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Garden tour focuses on Niagara Portage history

NIAGARA FALLS – Gorgeous gardens and the historic cultural institutions where they are maintained will be showcased on Saturday.

“Grand Gardens of the Niagara Portage” will link Oakwood Cemetery, the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center, Schoellkopf Park and the Niagara Falls Public Library in a free event open to the public that runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event combines the beauty of a variety of plantings with a dose of history at spots along the historic trade route that connected the upper Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.

Niagara Falls used to have a garden walk, but its run ended several years ago, said Trudy Christman, one of Grand Gardens’ co-chairs.

“We decided that we really have a lot in the center of the city to show off,” Christman said.

Now in its second year, the event will offer a free trolley, sponsored by the state Parks Office, that will run on a continuous loop between the four sites. There will be tour guides on the trolley who will provide historical information on the garden sites, as well as other historic structures that will be passed along the route.

In addition to the outdoor gardens at each venue, there will be programming that will offer visitors a chance to get a closer look at the facilities, which many people often drive by without checking out what’s inside, Christman said.

“Now is the chance to come in and take a look,” said Christman, who is co-chairing the event with Marge Gillies and Pete Ames.

Here’s a look at the four sites and what’s being offered:

Oakwood Cemetery

747 Portage Road at Cedar Avenue

• The day’s event kicks off at the cemetery at 10 a.m.

• At 11 a.m., Mike Shadrack of Smug Creek Gardens in Hamburg, a hosta specialist, will give a presentation.

• At 1 p.m., John Farfaglia from Cornell Cooperative Extension will give a “tree tour.”

• Sally Cunningham, a master gardener, author and Buffalo News columnist, will present “The Power of Garden Tourism” at 3 p.m.

Niagara Falls Public Library

1425 Main St.

• Author and newly appointed City Historian Michelle Kratts will hold a book-signing in the library’s Turtle Rock Garden – built featuring stones from Lake Erie near Sturgeon Point – from 10 a.m. to noon.

• At 1 p.m., “Frederick Law Olmsted: Passages in the Life of an Unpractical Man,” a one-man play by Gerry Wright, will be presented in the library’s auditorium.

• There will be a book sale in the International Peace Garden from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• A series of children’s crafts and activities will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. in the “Learning Together Sculpture Area.”

Niagara Arts & Cultural Center

1201 Pine Ave.

• A Children’s Garden will be held from 10 a.m. to noon, with instruction for children on how to grow fruits and vegetables.

• The center also will host the ninth annual Good News Gospel Festival on its front steps from 1 to 7 p.m.

Schoellkopf Park

Portage Road between Pine and Walnut avenues

• Events at the park, on the campus of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, will run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Landscape architect Joy Kuebler will lead tours of the park, which underwent about $600,000 in renovations completed about seven years ago. The restoration brought back many of the park’s original design elements from the early 20th century.

• There will be tai chi in the park at 11 a.m., with a yoga program following at 12:30 p.m.

• Members of the Schoellkopf Garden Club also will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In order to ride the trolley, riders must pick up an ID tag, which will be available at all trolley stops.

Organizers are looking at the possibility of adding more sites to the event next year, Christman said.

They also are still seeking sponsors for the event. Sponsorships are available for $100, said Cheryl Wienckowski, director of special events and projects for the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center Foundation.

Aside from enjoying the institutions and their gardens, organizers have a couple other wishes.

They are looking to snag more volunteers who want to help keep up the gardens at the facilities. Additionally, they hope to spark visitors’ interest in gardening at home.

“We would love it if the people who come to see it would also establish their own gardens,” Gillies said.