By Ed Healy
Last Sunday, my wife and I were in Snyder, wandering through the backyard of a beautifully restored English cottage style home surrounded by hydrangea, hostas and day lilies.
On Thursday, we were in Allentown, welcomed into the backyard of a dazzling Victorian painted lady, admiring a city oasis filled with anemone, astilbe and coleus. The homeowners were warm and hospitable – happy to share a hard-won gardening tip and directions to their favorite nursery. We left, as we always do, feeling inspired, and a little bit better about the place we call home.
It’s garden touring season in Buffalo – the sweet spot in our seasonal calendar when hundreds of our fellow citizens place a sign at the curb inviting one and all to stop and smell their flowers. There’s no better time to get to know our city, its surrounding suburbs and the welcoming people who live here than the month of July.
Not only is Buffalo home to the largest free garden walk in the entire country – Garden Walk Buffalo – we’re also the site of 15 other walks and tours, including the new East Side Garden Walk that takes place for the second time on July 20. On top of that, there are 70 gardens to visit on Thursdays and Fridays in July that are part of Gardens Buffalo Niagara’s annual Open Gardens event.
Of all the flower spotting options available in our region, Open Gardens may be our favorite. Open Gardens is the lesser known, unassuming sibling of the older, more acclaimed Garden Walk Buffalo.
Garden Walk tends to get all the attention, but Open Gardens is doing its best to prove that it’s just as worthy of the attention of serious flower fans.
While Garden Walk attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Buffalo over the course of the last weekend in July every year, Open Gardens is low key, modest, more of a small dinner party that’s perfect for sharing a glass of wine with one of Buffalo’s famously friendly gardeners.
The element of surprise is what keeps us going back to Open Gardens. A modestly landscaped Hamburg front yard disguises the fact that an overwhelming floral display – complete with an extensive model railroad and a shed outfitted to resemble a train station – lies out back.
Then there’s the backyard on Delaware Road in Town of Tonawanda that’s a farm, garden and wildlife habitat all rolled into one lush landscape.
Sometimes the surprises come in the form of an outdoor bar that wouldn’t be out of place in Key West or a Japanese garden that would make a visitor from Tokyo feel right at home. Buffalo’s gardens are quirky, creative and bear the mark of each gardener’s artistic muse.
Buffalo’s moveable feast of flowers is unique to our region. In fact, between all the walks and open gardens there may be no greater concentration of private gardens open to the public.
Other cities send delegations to find out exactly how we do it. And other visitors recognize it would be an impossible task to do what we do so well. An out-of-town guest experiencing Garden Walk for the first time once turned to me and said, “We couldn’t do this where I’m from. People just wouldn’t open up their yards to complete strangers.”
In that case, welcome to the City of Good Neighbors.
Ed Healy of North Buffalo is vice president of marketing for Visit Buffalo Niagara.