Come July, on one eagerly anticipated weekend, Garden Walk Buffalo impresses and inspires tens of thousands of visitors. One of them: Jeffrey Gundlach, the Western New York native and billionaire investment manager, who toured some of the gardens in 2015.
It’s not just the flowers, fountains and foliage that get people talking. It’s the community pride. Last week Gundlach, who lives in Los Angeles, contributed $42.5 million to Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s expansion project.
Here is what he told News Arts Critic Colin Dabkowski: “I was there a year ago for a visit, and there was that Garden Walk they have in the downtown area, where people open up their back yards and their beautiful gardens and you get a chance to walk through those neighborhoods and see how these once nearly dilapidated homes now have all kinds of pride,” Gundlach said. “This was all going on, and I found out there was this capital campaign. And I thought, this is something that would make a difference.”
Garden Walk Buffalo organizers and participants are thrilled that the gardens – and the people who tend them – helped inspire Gundlach.
“I was blown away. When I first saw the article, it brought tears to my eyes. I sent an email off to all the Garden Walk Buffalo volunteers with a link to the article. This is huge for us because now when we go out soliciting sponsorships, donors and volunteers – along with beautifying neighborhoods and changing people’s perceptions of Buffalo – we have this claim that we directly contributed to Buffalo’s renaissance,” said Jim Charlier, vice president of Gardens Buffalo Niagara, the organization that runs Garden Walk Buffalo and other garden events.
“We’ve been making that claim for 20 years, but this made it in a big way,” he said.
Garden Walk Buffalo, called the largest garden tour in America, is a free tour that takes place the last full weekend in July. Since the first tour in 1995, it has grown to include more than 400 gardens in several communities within the city’s limit, including Elmwood Village, Symphony Circle and Kleinhans, Cottage District, Historic West Village, Allentown, Fargo Estate neighborhood and Columbus Park/Prospect Hill.
“For us, the civic pride began 23 years ago when Marvin Lunenfeld and his wife, Gail McCarthy, started planning the first garden tour. That’s when the seed was planted,” Charlier said.
His message to all the Garden Walk Buffalo gardeners: “Thank you for participating, and I’m so glad you are so nice to everyone and talk up the gardens. A bunch of you probably talked to a billionaire last year,” he said.