Buffalo Surprises and Amazes with Seeds of Hope
by Dan Cooper
September 14, 2014

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I'm a stranger to Buffalo, New York, so I rely on newspaper headlines that spill into Canada, or the reports of friends travelling to the shopping malls in the1980s. So when I join the Garden Walk Buffalo in 2014, I find myself asking, “What gives, Buffalo? They told me your neighborhoods were rundown and seedy.” In fact, Buffalo, has gone to seed – but in a good way.

For two days each summer, Garden Walk Buffalo showcases the transformative power of dedicated gardeners, proud homeowners and a large dash of civic pride and community spirit.

Once a vibrant industrial city of 600,000, Buffalo was hit by the exodus of manufacturing jobs, not unlike other cities in America. As unemployment rose, some of the houses fell into disrepair and people had little interest in their front yards.

But about 20 years ago, a miraculous seed was planted.

The metamorphosis started when a couple decided to replace their front lawn with a flower garden. Soon their neighbours were vying to “keep up with the Joneses.” And in 1995, a total of 29 gardens entered the first Garden Walk Buffalo. The revitalization of Buffalo had begun.

Today, over 380 gardens of all shapes, sizes and colours participate, making the event one of the largest of its kind in the United States, and possibly in North America. Well over 60,000 visitors admire the gardens, mingle with proud homeowners, and leave with photo souvenirs and ideas for their own gardens.

Gardens on the tour range from tiny front pockets with a few well-placed daisies and coneflowers, to larger mansion gardens with koi ponds and waterfalls. Even narrow, shady, side alleyways are brightened up with variegated hostas, gold bleeding hearts, stunning silver-leaved caladiums and eccentric art installations that beckon the shy visitor to venture into the private backyard gardens.

Visitors also get to ogle some of the most diverse and well-preserved nineteenth-century houses anywhere in America, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex, one of the finest examples of his Prairie Style. Sprinkle in some tiny Civil-War era cottages, plus houses in Craftsman, Queen Anne and Italiante styles and you have eye candy, an eclectic smorgasbord of tasty architectural delights.

One particular standout is the house of Garden Walk organizer Jim Charlier. His Dutch Colonial Revival style house features elegant curved eaves, gambrel roofs, and gables. Jim’s garden is dotted with his own copper art pieces and a handsome patio made from waste granite and marble pieces. He has even installed “living-wall” gardens under some of his ornate windows.

On my walk around the gardens, I discovered something about Buffalo that I hadn't expected. Many of the homes were made of wood and decked out in intricate gingerbread and fancy window trim with porches, arches, and doorways all painted in vibrant shades of purple, red, orange, yellow, and green. But this is the snow belt, not Miami! What's with this colour thing?

I didn’t know which to look at first, the garden or the house. On Little Summer Street, I ran into someone from California and she was looking up more than down. “Isn't this amazing!” she gushed, “My friend Sally likes the plants. I’m here for the architecture.” But somehow the two blend together to make an incredible tableau of colours and shapes.

As I continue my walk through the Cottages District, I chat with some homeowners.

Before painting their trim – cocktails in hand – they often consult with their neighbours about the suitability of one brilliant shade of purple over another. One gardener told me that she asked her neighbour if her chosen colours would clash with his house, “Should my trim be contrasting or complementary,” she queried.

In addition to colours, neighbours share garden tips and plants. One homeowner told me, “It’s not a competition; we’re all in this together to improve our neighbourhood and Buffalo.”

I was surprised to discover that there is no admission fee for the walk and all the work is done by unpaid volunteers. Money is raised through donors and the sale of a Garden Walk Buffalo book for $10. Another surprise is that almost all of the gardens were created by regular homeowners, not professional landscape designers! These are real gardeners putting their talent and dedication on display for all to enjoy.

Garden Walk Buffalo takes place over a weekend in July, but there are so many neighbourhoods on the walk that even with the free shuttle buses you’ll need two days to see just a fraction of the gardens. Be sure to pick up a free map of the Garden Walk at one of several headquarters to guide you around! Chat up the homeowners and take lots of photos. Then go home a plant a few seeds of your own.

Where to stay:

Comfort Suites Downtown
601 Main St.,
Buffalo NY 14203

Where to eat:

It may be a cliché, but, if you have time, don’t miss the Anchor Bar, home of Buffalo’s famous chicken wings.

1047 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14209
(716) 884-4083

For fine dining downtown, try Bacchus Wine Bar and Restaurant.

56 W Chippewa St, Buffalo, NY 14202
(716) 854-WINE

Conveniently located on the Garden Walk is Panos On Elmwood
1081 Elmwood Ave.
Buffalo, NY 14222
(716) 886-9081

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