Summer is garden touring season in Buffalo – the sweet spot in our calendar when hundreds of Buffalonians 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.
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. On top of that, nearly 100 gardens are part of Gardens Buffalo Niagara’s annual Open Gardens event, which takes place on Thursdays and Fridays, for select hours, in July.
Of all the flower spotting options available in our region, Open Gardens may be my 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 my wife and I 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 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 Buffalo. 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. Other visitors admit it would be impossible 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.