It’s Garden Walk Buffalo time -- the climax of the gardening season. It’s when thousands of gardeners and appreciators walk Buffalo streets and enter the backyards of strangers, who welcome them with pride. For newcomers to this scene it is unbelievable – that there are this many great gardens, such extremely friendly people, and so much enthusiasm for … not a football game, not a rock concert, just gardens.
It’s what we do. We’re from Buffalo. We garden. Then we look at gardens.
Which gardens should I see?
Some of the Gardens Buffalo Niagara team have grown to dread this question. The answer: It depends. If you’re a first-timer, or a visiting journalist or photographer, then there are some famous gardens you probably must see. Those gardens on Delevan, Lancaster, Norwood, Richmond, Little Summer, Bird (we could go on …) helped Buffalo become a famous hub of gardening. They have been featured on magazine covers and centerfolds, photographed for tourism brochures, seen repeatedly on TV, and hundreds of garden writers and bloggers have flocked to their yards and to our city. So, newbies, just ask anybody about the must-see gardens and they’ll tell you.
On the other hand, once you’ve seen those gardens a few times you may try another approach. Past president Jim Charlier (also a Lancaster Avenue gardener) reminds us: “The best gardens aren’t necessarily the ones in the largest clusters on the map – some outliers will surprise you.” Try some streets you’ve never heard of, or go to a different neighborhood each year – say, elegant Johnson Park. Deeded to the city in 1835, it is now reinvigorated by the TLC of Jim Ecker and his neighbors. The park and their collective gardens are well worth your visit.
Over 20 years I have seen a huge percentage of gardens and I’m never sorry to have ventured beyond the most popular and best known. The gardeners have put themselves and their gardens on the line so let’s do the small favor of showing up. My plan this year: try to see all the new gardens.
For Garden Walk habitues or newcomers, the smartest way to take on The Walk is to start with the map – the best managed, articulated, designed map I’ve ever seen. Everything you could want to know to plan your Saturday and Sunday experience is there. It shows you restrooms, convenient shuttle stops if you’d like to ditch the car, and parking lots (although people keep moving around so parking isn’t a large problem). There’s a dot and address for every garden, and the printed map has descriptions of every single one.
Since you can’t see all the gardens in one weekend, two features should help anybody who is wondering how to allocate the time available. On the back of the map booklet see “Looking for Something in Particular?” If your interest is specific – ponds and water features, rock gardens, sculpture, hardscape or structures, native plants, Asian styling or vegetable gardens – the suitable gardens are listed. This section also tells you which places are most wheelchair and stroller friendly.
Also, at the bottom of the inside pages you’ll find a key that explains the letters and symbols that following each garden’s description. There are style clues (English, Cottage, Asian, Formal), design or hardscape indicators (art, arbor/pergola, rocks, water feature) and a star for New Gardens this year.
Planning ahead will enhance your experience. On your own you’d have no trouble picking up the map at a headquarters and making a spontaneous plan. As couples or groups however, I suggest downloading the online map or getting the complete map in the morning and working out your plan at a coffee shop. (Suggestion: drop someone off at headquarters to pick up the map while you park temporarily or circle the block; those areas get congested.) A plan helps because you won’t all want to see the same kinds of gardens, and you’ll also have different touring styles and levels of energy. Susie wants to cover many blocks quickly to see as many perennials, vines, containers and designs as possible, while husband George would rather stroll, sniff some roses, and find a bench here and there to observe the scene. Annie chats with every gardener but Sara wants a quiet, contemplative time to absorb all the beauty and take some pictures.
So split up, I say. Separate. Don’t stick with your partner or group the whole time. (In some tiny gardens you must move single file in and out, and looking for your friend slows the whole process.) Move at your own pace and then set up a meeting place to regroup and share your reactions.
Different walks for different folks
Garden Walk (or any of our towns’ garden tours) is not just for gardeners. Many people remember the social experience even more than the gardens – the people, the welcome into personal backyards, and talking with other gardeners or visitors. Others are most impressed by Buffalo’s architecture, incredible housing stock, terrific restaurants and shops, and the livable, walkable streets.
It might surprise you that new homeowners may get the most from the Garden Walk Buffalo experience. Typically, young people aren’t too interested in plants, yard furniture, porches and window boxes until they own a home. Then it’s interesting to see what other people put in their yards, how they furnish their decks, what they do about outdoor art, and hardscape. Garden Walk Buffalo shows it all. As Jim Charlier put it, “It’s like the world’s largest home show.”
Even intense gardeners choose different versions of The Walk. You may want to see the most lavish, biggest, over-the-top achievements for inspiration, the thrill of it, the wow. But if you’re thinking about what to do with a small yard, how to use vertical space, how to choose and place a piece of art, or what to plant in the shade, then you’ll choose different gardens to visit.
Whoever you are, whatever your take on gardening or outdoor living, there’s a Garden Walk experience for you. Celebrate Buffalo’s best thing. Don’t miss it. Just plan ahead a little.
...If you go: Get a free map for your self-guided tour
The 22nd annual Garden Walk Buffalo featuring about 400 gardens is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The tour and the map/guide are both free. No ticket is required, and the event is held rain or shine. The self-guided tour of urban gardens takes place in several communities – Elmwood Village, Symphony Circle and Kleinhans, Cottage District, Historic West Village, Allentown, Fargo Estate neighborhood and Columbus Park/Prospect Hill.
Headquarters: Two headquarters with Garden Walk guides/maps are set up on tour days: Richmond-Summer Senior Center, Richmond Avenue and Summer Street, and Buffalo Seminary, 205 Bidwell Parkway (near Soldiers Circle and Chapin Parkway). Merchandise – including books, T-shirts, totes, garden flag, water and more – will be available for purchase. Restrooms also are on site.
Shuttle buses: Five free hop on/hop off shuttle buses will run during the tour. The route is marked in orange on the Garden Walk guide/map.
New this year: An Explore Buffalo docent will be available on one bus to highlight historic sites and architectural landmarks along the route. Look for the special banner.
Gardens: The Garden Walk map/guide gives addresses and brief descriptions of each garden. Parks, community gardens and public gardens also are marked. You’ll also find a list of gardens by particular type (vegetable, rock, organic, etc.) and special features (ponds, sculpture and structures). It also lists gardens that are stroller and wheelchair accessible. If you want a map beforehand, visit GardenWalkBuffalo.com for a list of sponsor locations where maps can be picked up. You can also download a PDF of the map (without garden descriptions) here.
Parking: Parking is on the streets in Garden Walk neighborhoods – or in public lots. The guide/map marks area parking lots.
Website: History, garden gallery, map information and more can be found at GardenWalkBuffalo.com.
– Susan Martin
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.