Astoundingly, many people in our region have not yet experienced Garden Walk Buffalo although it’s the largest garden tourism event in the country. An estimated 70,000 people walk The Walk every year. (It’s an elusive number, almost uncountable, but it’s a guess based on the number of maps picked up.)
I have guidance for new walkers and endorse the event with unfettered enthusiasm and confidence that you will love it. And for the experienced I’ll add a second level of suggestions, knowing you’re going back: The Buffalo Garden Walk - July 29 and 30 - and its gardens are never the same twice.
Make a plan: At the simplest level a person could get in a car, drive into Buffalo on the last Saturday or Sunday of July, find parking somewhere off Richmond, Elmwood or Delaware from Forest Avenue on down, and start walking.
You’ll see signs showing which gardens are participating and whether you should go into the backyard or just view the front or sides. It is smarter to get a map from one of the headquarters, though – a small donation appreciated.
With the map in hand, sit somewhere, alone or with your team and make a plan. (Coffee shops and restaurants throughout Garden Walk territory expect you.) The map is a brilliant configuration that has evolved for a couple of decades. It is worth studying before, during and after The Walk. It describes whole neighborhoods (Allentown, West Village, Fargo Estate historic area, Columbus Park).
It also shows tour destinations such as the Japanese Garden at the History Museum and the trial flower gardens at the Buffalo Marina. These are essential stops for out-of-town guests but if you live in the area do go there another day.
One key decision as you plan: Will you drive and park, then move and re-park a few times? If so, the designated driver needs a good GPS, patience, and energy since she will often have to back-track to move the vehicle to pick up the walkers that have moved a few blocks on. (Drivers: Write down where the car is each time!)
Or will you take advantage of the shuttle buses? The map shows you where five shuttles rotate through the territory so you could ditch that car, and hop on and off to walk the streets of your choice. (Again, where was that car left?)
Also during the planning stage decide if you must see the most famous and therefore most crowded gardens or streets – indicated by the most dense clusters of dots on the map. You need not be afraid of the crowds; it’s not Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Garden visitors are mostly polite creatures. But sometimes you’ll be moving with them single file on narrow garden paths, for instance in the Cottage District.
If you’re claustrophobic or impatient choose differently: Look for dots on the map that are spaced farther apart. Just because a garden doesn’t have 10 nearby neighbors listed does not mean it’s not wonderful. Many of my best garden and people encounters, plus photographs, happened in more isolated gardens. Choose streets and areas you do not know. Cool people, plants and designs await you, and the parking is easy.
Make good choices: Having covered Garden Walk Buffalo with and without family and friends along, and sometimes leading groups or fellow professional writers, I can tell you what to do and not to do. It’s all about using the time well – you can’t see all 400 gardens – and prioritizing according to your interests.
The map includes a section called “Looking for something in particular?” so you can find water or shade gardens, native plants or art. You must also pace yourself, as most people run out of energy. And prepare for comfort.
Tips for best visiting
• With a group or as a couple: Don’t try to stick together garden by garden, but choose a time and meeting place at a corner or a destination restaurant or shuttle stop. Then you can each linger where you wish, have conversations with gardeners, and not waste time waiting or looking for each other. Exchange cell phone numbers and have them charged.
• Passionate gardeners or photographers: If this is serious business and you have goals, go alone. Another time show your non-gardening friends or spouse some gardens – or send them off to see parts of this on their own. You’ll be frustrated if you mix a social time with your mission.
• Plan ahead for lunch, snacks, resting, and rest rooms. Restaurants get crammed at noon so consider a very early or very late lunch. See the map for bathroom locations. (Do not ask private homeowners to use their rest rooms – surprisingly it’s been done!)
• Dress for comfort, not fashion: It seems obvious this is the place for walking shoes, sun hats, sunscreen, water, and maybe umbrellas. Leave large bags in the car; they’re heavy and bump people, plants and garden art.
• Children, dogs, and adults: These are private homes, not designed for tourism. Some paths are narrow. Strollers don’t work in most gardens. Dogs in crowds and on hot pavement? No. Some children may appreciate gardens but not necessarily crowded ones.
Adults or kids should not touch plants or art, lift tags, or step into flower beds or off paths. Don’t pull weeds. In short, let’s behave as if we are guests in someone’s carefully designed living room. Basically, we are.
• About the neighbors: The few people who are sick to death of Garden Walk probably leave town, but do remember that some have babies or must sleep in the daytime and they’re not all thrilled about the 2,000 passersby. No matter how exciting you find the Crocosmia, consider keeping the yelling down. On the other hand, you’ll enjoy hundreds of friendly people smiling on us all from the front and back porches.
Do not miss the experience of Garden Walk Buffalo. Get into the spirit and join the happy, often amazed visitors. Thanks to the unbelievably generous gardeners, there is simply no better way to discover Buffalo and sense its rebirth. I hope to see you out there!
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.
The 23rd annual Garden Walk Buffalo featuring about 400 gardens is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 29 and 30. The tour is free, self-guided and scheduled to be held rain or shine. No tickets are required.
Here are a few things to know:
Garden Walk maps: Maps with garden addresses and descriptions can be picked up during the hours of Garden Walk Buffalo at two headquarters: Richmond-Summer Senior Center, Richmond Avenue and Summer Street, and Buffalo Seminary, 205 Bidwell Parkway.
You will also find restrooms and merchandise here. For maps only, stop by one of the satellite sites: First Presbyterian Church, 1 Symphony Circle; Evergreen Health, 206 S. Elmwood Ave., and West Side Community Services, 161 Vermont St.
Shuttle buses: Five free hop-on/hop-off shuttle buses will run during the tour. Guides from Explore Buffalo will be on board to highlight historic sites and architectural landmarks along the route.
Gardens: Gardens are located in the following urban communities: Elmwood Village; Symphony Circle and Kleinhans; Cottage District; Historic West Village; Allentown; Fargo Estate Neighborhood, and Columbus Park/Prospect Hill.
Parking: Parking is on the street – or in public lots marked on the Garden Walk map.
Accessibility: For wheelchair/stroller accessibility, look in the Garden Walk map for gardens with a wheelchair symbol.