Readers are likely used to my talking about Garden Walk Buffalo at this time of year. The big walk is this weekend (7/29-30); it is the grand finale to a month of Open Gardens and smaller regional tours – almost all free and almost all uncurated. You don’t have to do anything to be on Garden Walk except have a garden within its boundaries and there are no prizes.
It’s always been different from the traditional gardens tours that take place across the U.S., for one simple reason.
When it was founded, Garden Walk was not really about plants. It was about dispelling stereotypes. As with many cities that had sprawled miles into former rural enclaves, Buffalo’s urban center was being deserted. Eventually it got so suburbanites only came into the city to see a traveling Broadway show or a hockey game once in a while. (The Bills play in a suburban stadium.)
But those who had stayed or chosen to move into the city knew they had a good thing going. They had neighborhoods full of intact 19th century architecture, with beautiful Olmsted parks as well as all the things cities have: restaurants, small shops, walkable neighborhoods, sidewalks, things like that. Many had gardens too. The founders of Garden Walk saw a free urban garden walk as a way to show others that city life was not all that bad. In 1995, they cajoled about a dozen neighbors to join them and publicized their event.
And the rest – as you know – is history.
With the growing popularity – and notoriety – of Garden Walk Buffalo, many suburban garden walks followed. Gardeners were influenced by what they saw in both city and suburban spaces. They shared seeds and cuttings. They saw signage indicating pollinator gardens and certified wildlife habitats. They saw rain barrels and bee houses. They also saw plants they’d never seen before and local greenhouses began to up their game as customers started asking for more varieties and better offerings later into the season. It seems like there are more avid gardeners in Western New York than ever before.
Urban areas that weren’t known for their gardens joined in and the people who toured those gardens learned about parts of the city they’d never explored before. Not all of it was pretty, but there were gardens and people taking control of the narrative, just as those initial gardeners on the other side of the city had done years before.
Gardening has always been about taking control of the narrative, to some extent. Gardeners often want the spaces that surround them to tell a certain story. By creating that story, they can calm and control their own narratives.
Garden Walk didn’t start out being about plants and is not so much about gardens as it is the experiences of gardens.
And the interesting ideas that come from them. And that’s the main reason I keep posting about Garden Walk