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The National Garden Festival transforms Buffalo one block at a time

By Samantha Murphy:

The National Garden Festival has officially kicked off one of their newest and most exciting events, called the “Front Yard Garden Competition.” Running from early this morning until Friday, July 15, nine different landscapers will volunteer their time, efforts, and materials in redoing almost an entire block of gardens and yards.

Each landscape company has been assigned its own yard to completely demolish and rebuild. 14 different houses on Newman Place in South Buffalo will receive a brand new garden and yard, completely free. This year’s block faces the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Cazenovia Park.

Neil Stern, Director of the Western New York State Nursery and Landscape Association, represents all of the landscapers participating in this event.

“It’s terrific for our association because it shows what we’re capable of,” Stern said. “Not only does this cost them money in paying for their labor, flowers, shrubs, but they also lose a couple of days in their rather short season. But it’s good for Buffalo and they like to contribute.”

The Front Yard Garden Competition is only one event featured in a much larger festival, The National Garden Festival. This year it runs from June 24 to July 31. The festival features 14 garden walks, including the largest in the country: Garden Walk Buffalo. There are also appearances made by nationally recognized garden speakers, open gardens, a series of bus tours, and a series of seminars on gardening.

Sally Cunningham, the Executive Director of the National Garden Festival, is in charge of this whole event.

“It started because Garden Walk Buffalo was a huge success,” Cunningham said. “We decided to cap it all off with this great front yard contest. It shows what landscaping can do. It also encourages gardening to spread throughout the neighborhood.”

Cunningham really gives credit to the nine landscapers.

“These landscapers are really the heroes,” she said. “They give up several of their busiest days in the hottest week of the year and give so much of their expensive time and labor to this project.”


This is the second annual Front Yard Garden Competition. Last year the competition took place on North Parade Avenue on Buffalo’s East Side, which faces Martin Luther King Park.  The event was a success and more than 1,000 people turned out to vote for their favorite garden. This is actually the only event of its kind in the entire country!

Thomas Herrera-Mishler, President and CEO of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, has been working with the National Garden Festival from the start.

“It’s a gift to the community and a gift to the Olmsted parks,” Herrera-Mishler said.  “The park benefits by adding this beautiful landscape across the street. It’s certainly a big boost for this neighborhood too. It really does change people’s lives and it makes our parks and our communities stronger.”


Virginia Kessler-Bunt is one of the homeowners having her front yard remodeled.

“I met with my landscaper last week and we’re really on the same page,” Kessler-Bunt said. “I think my yard will win! From what we discussed it sounds like it will be striking. I’m just as excited as everyone else because the final turnout will be a surprise to me too.”

Roger Restorff, owner of Restorff’s Landscape Service, is one of the landscapers that makes this event possible.

“I think it’s good publicity and it’s great for the community,” Restorff said. “We have big plans for this yard. I’d like to continue doing it in the future. It’s fun.”

Once the gardens are complete, the public is encouraged to go and vote for their favorite. Ballots can be casted in front of each house or online from July 16 to July 22. To kick off the voting the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will put on a free concert the evening of July 16, at the Cazenovia Casino found in Cazenovia Park.

The winner of the Front Yard Garden Competition will be recognized and awarded at a closing ceremony. There will be several other prizes as well, such as the People’s Choice Prize. To reward the landscapers for all of their hard work, the event will close with a great big picnic.

To cast your vote for your favorite garden or to view the full calendar of events you can visit the National Garden Festival website at

Photo One: Landscapers work on tearing up a walkway.

Photo Two: Organizers of the Front Yard Garden Competition kick off the event.

Photos: Jim Bush

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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