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GWA/Buffalo Take-Aways


Time for a debrief after attending the Garden Writers annual shindig held in Buffalo this year – to the delight of anyone who’s been there in the last decade or so and the apprehension of anyone who hasn’t. Yeah, Buffalo had lots of doubters, but boy did that city shut them up!

As a Buffalo booster myself, I’m was not surprised but so pleased to hear the raves for the city’s beauty, architecture, liveliness, private gardens and wild enthusiasm for gardening. For pure garden-viewing, everyone’s favorite seemed to be Buffalo’s famous Cottage District. Attendees are now flooding the Internet with images like these from one of my earlier visits.

But I heard at least as many raves for the Darwin Martin House Complex by Frank Lloyd Wright, possibly the best Prairie House of his in the U.S. One Facebook commenter called it “jaw-dropping” and that it was. So thanks to the organizers for including it our otherwise garden-focused visits around town. Its Tree of Life windows alone quality it for any garden tour. (We couldn’t take photos inside but this video includes the interior.)



Another attraction for us and something new since my last visit to Buffalo in 2010 is the lively Canalside development, where I played hooky one morning to stroll the boardwalk and be awed by the confluence of so many bodies of water in one spot. (Lake Erie, the Buffalo and Niagara Rivers and the canal itself.)

Awards Night!

The highlight of the symposium for me was the awards banquet, for which we all dressed up – somewhat, given that gardeners are a decidedly wardrobe-challenged cohort.

I got to see my Seattle pal Linda Chalker-Scott receive GWA’s first award for science-writing, here with Carol Michel, who had pushed for the award. Go, science! Nominating Linda was a natural for me. Another first-ever award was for sustainability, which went to lawn-care activist Paul Tukey. Both are great additions to the awards roster because they promote important values for us as a profession.

And that’s me in hot pink with out-going GWA president Kirk Brown and the head of a buffalo. I was included in the photo line-up because my campaign to curate gardening on Youtube won an award and boy, did that make the evening fun for me! I’d never felt so included or so enthusiastic about GWA. (Go, awards!)

How to Survive a Conference

After years of gardening conferences I think I’ve finally figured out how to get the most out of one while being me – an introvert with short bursts of sociability.

  • I never, ever share a room.
  • The just-right duration for me is four days/three nights.
  • It’s okay to go rogue and wander off alone to see the city.
  • It’s also okay to sit alone on a bus, which frees you up to talk to everyone around you or, as the day wears on, no one.
  • If you think you need the evening alone and change your mind, it’s possible to ask total strangers if you can join them for dinner. I did that and had a fine time connecting with writers I’d never met.
  • And carefully studying the agenda paid off for me. I heard the smartest people on topics of most interest to me and learned a lot. (Shout-out to Debra Prinzing and Nan Sterman, proven geniuses at creating communities online.)


The reviews are in and confirm my own impression that GWA/Buffalo was fabulous! Credit goes to too many people to name but at the top of the list are these folks.

Sally Cunningham, Buffalo’s gardening maven and simply wonderful person, headed up the local organizing team. Kirk Brown’s stewardship of GWA this past year has been outstanding. And the pink ladies now managing GWA are great at their jobs. Indeed, GWA’s new management team has more than lived up to my hopes for them when I wrote “Why I Rejoined Garden Writers” back in January of 2016.

GWA’s on a roll, folks, and with leadership like this for the coming year, I have no doubt the roll will continue. We got a hint of it when incoming president Becky Heath spoke, sang, and energized the crowd at the end of the awards banquet.

And next year, Chicago! I’ll be there.

Posted by on August 18, 2017 at 7:48 am.   This post has 11 responses.
Gardening on the Planet

Testing Pollinator Plants at Penn State

Connie Schmotzer is Principal Investigator for pollinator research.

Just in time for National Pollinator Week, my Garden Writers region planned a fabulous outing for members – to see the Penn State Trial Gardens near York, PA, especially their trials for pollinator plants. The goal is “to evaluate native species and their cultivars for attractiveness to pollinators and suitability for homeowner and agricultural use,” which is so great, exactly the information pollinator-friendly gardeners need.

The large Pollinator Trials Garden (above) was installed in 2011 by Master Gardeners, who planted 4,500 plugs of 86 species and cultivars – all natives to this region. We were told that’s because “a UC Davis study showed them to be four times more attractive to pollinators than nonnatives.”

Plants were chosen to provide a long season of flowering, with asters and goldenrods fueling the Monarch butterfly’s flight south. Early bloomers Packera aurea (Golden groundsell) and Zizia aurea (Golden Alexander) also play an important role, though they don’t show up as best-performers in the count of total visits.

Original funding for the trial was from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and the Xerces Society requested research on plants that would attract beneficial insects (especially the ones that kill stinkbugs), as well as good nector plants Monarchs.

All the plants were watered twice after planting, and then never again.


The findings are all here but first a caveat: the results were affected by the huge smorgasbord offered here, so results in average gardens may vary.

The best performers for the quantity and diversity of insects they attract are Mountain Mint and Stiff Goldenrod.

Best for butterflies is Joe Pye Weed, and planting a mix of Joe Pye varieties will provide blooms all season.

“There are no losers in this trial,” we were told, yet ‘Purple Dome’ might qualify as one because compared to the species aster, it proved to have no staying power in the garden.

While butterfly weed and swamp milkweed are generally excellent pollinator plants, they didn’t establish well on this site, so weren’t able to attract as many pollinators as other plants in the trial.

‘Zagreb’ coreopsis can’t compete with the species on the right.

Coverage Rates, too!

According to another hand-out, “Some plants in the trial were easy to care for, as they covered the plot and required minimal weeding. Other plants seeded into neighboring plots. These plants would be ideal for larger sites where additional plants are welcomed.” So they’re tracking coverage rates and level of spreading, findings that could help the legions of gardeners who’ve read Planting in a Post-Wild World and want to implement its wisdom.

Solidago nemoralis (gray goldenrod) came out on top in the category “highest level of spreading.

More Trials

The traditional bread and butter of Penn State’s Trial Gardens are ornamental plants for clients like Proven Winners.

No one’s idea of a garden. This is research.

I was most interested in the perennial trials, where the best bloomers include ‘Rozanne’ geranium and ‘Violet’ achillea.

Open to the Public

Penn State’s Trial Gardens are open every day from dawn to dusk, from June 1 to August 31. Their top visitor days are the popular Summer Garden Experience on July 22 and Flower Trials Field Day on July 27.

GWA Region II

I wore my bee shirt for the occasion.

Garden writers gather with Sinclair Adam (front row, right), director of Penn State’s Flower Trials.

Bee photo by Laura Russo. Group photo by GWA.

Posted by on June 23, 2017 at 6:50 am.   This post has 5 responses.