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Gardening

Experts provide advice for WNY gardening community this season

Like every aspect of today's turned-upside-down world, there's much uncertainty in the local gardening scene. Will there be seasonal events, such as garden walks and tours, that gardeners and nongardeners alike look forward to every summer?

Will people feel the need to grow their own fruits and vegetables, even if they have never done so before?

While some garden centers are already offering curbside pickup and delivery, how else will they adapt to the circumstances?

There are many unanswered questions at this time, but we reached out to a few local experts to share some of their thoughts.

We asked them: What is your advice to gardeners as we approach the gardening season during this challenging time? What is your biggest worry for gardening/gardeners this season? Your biggest hope?

Finally, on a lighter note, we asked them to share the name of their favorite plants or flowers – and also their favorite gardening book, website, etc., for getting gardening information.

Here are their responses:

Sally Cunningham is the longtime Great Gardening columnist for The Buffalo News. She is a master gardener, lecturer and author of "Great Garden Companions" and, more recently, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs” (St. Lynn’s Press, $24.95), along with Buffalo resident Jim Charlier, who also shares his ideas in this article.

Advice to gardeners in this challenging time: Make every planting choice count. If you have limited space (planters, little beds) grow food, and flowers that help pollinators. Around landscape beds, add raspberries and shade-loving greens. Every plant should multitask.

Biggest worry: Two worries: One, that people get depressed and just give up bothering to make beautiful front yards. Second, that people will get frantic and start planting food crops that will disappoint and fail; do the homework about soil prep and site.

Biggest hope: Some people may find the time to connect with nature or with the gardening they used to love. May it be a time of discovery. Gardens foster peace and joy.

Favorite flowers/plants: Especially now daffodils (narcissus) are like sunshine just when we need it most. Also, this year hellebores and snowdrops have been signs of hope.

Favorite books and resources: Learn locally! Check out the websites of your favorite landscaper, nursery, or garden center to get suitable local information and specialty places for fruit, beekeeping, bare-root trees, native plants and lawn care information.

Examples among many: turnbullgardencenter.com, mastersons.net, wnynativeplants.org, lakesidesod.com and plantwny.com.

“With the help of our gardens we can get through this,” Cunningham said.

Jim Charlier is vice president of Gardens Buffalo Niagara and longtime Garden Walk Buffalo participant and its former president. He is co-author of "Buffalo-Style Gardens" along with Sally Cunningham. He runs JCharlier Communication Design and has photographed gardens all over the world. He also writes a blog, ArtofGardening.org.

Advice to gardeners: Slow down. You may have the time right now, but there’s no rush. In general, the last average frost date for our area is in the third week of May. Unless you plan to cover or shelter annuals in pots, baskets and window boxes – and houseplants you bring outside – don’t bring them out yet. It is looking like an early and long spring. Doing too much too early garden-wise isn’t wise. We’ve power-washed our deck and outdoor furniture, brought the hostas in pots out of the shed, gently cleaned out garden beds of sticks and matted leaves, and added compost on top.

Biggest worry: I’m involved with a lot of garden events – Garden Walk Buffalo, the East Side Garden Walk, Open Gardens on Thursdays and Fridays in July, the Buffalo Style Garden Art Sale and more. I worry that some may have to be canceled. We’ll follow all state and local laws and guidelines. We’re still planning to do everything (we don’t have to decide for months yet). These are much-loved events that mean a lot to the communities in which they take place. Many have an economic impact during the summer tourism season. I’d hate to have to cancel.

It’s going to be a tighter than normal year financially. I don’t want to be spending as much as we have in the past on annuals for window boxes, baskets and pots. I know, first-world problem. But if I’m thinking along these lines, others are, too, and that doesn’t bode well for the garden centers and the employees who depend on those salaries.

Biggest hope: I hope Covid-19 disappears quicker than it came on, and that families can find ways to heal from sickness and deaths. I hope Garden Walk Buffalo and the East Side Garden Walk will be even more meaningful – and celebratory – for the community at large.

Favorite flowers/plants: Favorite plants currently (it changes more often than the seasons): For annuals, anything purple: Purple Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis); Purple Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas “Blackie"); Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida); Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus). As for favorite perennial: Coral Bells Heuchera. (They come in so many colors.)

Favorite books and resources: Favorite book? "Buffalo Style Gardens, Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs," of course. Favorite website? My own blog, ArtofGardening.org. But I do like reading GardenRant.com for its opinion writers and adherence to science and fact when it comes to everything gardening (whether it’s on plants, community gardening, grassless lawns, chemicals in gardens, native plants, or horticultural product marketing).

For gardening information, I rely on Sally Cunningham’s columns and counsel, and on other serious gardening co-conspirators. I always rely on the professionals at the local garden centers. They are an underappreciated source of info on what plants will work best and how to take care of them.

Three of Jim Charlier's favorite annuals: Purple Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis); Purple Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie'); and Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida). (Photo courtesy Jim Charlier)

Lyn Chimera is a master gardener, garden consultant and owner of Lessons from Nature.

Advice to gardeners: Be grateful you have or are planning a garden. Even though it’s early and the soil is too wet for many garden chores, you can walk around on the paths and see how things are coming up and have a respite from the outside world. Spring is a time for hope and new life, and we must focus on the fact that we will get through this just like our gardens come back every spring.

Biggest worry: Don’t plant too soon! Patience is the word for this spring. The soil is too wet and cold for doing much. Keep in mind it is just the beginning of April even though some of these warm sunny spring days makes it feel like it’s already May.

Biggest hope: That people will take this time to grow and learn. Read one of the gardening books you’ve had on your shelf for years or research a garden problem you’ve been experiencing. If you do any research online go to a “.edu” or botanical garden site. There is a lot of misinformation out there and those sites will have good science-based information.

Favorite flowers/plants: My favorite native plant is celandine poppy commonly called wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) not to be confused with the invasive lesser celandine. It blooms yellow in early spring and will bloom throughout the summer if deadheaded. It prefers a deciduous shade location with loamy soil. It has attractive foliage and deer don’t prefer it. What’s not to like?

Favorite books and resources: The book I go to most often is "Native Plants of the Northeast" by Donald J. Leopold. It’s the only book I know of on regional natives that covers ferns, grasses, wildflowers, vines, shrubs and trees. Mine is so well used that when I asked Dr. Leopold to sign it, he informed me in good humor that it was not intended to be a field guide.

Another book that changed my gardening practices more than any other is "Bringing Nature Home" by Doug Tallamy. It shows the importance of creating a landscape that can support nature like pollinators and birds as well as be sustainable.

"There are many things you can do now that you have the time – weed, clean up winter debris and prune. This will prepare for when the garden is in full swing," Chimera said.

Wood poppy from Lyn Chimera's garden. (Photo courtesy Lyn Chimera)

Mark Yadon, vice president and longtime greenhouse/garden center manager at Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses, 118 S. Forest Road, Williamsville. Yadon also shared some information about the yearly highly popular perennials sale that attracts gardeners  from all over Western New York. Plans are in the works. "The sale will be held; it's not going to be as it has been in the past. We are working for online ordering and customer pickup as well as limiting the number of people in the parking lot." 

Advice to gardeners: My biggest advice is that we all get reconnected to gardening – for food and beauty. Those who have a garden, get out there and garden. It’s not only good exercise but it’s good for your mental health. It doesn’t matter how small or how big. Plant a pot, plant a plant. Just reconnect. It does a lot for the mind.

Biggest worry: That the economy won’t let the gardeners garden as they have in the past. With less discretionary income, they’re not going to be able to maybe buy the large plantings of annuals. But that’s what we need; we need that normality.

Biggest hope: That the assistance checks arrive quickly and that the weather stays good. Both of those things are essential to get people going, to get people out.

Favorite flowers/plants: The hellebore – Lenten rose. The reason why is because it blooms early;  it's just like the onset of spring. Once you see them blooming it's like "OK, here it comes." They are very hardy, easy to grow, low maintenance and deer resistant.

Favorite books and resources: For us, the way we keep on top of things is mostly talking to other grower retailers and our suppliers that are supplying the plants that are being bred by other people so I can get the latest and greatest things. Also, the trade magazines.

Phil Tripi is owner of Tripi's Landscaping LLC, Blasdell, and president of  plantWNY.com,  a trade association of green industry professionals. He garnered responses from several members of the executive board. Here are some of them:

Advice to gardeners: Pump the brakes. We're still early. Do your cleanup, edging the beds, etc., if you like. Cultivate your mulch. If you mulch your beds annually, you may have enough mulch and by turning it, it may look good enough so mulching is not necessary. In my landscaping at my home, I mulch every 18 months. Alternate from spring to early fall. If you're in a store, look for seeds and start them in a sunny room for annual flowers, vegetables.

Biggest worry: My biggest concern is that this will spill over deep into late spring, early summer with additional restrictions.

Biggest hope: I don't mean to be negative; I want it to stay cooler than we've been to slow down the landscape season from starting. The sunny days are nice, but I would like the night temps to go down to the high 20s, low 30s.

And from another member: I hope that the garden walks can still happen.

Favorite flowers/plants: Moss.

Favorite books and resources: I follow several botanical gardens and arboreta on Instagram, and the PLANT WNY website is a great resource, especially the member directory.

Here are some websites where you can find additional information in the days and weeks ahead. Also be sure to check out the websites of your favorite garden center, greenhouse or nursery, and watch for updates from them on Facebook and Twitter:

buffalo-niagaragardening.com (The online gardening magazine of Buffalo and Western New York)

buffalogardens.com (The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens)

gardensbuffaloniagara.com (For information and updates on WNY garden events and tours)

•  agriculture.ny.gov/ (New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; updates on farmers markets, etc.)

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