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Great Gardening: From Garden Walk 2016, new ideas from creative gardeners

Sometimes I think I’ve seen it all, from rare original sculpture to the kitschiest of kitsch used in gardens. Gardeners’ creativity has no limits. Surely everything possible has now been done to decorate a garden with birdhouses, chairs, ladders, boots and bathtubs. And yet Garden Walk 2016 had surprises and most memorable discoveries. We each experience garden visits differently but I’m betting you too took home ideas to copy and a wish-list for products or collectibles you’ll seek for the garden back home.

Magic with mirrors---

PHOTO GALLERY: Jim Charlier’s creative garden


Of all the decorative objects I see in gardens, mirrors stop me first; I’m a sucker for shiny objects. Mirrors call for photographs – of somebody looking in the mirror or a fresh angle on the garden I’m standing in. Surely hundreds of mirror pictures were taken last weekend in the Charlier garden on Lancaster Avenue, where the mirror is draped with Dutchman’s pipe, clematis and Akebia vines. The frames on mirrors count too – Jim Charlier’s surrounded by green boards overlaid with purple-painted lattice. (Charlier also built an amazing shed on his property.)

I also photographed the mirrors on the fence in Kenmore at the Brennon and Rogers garden – fine plantsmen those two – and repeatedly show slide pictures of the mirrors and furnishings among the lush plantings in the Hopkins and Dunlap garden on 16th Street in Buffalo. This year I was dazzled by the garden of Anne Gareis and family on Johnson Park, where mirrors are just part of the gardener’s classy, artistic sense of what to place where. Mirrors can hang on walls, from trees, or lean against a fence. They can become impressionistic pools in a shady planting or in a fairy garden, and they can double the space in a small yard. In Michael Ryan’s welcoming outdoor room in Kenmore – a garden built for family and entertaining – mirrors take up an entire wall. Add the night lighting and the space is magical.

Light catchers

A few artistic gardeners always manage to turn a shrub or small tree into a focal point by hanging little jewels, baubles, ornaments, solar lights, tea candles in cups, copper-wired tubes, or bits of glass on the branches. I said out loud, “Why didn’t I think of that?” in the Gareis garden when I saw that she had hung a set of 3-inch dangling crystals on a shrub. Awww ... was the inevitable response. It’s not just the idea to hang up pretty things though – it’s finding those perfect crystals or special baubles and seeing their potential. It’s also choosing which plant, where, to adorn.

Ways with water

A water feature attracts people as well as birds. Watch people enter a yard with a stream or waterfall or pool: They always walk toward it. Water adds sound and movement in a garden as well as visual pleasure. Every water feature I saw this season was staged, maintained and presented beautifully. In Kenmore: the bubbling little waterfall in Paulette Sadus’ pristine one-woman masterpiece of a garden, and Ron Baty’s enormous pond with dual waterfalls, waterlilies and lotus flowers, perfectly placed surrounding plants and a misting feature no less. In Buffalo the Guercios’ koi pond would be an attraction on its own, but there on West Delavan Avenue it’s a mere complement to the wealth of vines, perennials, container plants and artfully placed ornamentation. This year I didn’t see the biggest water feature of all: Tom Halloran’s swimming pool on Richmond Avenue, always showcased among lush vines, the 7-foot Rudbeckia and rich container combinations. On Norwood Avenue I was charmed by the impressive parklike Osborn garden, maintained mostly by his mother. The babbling brook, with healthy little fish and bathing birds, meanders under a bridge, past a 19th century gazebo: a perfect, restful scene, looking as if it just happens. (It does not.) I was out of time after that visit, but on Richmond we actually stopped the car to photograph a tall rock garden and waterfall in a front yard, maintained lovingly by Tracey Lukasik whose young husband built it shortly before he died. Some gardens have personal stories and spiritual connections as well as fine design and great plants.

Containers unlimited

Container gardening is and will remain one of the powerful trends in American gardening, including in Buffalo. We get older; containers are easier than digging in clay. City gardeners have no more soil space anyway so they garden in pots on the driveway. Grand tropical plants – Alocasia, Colocasia, Phormium, cannas, bananas and even Paintbrush African Starfire Lilies (Haemanthus multiflorus) are more readily available than ever before. And local garden centers grow an unimaginable variety of container plants.

On garden walks people commonly photograph containers especially because they are something we can all copy. Two particular uses of containers have impressed me: In some gardens the massing of containers makes the statement, some in like colors, some eclectic yet complementary groups. The containers are as much part of the design as the chosen plants, as in the unforgettable Mary’s Garden on Lancaster Avenue, featuring Annabelle Irey and Jim Locke’s amazing displays of dahlias, begonias, mandevillas and less known tropicals. In other gardens it is one well-placed pot that cannot be ignored: a 5-foot ‘Sum and Substance’ hosta in a gigantic container that welcomes you to the hillside Smug Creek Garden of Mike and Kathy Shadrack.

Rocks, collections

So much artistry, and I couldn’t see it all. Rock gardens abound, the ultimate being an astounding geological collection in Richard Phillips’ Tonawanda garden. Gardeners use boulders and rocks as art and as edges. Many collect rocks as mementos of their travels. Other collections – bottles, antique plates, picture frames – define certain gardens. Gilded gates, spray-painted window frames and doors, and archeological remnants from Buffalo’s history – all add that original touch, the je ne sais quoi that we can’t forget.

Thank you, gardeners, for your passion, your generosity, and your ideas. Except for Black Rock & Riverside (see Garden Notes for details) you may rest awhile, even with your hoses still in hand.

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.

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