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The gardeners came and left impressed

Thousands of people visited the gardens of Western New York in July and early August, many from distant states and countries.

This week 344 of the visitors were garden writers (or bloggers, photographers, teachers) coming from as far away as Australia, Canada, Puerto Rico, California, Florida and Iowa. They cast their eyes upon the gardens, met the gardeners, dined and toured, and formed opinions about Buffalo. This is a small compendium of what they saw and what they said.

In Armitage’s word

For plant people the name Allan Armitage signifies horticultural royalty, considered to be one of the most learned people and finest teachers in the field. He is professor emeritus of horticulture at the University of Georgia and has written 13 books, among them our most dependable encyclopedic references about annuals, perennials, native plants (and more). When he speaks, gardeners listen.

“I have seen the great gardens of the world, but nothing like I’ve seen in these Buffalo gardens,” he told me at the conference’s closing banquet. “So often I see tired gardens and frustrated gardeners, and great big ‘checkbook gardens.’ But these Buffalo folks – it’s their unparalleled passions we won’t forget. I will plan to come back.”

Maria Ungaro, vice president at Kellen association management company, said that she heard the same sentiment many times: “They want more time here; they’re coming back.” Patrick Ryan of the Alaska Botanical Garden was among them, saying he wants to return for an actual Garden Walk Buffalo.

Armitage wasn’t the only one to comment on the Buffalo Garden experience. Cathy Dees (St. Lynn’s Press) said that seeing these original, intensely personal – and high quality – gardens was all the more enjoyable given her expectations: “Honestly,” she said, “when I heard this conference was in Buffalo, I thought ‘Buffalo – really?’ That city with the snow and cold, and the short growing season?’ ”

Instead she found city neighborhoods full of flowers, and quirky, original forms of garden artistry. Susan Betz (Fresh Start Herbs; Jonesville, Mich.) and Betsy Williams (the Proper Season; Andover, Mass.) were especially impressed by the story of 16th Street in the Cottage District. It is a wonderful example of how neighborhoods can be revitalized by gardening.

Other sitings

Betsy Williams added this: “The Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House took my breath away … I hadn’t been a Wright fan, but that place felt comfortable to me, not just beautiful. I felt I could live there.”

During that tour docents, guided by horticulturist Nellie Gardner, focused on the ongoing rehabilitation and restoration of the 1.5 acre campus landscape that Wright designed along with landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin.

The test gardens at the Erie Basin Marina also interested many guests. There Stan Swisher oversees the planting and maintenance of colorful planters and garden beds filled with new plant introductions from several international companies such as Ball, Proven Winners and Syngenta. The public – in this case garden writers – place flags on the selections they would most like to see on garden center shelves in the future. The Marina flower beds look stunning now; don’t miss them. You, too, may be asked to vote.

Garden writers are generally an ecologically informed and caring group, and one tour stop in Hamburg pleased and surprised many. Dave Majewski (SRG of Buffalo) stepped on each of five busloads of garden communicators and explained what he’d done in Dr. Barbara Moore’s parking lot at MooreKidsSmile pediatric dentistry.

This back lot – that could have become a typical sterile, barren parking lot – has become an example of all that a “green” designer could do to care for the natural surroundings while providing necessary parking.

The lot has a 150-year old tree that was nurtured and protected during the construction; all native plants that serve the birds and insects; a bioretention and water recycling system, and a maintenance routine that includes onsite reuse of every leaf that falls. There is more to the story, and we hope that garden writers across the country will tell it and inspire other developers to be greener.

Naturally our historic Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens will be remembered by this group – the initial siting majestic as the people stepped off buses and entered the front walkway. I overheard appreciative remarks about the cactus collection, begonias and palms. Guests from Florida were gratified to see fine examples of bananas and gingers.

Most memorable of all: Tom and Mary Ann Johnson (Magnolia Plantations of Charleston, S.C.) renewed their wedding vows in the picturesque gazebo among the flowering shrubs and perennials. There was not a dry eye among us.

The plants they saw

Hostas are the most popular perennial in America, so it is no surprise that August garden tours showed off several gardens that feature this genus. What did surprise many of the guests was the condition of the hostas here. I overheard several variations of remarks like this: “Wow, ours back home are riddled with slug holes or nematodes, and just get shabby… And all the hostas here are so well cared for!”

The visitors saw three gardens that feature hostas among other special plants: Hidden Gardens of Eden (Marcia Sully), Smug Creek Garden (Mike and Kathy Shadrack), and Whit’s End (Barb and Dave Whittemore).

One tour group took in the country’s newest arboretum: Tom Draves’ Arboretum in Darien; I’m waiting to hear the feedback. Other groups appreciated daylilies at the beautiful Haj farm, Lasting Dreams Daylilies, although many are past peak blooming time. In other gardens photographers focused on lilies, Crocosmia, Thalictrum, Rudbeckias, and countless annuals in containers or in the ground. Watch for blog, Facebook, and other social media posts to see what plants rose to the top of garden communicators’ interests.

Garden tours, however, were just part of the GWA conference. Attendees, including many Buffalo-area gardeners, learned from speakers and workshops, and shared meals with stimulating, like-minded plant people. I am grateful, as the regional chair, for the friends and volunteers who pulled together to make this possible, great support by Visit Buffalo Niagara, and sponsorships by PlantWNY, Plantasia and Gardens Buffalo Niagara. We can be proud: We did it!

Garden writers from all over North America are here!

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