Author: Siobhan Nehin | The Garden Fairies
When I say, “I’m originally from Buffalo”, people automatically say, “snow”, followed by, “cold”. Instead of trying to explain how it’s not really that bad… I quickly change the subject to summer. “Did you know Buffalo has great summers and has the country’s largest Garden Walk?” Their ears perk up as I wax enthusiastically about my hometown in the summer.
I tell people, “If you are lucky enough to make it to Buffalo for the last weekend of July, you will see a city bursting with floral color. Garden Walk Buffalo, with close to 400 open gardens is a plant lover’s paradise.”
I have some special connections with Garden Walk Buffalo (GWB), besides being a professional Landscape Designer myself. Gail McCarthy, our neighbor when I was small, is the garden enthusiast who started the GWB along with her husband, Marvin Lunenfeld. Then Jim Charlier (one of my former co-workers in Advertising) took over the GWB reigns and has done an exceptional job promoting the Walk. This year is the Walk’s 20th year.
I have been flying up to Buffalo for the last six years specifically to tour GWB’s growing group of gardens, and I find tons of inspiration for my landscape design work.
I found GWB so much fun, I started inviting some of my Florida friends. A few friends I brought this year have been multiple times. For them it’s not just about the flowers.
While doing the Walk, wearing our matching “Garden Fairy” tee shirts, we are asked repeatedly, “Where are you from?” I explain we are members of an artistic gardening club in Florida. They are a bit shocked that the we return over and over, sort of like the Swallows of Capistrano (or maybe some mixed up snow-birds). Visitors are wowed by the area’s strong architectural heritage and the brilliantly-branded “Buffalo Garden Style.”
The best way to do the tour is on bikes. So we borrow bikes from friends; lunching, munching and chatting. Friends have us for lunch and other friends throw a party for us at night. “City of Good Neighbors”, indeed.
After this summer’s tour weekend, I had a chance to explore more of the city. My first impression of Buffalo on this trip was how lush the area looked. Even the (much maligned) Scajaquada Expressway had a captivating quality, with trees and bushes exploding into layers of green nestled in crevices along the rocky corridor. On this year’s visit I sensed a real shift in attitudes. I fantasized— had Frederick Law Olmsted and Frank Lloyd Wright’s grand visions for Buffalo been re-born? An inspired underlying master plan can be felt as you tour areas that were once dismissed. Wonderful, walkable and rideable public spaces are popping up all over.
My main reason for the trip was to do Garden Walk Buffalo, but my “Buffalo Bucket List” now includes seeing new or reinvigorated spaces and places. There are a smorgasbord of stops on the waterfront, complete with names and industrially-styled signage. Being a designer, I could appreciate the project’s potential, providing the public new access to Lake Erie’s arrestingly beautiful views.
As my cousin and I rode bikes along the waterfront heading south, we came across my old windsurfing spot from 20 years past, “Cargill”. I was exhilarated to see how this forgotten industrial site-turned-windsurf-launch along Route 5 was revitalized and had a new name. “Gallagher Beach”, a designated beach for windsurfers and jet skis, features a “cool” shade structure and bathroom. I thought back to all the wind-suffering I did there learning to windsurf, alongside the carcass of the Cargill Grain Elevator. But this time I saw the old girl in a new light, surrounded by thoughtfully designed facilities. I was proud to see she was still standing, watching over my former watery playground. Watching a windsurfer enjoy a perfect day, I found myself “jones-ing” to go out for a ride.
The trail does so much more than cater to water enthusiasts– it’s also a place to learn about Buffalo’s industrial heritage. I felt giddy, riding along seeing views that were previously inaccessible. I kept yelling to my cousin, “This is so inspired!”.
Further on, we visited another new venue that has risen from the ashes. Larkin Square, as the name implies, gives reverence to the past. But there is nothing old fashioned about this forward-thinking public space and surrounding, walkable areas. Exploding with color and shape, the plants and shade structures make you feel like you are in a more southern locale. Whimsical outdoor furniture, seemed to be saying, “What’s your hurry? Sit a spell”.
While lunching at “The Filling Station”, the patio was a great place to people-watch. The food and idyllic weather, all combined for a delightful afternoon. We ventured into First Niagara Building, complete with a day care facility and a place to rent bikes. I kept repeating “WOW!”.
Note to self… spend more time in Buffalo, in the summer, sometime soon.