East Side Garden Walk: Building Community with Plants, Flowers & Stories

By Michelle Kearns

Published on

Map Your Walk 

Walk through the gardens of East Buffalo, meet the people who planted them and learn about the culture and history of the city’s Black community. Print a map. And plan a route to the blooms and plantings at the private homes, community gardens and urban farms throughout the 70 listed stops on this year’s expanded, East Side Garden Walk from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, July 23 and 24. 

“It’s where the music comes from. It’s where the art comes from,” said Jillian Hanesworth, Buffalo’s first poet laureate who grew up in East Buffalo. “There’s a lot of power there and there’s a lot of culture there. I always describe it as beautiful and colorful and loud.”

As part of this weekend’s programming, she will perform two of her poems at the new Children’s Garden Festival and school bookbag giveaway on Saturday, July 23, at the Box Avenue Park between Fillmore Avenue and Kehr Street.

East Side Garden Walk volunteers will be out to guide from garden to garden

This year’s walk will go on for two days instead of one. It features more than triple the number of gardens than the first 2018 walk. The Futures Garden on Carlton Street is among the new listings this year. Henry Taylor, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo, will be there on Sunday, July 24 to talk about how he worked with students to create it 20 years ago. 

The park-garden spans a city block and, said Taylor, is the largest in Buffalo designed by children. He began collaborating with students at the Marva J. Daniel Futures Preparatory School across the street, at 295 Carlton, when he was working on a university project in the Fruit Belt neighborhood. 

At the time, the young people wanted to transform the weedy, empty lots where the Futures Garden is now. Taylor helped them develop and execute their garden ideas like the berm growing with grasses and flowers: They asked for that because they thought the beauty of the plants should be elevated and up high.

Photo courtesy of East Side Garden Walk on Facebook

“It’s a garden that symbolizes their spirit and inventiveness and there’s no other place that I know of in this city that you can point to at this level and say, ‘The children made this happen,’” said Taylor.

The garden walk and its collection of stops, produced by Gardens Buffalo Niagara, was designed to share stories like these. “We use our love of gardening and community to create connections between gardeners, neighbors, and visitors,” organizers wrote in this year’s announcement. “This event is transforming our neighborhood by providing the spotlight for gardeners to ‘show out,’ by encouraging change, and inviting new ideas …” 

Discover the garden stories

Samantha White, chair of this summer’s East Side Garden Walk, has been pleased to see how the gardening in the neighborhood has been bringing people together. 

White lives on Box Avenue, where she got lots of help as she worked to clear out and plant five vacant lots during the pandemic. It is now full of the pinks, purples, yellows and whites of hostas, Shasta daisies, yarrow and roses. 

She was amazed when a neighbor came from two blocks away with his grandson and planted a bed there with flowering bushes, coneflowers and bee balm. Family and friends and people who saw photos of the project on Facebook donated too. Soon the collards, okra, tomatoes, kale and peppers will be ready to harvest from the raised beds there. 

“We’ve named that garden, ‘The Good Neighbors Garden,’” said White. “It’s a beautiful thing.” 

Photo courtesy of East Side Garden Walk on Facebook

She hopes the weekend garden walk will also encourage visitors to spend money in East Buffalo. “This little walk is an opportunity for people to help create a financial impact,” White said. “Come to the East Side and support a Black-owned business while you’re there looking at our gardens.”

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The 2022 East Side Garden Walk promises to be the most well attended since its 2018 debut, said White. Because of the pandemic, the 2020 walk was virtual – photos are still posted online. Then, torrential rains during last year’s in-person tour kept some away. White was pleased to see that the current weather forecast was more promising.  Chance of showers: 11 percent. “That’s an 89 percent chance of no rain,” White said with a laugh. 

One of the many elaborate gardens you’ll see on the East Side Garden Walk

This year, Buffalo’s poet laureate has been looking forward to walking through the gardens with her mother and nephews. The dazzling house and yard at 821 Humboldt has been one of Hanesworth’s favorites since she noticed it on her commute to work. The green and white Victorian house is festooned with flags, patriotic bunting and hanging flower baskets. Impatiens and petunias in pink, red, purple and white bloom around the porch. The yard’s photo placards of civil rights figures – from the late Congressman John Lewis to journalist Frederick Douglass and activists Rosa Parks and Angela Davis – align with her own philosophy as a poet.

“I think that’s powerful … Remembering to use what we have, our land, to pay tribute to those who came before us, those who did the work and fought for our communities, is crucial,” said Hanesworth. “I’m a storyteller and a lot of what I do is about making sure that we keep legacies alive, and that garden does that in a different way than how I do it. And I really appreciate it.”

Getting the most out of this year’s East Side Garden Walk

• Check the listings at EastSideGardenWalk.com.

• Plan a route with the website’s map, updated with new gardens throughout the week.

• Stop by one of two headquarters for more information. People’s Park on Main Street and Jewett Parkway or the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park entrance by Fillmore and North Parade avenues, where t-shirts will be sold. 

• Donate a backpack with school supplies to one of the headquarters. See the recommended supply list posted at EastSideGardenWalk.com.

• Stop by the Children’s Garden Festival, sponsored by M& T Bank and the Erie County Children’s Foundation, Saturday, July 23, from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Box Avenue between Fillmore and Kehr Street. Come for free bike repair by Colored Girls Bike Too and GObike Buffalo, bounce houses, aerial dancers, games and a bookbag giveaway following a 5 p.m. poetry reading by Buffalo’s Poet Laureate Jillian Hanesworth.

Michelle Kearns headshot

Michelle Kearns

As a former Buffalo News Reporter, teacher & member of a university communications team, I love sharing stories about Buffalo & the unexpected people, places & happenings here. It is a thrill to make new discoveries, and take in the city - & the Cheerios air! - as VBN's new communications manager.