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Thursday
Mar152012

Buffalo Style Gardens: an American Phenomenon

http://georgeweigel.net/georges-current-ramblings-and-readlings/garden-tour-extraordinaire

Have you noticed the Buffalo style gardens that have been evolving in western Upstate New York? This type of gardening is considered by some to be an original American contribution to urban landscaping. Although the style pays homage to Romantic English gardens, its unique and distinct local flavor sets it apart from other gardening idioms.

gardenwalkbuffalo.com Cultivated in the northern part of the USA, in an unusually temperate micro-climate, its development has come as a surprise to those who wrongly associate Buffalo with severe winters[ not true] and a short growing season [also not true]. That so many of its residents have successfully embraced this style to make it their own is a phenomenon.

insiders.seeamerica.comFor this online, armchair garden tourist, the following four characteristics identify such a garden:-

1] Front yard lawns are replaced, entirely or partially, with dramatic perennial flowerbeds, and the strip of grass that separates the city road form the public sidewalk is similarly and painstakingly landscaped.

2] In older parts of town where Victorian architecture abounds, the exterior of the homes are painted in vivid shades that disregard the colors of nearby houses and flowers.

3] Gardens are defined by very dense and very lush plantings, a Romantic spirit, a liberal use of foliage, and an intense attention to texture, form, and color.

4] Neighbors design their front yard flowerbeds to compete with each other for attention.

http://www.gardenwalkbuffalo.com Whether they adorn the front of a home or if they are secluded in a side or back yard, the plant compositions represent idealized horticultural visions usually found in the imagination of flower gardeners. We dream about them as goals, one day to be realized. Yet, here they grow on the southern shores of Lake Ontario, where winds sometimes make the occasional winter snowfall feel more severe than it is.

gardenwalkbuffalo.comThe gardeners of this city have created horticultural beauty of such high quality that their work has captured the attention of the rest of America. Admiring camera-equipped tourists arrive from outside the Niagara-Erie area, national magazines place journalists there to write about it, and other cities send delegations to determine if they can emulate Buffalo’s success.

http://www.gardenwalkbuffalo.com When local residents realized that their own personal gardens had become tourist attractions, they came together to designate the last weekend of July as an annual summer festival to celebrate their work. Today 350 private Buffalo gardens make up a free-of-charge, self-guided walking tour that is organized by hundreds of gardener-volunteers, underwritten by thirty sponsors, and attracting about 50,000 tourists over its two-day span. It is the largest garden tour in America.

gardenwalkbuffalo.comThe Atlantic.com’s Daily Dish has described this collection of gardens thusly: “There are Japanese gardens, English gardens, Russian gardens (i.e., barely controlled wildernesses) and what I would call Buffalo gardens - eclectic, funky mixes in which found objects and exotic-looking surrounding rooftops figure prominently".

http://www.gardenwalkbuffalo.com While not all of the participating gardens are situated on former front lawns, it is exactly those viewed-from-the street flowerbeds that have captured my attention. Readers who have attempted to replace their front lawns with perennial combinations understand that this project is more challenging than it appears; because a front yard converted into one large perennial flowerbed is prone to be messy and scraggly.

gardenwalkbuffalo.comThis does not appear to happen so much in Buffalo, as one can determine from the uppermost image posted above. Here, a meticulous gardener displays a keen eye for composition and design, a sophisticated understanding how plants perform, and a courageous approach to the use of color.

gardenwalkbuffalo.comOnce, the city of Buffalo was considered the grungy rust belt of America. Now, a community of avid, amateur gardeners is transforming it into what Martha Stewart Living suggests might become the epicenter of American Horticulture.

http://www.gardenwalkbuffalo.com The walking tour of Buffalo's gardens is an example of how successful a grass-roots initiative can be, especially one that is completely independent of government assistance or intervention. Some number crunchers believe that this private two-day event pumps over 3 million dollars annually into the local economy.

Readers interested in planning their vacation to coincide with this event can click onto the tour’s website at http:/www.gardenwalkbuffalo.com

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Reader Comments (17)

Allan, this is a great post, and I hope it encourages people to visit Buffalo during Garden Walk. I had the good fortune to go during the 2010 Garden Bloggers' Fling, and was absolutely blown away by the city and its gardens. Crossing my fingers that I can go again this year... perhaps bringing friends.

Hi Allan,

thanks for posting. Although Helen and I are only 90 minutes away from Buffalo by car (and share similar growing conditions), we don't see many of the Romantic-inspired front gardens brimming with colour and form. Sadly, the trend is on the minimalist side, cubic yards of Armour stone and a few Emerald cedars for a "low maintenance" approach, lol.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Jung/garden muses

Thanks for a wonderful post. I could not agree with you more--if you have not gone to visit Buffalo for its Garden Walk, RUN DON'T WALK. It is such an eye-opening experience, and is really putting Buffalo on the green-thumb map.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBuffalo Traveler

As president of Garden Walk Buffalo, and one of Buffalo's biggest garden boosters, I got weepy reading your post. I'll be quoting your post liberally.

March 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim/ArtofGardening

As a former resident of the city of Buffalo (lived there for 61 yrs) - I can personally vouch for the wonder and beauty of the gardens of Buffalo. I think even the rich folks and their help that lived in these neighborhoods in the early 1900's would be amazed at the creativity these urban gardeners show off to all of Western NY. I'm talkin Proud :-)

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLibMary

Dear Allen,

As a resident of the Parkside neighborhood in Buffalo, I helped start our neighborhood garden walk 12 years ago and it is a major event every summer! Our neighborhood includes the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House, which is part of the Garden Walk.

But I agree with your post -- what is special about Buffalo finds expression in its gardens. You see the city's diversity, creativity, hard work and resilience displayed every summer. And every gardener likes to talk about his or her garden while neighbors hold yard sales and children sell lemonade and cookies.

Thanks for a wonderful appreciation of Buffalo gardens. Here's a link to the Parkside Community Association web site with the Parkside Garden Walk:

http://parksidebuffalo.org/

Best,
Jane

March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJane Fisher

Thank you for this post that highlights beautiful Buffalo. I grew up in Buffalo, but now live in Virginia. I miss Buffalo's abundance of beauty.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatience

Dear Allen,

It's good to see that word is getting out about Buffalo's charms, the GardenWalk among them. Your observations about the unique culture the city brings to its horticulture are spot-on.

I find it odd, however, that you make it seem as if Buffalo is some sort of arctic tundra. This is especially peculiar coming from a native of Montreal, which has a significantly colder, harsher climate than Western New York.

So, at the risk of asserting this point ad nauseam, I'd like to set the record straight: Buffalo's climate is more moderate than cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and is virtually indistinguishable from places such as Boston, Pittsburgh, Denver, Indianapolis, and many other cities on which no one constantly piles the tired climate clichés.

Certainly, Buffalo has a significantly milder climate than all major Canadian cities except Vancouver. Yes, it snows during the winter, much more than the national average (something Canadians should be intimately, if not lovingly, familiar with!) but it never snows enough to be more than a minor nuisance. In fact, Buffalo averages only two snowfalls per season greater than six inches (15 cm).

And, perhaps not coincidental to the gardening movement, Buffalo has more summer sunshine than all other major U.S. cities, and the growing season here is actually longer than in comparable places, due to the moderating micro-maritime effects of lakes Erie and Ontario.

For a realistic take on this, you and your readers might enjoy reading Buffalo Is Not A Cold Climate, Kathy Purdy's excellent post on Buffalo's gardening conditions.

http://www.coldclimategardening.com/2010/07/11/buffalo-is-not-a-cold-climate/

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Banas

Chuck, Thank you for correcting widely held misinformation. I have removed inaccurate references to a harsh winter climate.

My only defense in choosing to write from that perspective was the fact that for over 50 years, and yes, less so now than before, local media would report on the crippling effect that winter storms used to have on Buffalo. Most of us here in Canada assumed that winters in Buffalo were severe. No one informed us that these were an aberration of a more temperate climate.

I believe the information about growing conditions provided in your comment helps to explain why Buffalo gardens are so lush and I apologize for casting your city in such an arctic light.

March 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterAllan

That was a most prompt and eloquent reply! In particular, I like the way you so succinctly put it, that Buffalo's winter weather is "...an aberration of a more temperate climate."

It might be best to say that the "lake effect" phenomenon operates year-round, and is responsible for much more than just winter snowfall. Unfortunately, though, otherwise pleasant weather isn't considered much of a news story!

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Banas

One more thing...

Allan, I now owe you an apology for inadvertently misspelling your name! Kindly pardon my oversight!

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuck Banas

Great post...I was so sad in 2010 that I missed the Bloggers Fling there...up until then, I'll admit, I had NO idea how amazing the gardening culture was in Buffalo. Amazingly, it has now become one of the locations in American I keenly wish to visit. I actually would love it if Portland gardeners could organize something similar...there is such a wealth of amazing, funky and resourceful gardens all around town...it would be a blast to get them all together for such a tour!

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterScott Weber

Definitely, garden and even simple plants outside the house can add something unique and beautiful. Look how pretty and great those houses. I love them all.

March 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterArtificial Grass

Allen, what a great post about Garden Walk ! It indeed is such a special event that highlights the warmth of our community and people, notto mention the scores of beautiful gardens. This year, come by my garden in the Elmwood Village. I know you will love it.

May 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Goldstein

I recall when planning my first flower garden 30 years ago books all stipulated they were for the back yard, or areas of the front lawn visible from the house but not the street. It seems the people in Buffalo have realized exactly what I have: if I'm going to do all that work it's better to place it where the most people can get pleasure from it! The nice part about front yard flower beds is it's a direct a reflection of it's owner so keeping it neat comes first. Secondly parking the truck on the street, cleaning up for the yard waste disposal site is a breeze.

February 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheila

I am a life long resident of Buffalo and loved this article. It appears to me that several of the photos are of cottages that are located on "Little Summer Street" close to what we call the "upper west side" of Buffalo. They were the homes for the servants of the wealthy who lived along Delaware Ave or Richmond Ave. That street alone is worth traveling to Bflo. to see. Those small homes are now in big demand!

December 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRose M. LaJudice

Hi Allen,
Thank you for the lovely article. It would be advantageous to note that not only the city of Buffalo has Buffalo in Bloom and Garden Walk. The Garden Walk that is so famous now is in the Allentown and west side neighborhoods of the city. Other neighborhoods within the city limits also have their own garden displays, Parkside being one of them. Almost every surrounding suburb has gotten in on the action as well. My personal garden happens to be within the limits of 3 different walks. You could be here for a while!

December 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Glose

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