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Garden writers from all over North America are here!

This weekend you may see six large motor coaches driving to the Southtowns, roaming the gardening neighborhoods of Buffalo, and visiting our parks and public gardens. The giant buses are filled with tourists we very much want: guests who will write about us, take pictures, post, blog and publish.

It’s the garden writers from across the United States and Canada, who have arrived for the GWA (Association of Garden Communicators) annual conference. They include about 325 “influencers” in the gardening media world, and Buffalo gardeners and our tourism and landscape industry partners are doing all we can to give them lots of stories to tell.

The gardens they will see

As if Garden Walk Buffalo, the Buzz Around Hamburg and a month of Thursday and Friday Open Gardens weren’t enough, we asked about 20 private gardeners to keep their gardens groomed and to open them to a few hundred more peepers Aug. 5-7. Amazingly most of them said yes. So during a given four-hour period those gracious citizens will have a rotating series of six full busloads of writers popping out and walking through, taking pictures and making notes. Just a little pressure there, don’t you imagine?

Some of the destination gardens in Buffalo were probably your favorites last weekend, as we must show off the ever-popular Lancaster Avenue, Bird Avenue, Granger Place, Norwood Avenue, Baynes Street, Little Summer Street and Sixteenth Street stars. In Hamburg and Eden, the Shadracks’ Smug Creek Garden, the Sullys’ Hidden Gardens, Lasting Dreams Daylilies, and the Whittemores’ Whit’s End gardens were chosen.

(As the local chair for the conference – aided by a solid volunteer force – I can tell you it was excruciating to leave out so many other original, creative, unforgettable gardens. We will drive by and talk about as many more as we can. But our point is to dazzle our guests and invite them all back for next season’s walks and tours.)

Horticultural and architectural wealth

Of course the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is our leading institutional garden destination. It’s all dressed up in its flowery best for GWA’s Aug. 6 evening reception – also the moment for a picturesque Renewal of Vows ceremony for a prominent couple from Magnolia Plantations (with a strong link to Olmsted design).

The writers will be steeped in our Olmsted heritage as well, not only on the Aug. 6 Delaware Park tour but also because Olmsted himself will appear here and there. (We haven’t actually summoned ghosts but will be enjoying a fully costumed Frederick Law O in the person of garden writer/actor Kirk Brown – who also happens to be the GWA president this year.) Keven Gaughan, an Olmsted expert, is providing one of the keynote talks as well.

Often visitors to Buffalo are amazed by the breadth and depth of the city’s architectural styles, from the grand old homes of millionaire’s row and the streets surrounding the Olmsted-designed boulevards to the quaint and darling Cottage District houses. Then we add the impressive Frank Lloyd Wright factor – in this case with a tour of the Darwin Martin House, featuring Nellie Gardner’s ambitious restoration plan for the original gardens. We hope our guests will find time later this week or upon their return to take in historical Forest Lawn (also important in the history of landscape design) and our newest gem, the Richardson-Olmsted Complex.

The gardens are in bloom at Erie Basin Marina. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The Marina demonstration garden beds and planters have surpassed all expectations this season – go there if you haven’t lately. Many of our garden writers will see the plants during a tour and dessert reception at William K’s. Then Stan Swisher – all-time best-ever head gardener – will show them the healthiest, most vibrant examples of plant introductions from Proven Winners and other important worldwide producers. Many GWA people will undoubtedly spend free time at other Canalside attractions as well.

The stories they will write

If you’re going to organize a conference, there’s nothing like having a visitor’s bureau to count on. We have the best, in my experience and also according to observers from GWA leaders and the Kellen Association Management team. Visit Buffalo Niagara believes in the power of garden tourism for a region’s image, quality of life, neighborhood and community self-esteem, and real estate value – not to mention the dollar impact of incoming visitors.

Detail of artwork hanging on the fence in a Norwood Avenue garden. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Knowing that GWA calls the garden tours “Story Tours,” Ed Healy, VBN’s vice president of marketing, and committee members said, “So let’s give them stories!” VBN developed a press kit for all guests with the facts and access to all the experts, should they choose to write about the places they have seen.

The bus captain teams also have talking points, and practiced the routes around fairly complicated, tightly timed itineraries. Thanks to volunteers from Garden Walk Buffalo, Gardens Buffalo Niagara, the WNY Hosta and Daylily Societies, Master Gardeners, VBN Ambassadors, and PlantWNY, we are ready for this.

But what are the unique Buffalo stories? What will capture the attention of veteran garden tourist and writers? During past tours in other cities, surely there were beautifully designed gardens, excellent botanical gardens and parks, scenery, experts, and fine hotels and restaurants.

The probable answer is the reason we were chosen for the 2017 conference in the first place: Garden Walk Buffalo over its 23 years has developed a personal style – not uniform but having some recognizable traits. While many tours in many places show developed gardens with sophisticated plant collections, our gardens reveal a density and intensity of personal expression that is the hallmark.

Our gardeners show themselves in their gardens. We enter more than their yards: We witness their lifestyles. Further, those styles feature art – lots of it – that is eclectic, original, and surprising.

We also excel – we hope it is discovered – in our horticultural excellence, from over-achieving private gardeners to our area growers, garden centers, and a world-class botanical garden.

Finally though, the ultimate story from a Buffalo garden conference is what people say when they leave us: “I can’t believe how friendly they are, how open, how – just really nice!”

We sincerely hope our GWA guests find it so and have a wonderful time.

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.

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