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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in front yard gardens (4)


Buffalo Style Gardens: an American Phenomenon

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. 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. 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. 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’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". 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. 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:/


A Front Yard Garden

Image courtesy of Mosaic Garden Design and Construction, Eugene, Oregon.

The replacement of lawns with gardens is a topic that I have written about in the past. Although I do not expect that there will ever be a large-scale movement to convert all lawns into flowerbeds, it is encouraging to discover that some homeowners have begun that process. It is still too early to predict how far this trend will spread. Recently I discovered appropriate images, posted above and below, that illustrate this topic. First, a recap:-

On January 27, 2010, in a review of The American Meadow Garden by John Greenlee, I wrote that “Neat green lawns are becoming an albatross and an anachronism. Evolving lifestyles, shrinking natural resources, and a deepening concern about the chemicals that pollute our water table are causing some horticulturalists to re evaluate the role that lawns play in the quality of our life”.

Another posting, titled Good Bye Lawn, Hello Outdoor Living Space, dated September 30, 2009, preceded the above article. In that post, I wrote, “There has been a lot of discussion over the last few years about the declining need for a green lawn in today’s landscapes. This debate has been fueled not only by the desire to conserve water but also by the realization that changing lifestyles result in lawns that remain unused. This debate is also accompanied by the shrinkage of free time needed to care for lawns and by the toxic effect of chemicals necessary to maintain them………for some, the ….yard has become an anachronism and its maintenance a burden”. 

Image courtesy of Mosaic Garden Design and Construction, Eugene, Oregon.

The two photos that appear here, a close up and a long shot of the same home exterior, demonstrate how a front yard garden can be used to landscape a home. These images of a mixed garden demonstrate how a lawnless landscape complements and enhances a house. In this installation, the four seasons bring continuously changing visual interest. Best of all, there is no lawn to feed, water or mow.

The attractive and effective use of a garden to fill a front yard is the creation of Rebecca Samms and Buel Steelman, of Mosaic Gardens, in Eugene Oregon. They are responsible for its design, construction, and planting. North Carolina landscape architect Pam Kersting of GardenDesigns+more  featured the work of this talented duo in her latest posting titled “Lose the lawn”. I am happy to share this discovery with my readers.


Almost Maintenace Free: Convert a Front Lawn Into a Walk -Through Garden.

The maintenance of a grass lawn has become too great a responsibility for some homeowners. Others no longer consider a lawn a desirable feature for their property. With fresh approaches to landscaping, developing over time, some gardeners have begun to convert their front lawns into walk- through gardens. It is a mistake to assume that these transformations will totally liberate the homeowner from responsibility. Unless one is planting a jungle or a wildflower-and-grass meadow, there is no such thing as a totally maintenance-free front yard.

Leaving a front garden unattended creates a natural messiness that will depreciate the resale value of a home, destroy its curb appeal, and become blight to the neighborhood. Here are some suggestions for creating front, walk-through gardens that require minimal attention.

  • Weigela Fine WineUse low-maintenance ornamental flowering shrubs that add color or flowers. Vary the foliage, colors, textures, and heights of these shrubs to replace the dramatic interest usually supplied by high maintenance perennials. Consider Weigela  Minuet or Fine Wine.


  • Yucca is neat.Select only those perennials that are genuinely easy-care; Hosta, Astilbe, Liatris, Hemerocallis, Yucca, and Siberian Iris are among the easiest and neatest plants to grow. Avoid plants that spread vigorously, require staking or trimming, or that self-seed. For more suggestions, consult the book listed in the right column of this page titled “50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants".


  • Sunny Knock Out RosePlant self-cleaning roses and hardy shrub Roses that require no winter protection, such as Knock Out Roses, Rose Carefree Wonder or Rose Bonica. There is a very wide range of  hardy shrub roses that are easy-care.


  • Buxus Green MoundInsert low-growing evergreen shrubs into the plan to give the garden year-round color, and architectural volume.  Even when they are untrimmed, these shrubs will remain neat. Some Buxus varieties such as Green Gem or Green Mound will grow into a natural rounded shape of 3 feet in height and width.


  • Avoid the use of groundcover. This naturalistic garden treatment makes front yard  flowerbeds look messy.
  • Spread natural color cedar mulch over the beds to a thickness of three inches to inhibit the growth of weeds and to reduce the need for frequent irrigation.
  •  Keep a USDA approved organic weed killer handy to eliminate unwanted vegetation.
  • Avoid the use of cute, colorful, or humorous garden objects. These tend to make front yards looked unkempt. Instead, choose a bench, birdbath, boulders, or a fountain to add a focal point.
  • Do not plant haphazardly. Pay attention to the placement of tall and short plants. Especially in front yard gardens, tall ones are best in the back or center of a garden. Low plants look best as trim around the outer boundaries. This garden location does not lend itself to spontaneously varying the height of plants. Use contrasting foliage for highlight and dramatic interest.
  • Consider entranceways, walkways, and driveways as integral elements in the overall design. They should not compete with or be overpowered by, the garden. For safety, pathways need to remain clear of plants and the line of vision from the driveway should remain unobstructed.
  •  Respect the architecture of the home. Choose plants that will enhance the appearance of the home rather than become a distraction.

Front Garden Entryways

This image accompanied the text of the magazine article titled "Design an Engaging Entryway" that I received on line from "" A very well crafted article about front yard garden entryways arrived in an on-line newsletter on October 19, 2009. Titled “Design an Engaging Entryway”, it was sent by Fine Gardening Magazine.  As a topic of interest, the front entry garden is a polyvalent subject and writing about it requires great organizational skills. I was impressed how admirably the author tackled it and how adaptable the advice turned out to be.

This article is about making a good first impression: drawing attention to the garden entryway of the home,  using ornamental plants for winter interest, making the entry appealing by using archways, installing double rows of flower beds and placing unique objects that define the home owner.

However, the author also touches on a controversial issue in the subtitle, “A front yard should ….reflect who you are”. I have my reservations about that advice especially when it empowers gardeners to plant messy cottage gardens in full view of the neighbors.

Let’s go back to when it all began: The misguided philosophy “Do Your Own Thing” dates back to the 1970’s. A social revolution took place during that period that resulted in the discarding of many societal conventions that had been hypocritically adhered to. Some of the derision was justified, but it went too far. It encouraged the display of personal bad taste in the name of self expression.

The lowering of community standards extended to gardens as well. A messy cottage garden, especially one that was flaunted in public, became the statement of the liberated gardener. Much to the dismay of neighbors, it is today still considered a bold and defiant personal expression. However, such a front yard garden neither adds anything to the value or appearance of a property nor is it inviting. It would be better situated in a back or side yard where only the homeowner can justify its existence.

A front yard garden must respect the design of the home even in the depths of winter when nothing is in bloom. It should enhance a property, not devalue it. And above all, it should welcome guests with beauty. The personality of the homeowner may be reflected in the assiduous selection of plants, by the unusual combinations of color, shape and texture and by the creative placement of hard objects. Thanks, Fine Gardening, for inadvertently raising a controversial topic. It certainly was an inspiration for this garden writer to make a bold and defiant personal expression.