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What if Buffalo were known nationwide for its gardens?

What if we already, sort of, are? What can we do to reinforce and make it our legacy?

Step one, get community leaders to recognize what many national garden experts; the national gardening media; and local, regional and national gardeners (and international — Canada is a couple blocks away!) already seem to have caught on to — there’s something happening garden-wise in Buffalo.

Photo, left, from the Williamsville garden tour. Photo at top of post is from Garden Walk Buffalo, photo by Don Zinteck of Photographics 2.

In this case, the community leaders are the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau’s (CVB) Drew Cerza, past interim director (and National Buffalo Wing Festival founder); and Ed Healy, Vice President of Marketing. Neither of these two are what you might call avid gardeners, I don’t think either knows their ass from an astilbe, but they are avid promoters of Buffalo and recognized the success and national acclaim Garden Walk Buffalo has slowly and organically achieved over the course of its fifteen years.

The CVB is the marketing arm of the city and county, and as such, are in the business of attracting tourist and their dollars. With their current successes in attracting upper-middle-income travelers with our arts and architectural assets, it was a slam dunk to build on an already successful event that would attract that same upper-middle-income visitor.

Garden Walk Buffalo is only two days at the end of July — how to keep people here longer, and have other garden-related opportunities if visitors could not make it on that one particular weekend?

 Oh, and I got to design the logo for the event, since I’m part of the organizing group! No one asked me to, I just went ahead and did it. The CVB has an extremely capable designer/art director on staff who could have done an excellent job of it too — I should know he was an intern for me in the mid ’90s!

That’s when they called me. We sat down twice just to talk over what could be done to attract garden tourism, while at the same time taking advantage of the dozens of garden-oriented events already happening in the course of the summer. Between 14+ garden walks & tours, the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens programming; nursery & garden center seminars, talks & workshops; the Buffalo Olmsted Parks summer events; and the hopes that others would join in the effort was enough to convince us that this was worth pursuing.

We needed a name. Drew, being of the promotional sort, suggested that you can put “National” first and “Festival” last, and it almost doesn’t matter what’s in between. That’s how we have the National Buffalo Garden Festival. Did I mention he founded the National Buffalo Wing Festival?

Photo from the Blackrock & Riverside Tour of Gardens.They also have a Starry Night evening garden tour I’m going to get to this year if it kills me.

Next step – find partners. In order for that to happen, we needed a coordinator. With neither Drew nor Ed being immersed in the garden world, and me just doing this as my bit of community service in my “free” time (I do have a my own business I have to tend to!), we needed someone uniquely suited to know who to approach as partners, who to suss out for event hosting, someone who knew who the garden “players” are in Buffalo Niagara. There was only one person — Buffalo News garden columnist, radio and TV garden personality, Great Garden Companions book author and Lockwood’s Greenhouses plant specialist & Master Gardener Sally Cunningham.

And boy can she coordinate. She’s been a powerhouse of ideas, enthusiasm and networking. In the next few posts I’ll go over some of what’s happening this summer. It’s been meeting after meeting for three months now, and we have some big plans. Some of what I’ll post about in the next few weeks (most of these are in the works and some are just concepts right now) will include:

  • Creating a festival – considerations, determining dates & timing, boundaries, and promotion
  • A sit-down meeting (last week!) of 16 leaders of the different garden walks/tours around Buffalo Niagara
  • The mad dash of putting together a grant proposal — making a presentation this week!
  • The partners and committees involved at various levels to pull this off
  • The excellent buy-in of the local nurseries & garden centers to coordinate their workshops and classes — in both timing and subject matter
  • The support of major culturals – Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Buffalo Museum of Science, Forest Lawn Cemetery and dozens more
  • Garden-themed bus tours
  • Open Gardens self-guided tours concept
  • Front yard make-over contest by professional landscapers in a neighborhood that could use a boost
  • A visit from, so far, from 58 garden bloggers from 22 different states, to tour area gardens & sites for an unprecedented internet “buzz” two weeks before Garden Walk Buffalo
  • Finding events to “fill in the holes” in the six-week schedule
Photo from the Parkside Garden Tour.

After having been president of Garden Walk Buffalo for a couple years, I started to think that what Garden Walk Buffalo committee, volunteers and gardeners had accomplished was a great thing for our city. I started thinking that, once I was no longer president, I would pursue getting all the local garden walks & tours together to coordinate efforts (though I’m told I’m Garden Walk Buffalo president for life). I figured that was a five- to ten-year plan. In my wildest dreams I never assumed we’d be doing it, and so much more, in six months. I’m stressed, panicked, overwhelmingly busy and having a blast!

0 comments on “What if Buffalo were known nationwide for its gardens?

  1. I just found your Blog on my Google search key word “garden tourism”I like your idea and as I live in the Garden City of NZ we too need to do betterMaybe you will visit my blog. Alanjolliffe.blogspot.com If you have not done so have a look at Blotanical Blog engine where many garden bloggers belong to exchange views etcAlan

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  2. I am super impressed. What a great thing you are doing for Buffalo and gardeners everywhere! It would be great if there could be someone in every city who would promote their city and gardening like this. I will have to mark the date on my calendar, Toronto is not that far away!

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  3. Great efforts! From the photos that I've seen on your blog, your city has “bragging rights” and should be tourist destination.I have done a bit of freelancing for the official North Carolina tourism website and suggested that they add the Gardens & Arboretums section (and they did). Writing for my state has been one of the most rewarding jobs I've had because, like you with your Buffalo gardens, I am passionate about what we have to offer.Cameron

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  4. Congrats to you and all the Garden Walk supporters. This is a huge leap forward — not only in getting on local political radar, but the host of good things for Buffalo that this can lead to. Mark and I never travel without consulting various garden tour guides. We have been known to rent cars and extend our stay to take in more gardens. I say that only to emphasize that you are all on the right track with this idea. And love your Wright, kid! She did not fall far from the tree … As an FYI, the museum on campus here has a Tree of LIfe window from the Darwin Martin house.

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  5. I'll be at Buffa10 and love thinking about being a part of the BUZZ for the Garden Walk. You have also given me a lot of ideas about expanding some of our local garden tour events.

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  6. Wow, that's fantastic. Congratulations. You all are pulling off some great things and I can't wait to see and blog about Buffalo in July!

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  7. Alan,I'm aware of Blotanical and am listed there myself. I probably don't visit as often as I should. I did stop off to visit you blog. Well done. I will be back, now that it's on my radar.Deborah,Thanks. It's what I do for my community service. Everyone should do something. Advertising/promotion is what I do for a living and gardening is what I do as a past time so helping with garden tourism seems like a natural as a way I can give back to my community.Cameron,The Garden Walk Group has spent years building up our gardens and it seemed obvious, from the reactions we get, to take it to the next step. Usually a city will tout its botanical gardens as a tourist destination, but gardeners are interested in plenty more garden-oriented things – tours, historical sites, exhibitions, parks, hiking, and more. You're smart to help your tourism bureau to find ways to highlight garden-oriented sites.Ms. Wiz,Thanks. We've gotten on the radar of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. You mention the political radar. We've successfully avoided that! The city is aware of our event, but we've not encouraged their participation other than necessary permits and asked they not have a heavy trash pick-up day on the weekend of Garden Walk. And we want that Tree of Life window back.Commonweeder,We look forward to your visit – and the (hopefully) positive PR any blog posts will bring.Jean,Thanks. It's a bit overwhelming – especially when everyone we approach for inclusion says, “YES!!”

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  8. I too am really impressed.You are doing a great job.Love your photos as well ;)Aanee xxxxFlowers online Ireland

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