella-toting visitors gladly weathered pouring rain Saturday morning to view her property.

“People said they’d rather come in the pouring rain than that 90-degree weather we had,” she said.

In viewing Vohwinkel’s garden, it’s obvious why hers was an all-weather attraction. The home itself is an unassuming, 2½-story abode. But follow the footpath to the rear of the home, and an expansive woodland oasis reminiscent of a Disney movie is revealed.

Vohwinkel described how her garden, which regularly attracts 300 visitors every year, has evolved in the three decades since she purchased the home. Gentle slopes her children once sledded on are now blanketed in myrtle and English ivy, and a winding stone stairway leads up to a seating area.

The garden’s centerpiece is a wooden, covered bridge spanning a duck-filled creek that cuts through the property. Vohwinkel said it is not uncommon to find deer and other wildlife in her backyard, and recalled how, upon discovering that three chipmunks, several birds, and a family of rabbits had congregated in her garden, she thought she might “start singing like Snow White!”

Rounding out Saturday’s local ode to gardening were the 10th annual Lancaster Garden Walk and West Seneca’s Tour of Home Gardens, which featured a combined 91 gardens. Several of the day’s garden walks were registered events with the National Garden Festival, a six-week celebration of local gardening that runs through Aug. 4.

The festivities continue today in three communities. The Lancaster and Ken-Ton garden walks feature second days, both starting at 10 a.m., and the 13th annual South Buffalo Alive’s Tour of Gardens kicks off at 9 a.m.