Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The book is done, the book is done!

Tomorrow, a bunch of us will be stopping by designer Jim Charlier's house to take our first look at the completed Garden Walk book and DVD. This is coming at just the right time. In retrospect, I think it's much better that the project debuts now, as we head into the dreary days of late fall, rather than in early summer, as we had originally planned when we first conceived of the book.

We could all use some cheering up! Many have lost trees and many others have huge clean-up jobs still ahead of them.

Here's the book announcement (sorry—it's way too long):

Garden Walk Buffalo - The Book & DVD
This large-format, high-quality, soft-cover volume offers 120 pages of words and pictures that capture the best of Garden Walk Buffalo. Selected gardeners discuss their gardens and why they feel it is so important to share them with visitors every year. Professional photography captures highlights of all 260-plus gardens on the Walk, while sidebars on the architecture and history of these exceptional neighborhoods explain their unique ambiance. New and fascinating aspects of Garden Walk are illuminated, including the behind-the-scenes story of how the gardeners prepare their properties for the weekend onslaught of thousands of visitors.

The book includes interviews with 27 gardeners, as well as photos of more than 80 additional gardens, adding up to over 225 photographs. It also includes a section on the gardens of Frederick Law Olmsted's Delaware Park; a spread on community gardens; a selective list of plants grown in Western New York (Zone 5); a history of Garden Walk Buffalo, its impact on local urban gardens and how it helps rejuvenate city streets; and even a brief how-to on starting your own garden walk.

But there’s only so much a book can do to depict an experience as interactive as Garden Walk. With the addition of the DVD, still pictures start to move and the viewer moves with them. Follow the cameras of our videographers as they walk through gardens and talk to more than 20 master gardeners who have created these exceptional spaces, each accessed by selecting a dot on an interactive Garden Walk map. The interviews include expert advice on all aspects of gardening—from individual plants to overall garden design.

The book was photographed by Don Zinteck, of Photographics 2; written by Elizabeth Licata, editor of Buffalo Spree magazine; and designed by Jim Charlier, of JCharlier Communication design. The DVD was produced by Cheryl Jackson and Brian Milbrand. The book and DVD are published by Buffalo Heritage Unlimited, Inc., which also published Classic Buffalo (under the Canisius College Press imprint) and which will soon release Oakland Place: Gracious Living in Buffalo.

Garden Walk Buffalo is of the largest garden tours in the U.S. More than 260 private Buffalo gardens open on the last weekend of July each year, welcoming the public to some of the city’s most beautiful and creative urban gardens. Garden Walk Buffalo has also been a major force in neighborhood revitalization, encouraging residents to combat urban blight through grassroots beautification. It is important to note that this book documents and preserves for posterity many of the gardens, parkway circles and old growth trees of Buffalo prior to the damage incurred during the devastating snowstorm of October, 2006.

Books and DVDs can be ordered at:

We hope to have a viral video to pass around soon; the stress of production made a rest period necessary for our DVD authors.

Friday, October 27, 2006

More tree badness

Well, I wasn't going to harp on about Western New York trees any longer, but the situation has become alarming. I'm hearing rumors that out-of-town contractors are making instantaneous decisions from their bucket lifts about which trees should stay or go. I'm hearing that the contractors actually get paid more to remove a tree than to trim it. I'm hearing that they are leaving the tree remains lying there when they're done.

It's all very disturbing and impelled me to send out a semi-hysterical email on a local listerv. Re-reading it, I was embarrassed, but then there was a reply from one of the connected types who reads this listserv that many others had been complaining and a moratorium on tree removal has been imposed today.

Thank god! Sure, I've complained about my Norway maples, but this is going way too far. I guess some tree maintenance companies love taking down trees as much as some housing inspectors love writing demolition orders.

I'm going outside to hug the maples right after I post this.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Winterkill, I mean over-wintering

I am sure this is the earliest we’ve had to drag in the potted roses and the garden furniture—normally, I wait until the first snow of the year to get the roses in. Oh right—we had the first snow of the year!

And it looks as though there will be more quite soon. Of course, my regrettably unharmed maples have yet to shed a leaf.

It’s been chilly in GWI country, so I’ve taken my colocasia down to the basement, where I will:

A.) Cut them down and leave them in the pot to go dormant in the root cellar.
B.) Take the tubers out of the pot and leave them in a box of peat moss or something like that.
C.) Take everything out of the pot and throw it all out.

Why is C. so attractive? Could it be that I’ve never had one bit of luck saving items such as these and even less starting them inside when spring comes? Could it be that I know in my heart that the beautiful set of 5 young plants (so nicely packed) I got from Brent and Becky’s for $30 last spring will be available to me once again? Could it be that I’m a wasteful slacker who hates the environment?

I am looking forward to finally potting up the hyacinths (yes, the ones I have had for at least 2 weeks) and some other goodies I am forcing—maybe tonight.

Oh yeah—someone gave me some colchicums that say “for indoor forcing only.” What could be meant by that, I wonder? I thought these were fall-blooming bulbs that one plants in the ground for the next year. Never had much luck with them.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More adventures of the TV gardener

This week, the timing seemed perfect for me to use our AM Buffalo segment to talk about garden damage and winterizing—figuring that the storm could be considered a rude reminder from mom nature that it’s time to pack up the garden.

My friend and master gardener Gordon (shown above) was my cohort. He brought some dahlia and canna tubers as well as potted tropicals to aid in his discussion of over-wintering. But the questions we got were at a far more basic level.

“What do I do with my rose bush?” (broken canes and never blooms anyway)

“How do I get my hedge to stand upright again?”

“Should I cut back my hydrangea now?”

Everybody wanted to cut stuff back, but I earnestly did my best to convince them to wait until spring. People seem to think they should use the excuse of the storm damage to do a major pruning. Not a good idea. And why does everyone cut back their hydrangeas? Then they wonder why they don’t get any blooms. The calls kept coming, way more than we could take. I did try to stress the importance of hiring professionals to take down the broken branches. Though I know that every daredevil who owns a ladder and a chain saw is out there dicing with death as I write this.

Of course, the thing no one talks about is that the city has not pruned many of the trees it owns (on easeways, etc.) for years. We’ve been begging them to do our block since we moved here seven years ago. The homeowners can’t do it because of the liability.

We'll see what it looks like in spring. I think I'll be able to get my bulbs in this weekend!

Monday, October 16, 2006


I am sure that many of the bloggers out there have heard about our freak storm by now. But I doubt many of the news reports are dwelling on its most lasting—and calamitous—effects. It’s one thing to be without power for a few days, which, honestly, is not a big deal, given the mild temps and the fact that gas stoves, candles, flashlights, generators, grills, and such make everyday life a bit of an adventure, but doable.

This is a garden blog, however, so I’m not here to talk of such matters. I will say that it’s going to take Buffalo and probably much of Erie County a very long time to recover from the damage to its tree canopy caused by this storm. In the sixties, Dutch elm disease denuded many streets in the area. This time, there’s been no discrimination. Older, more brittle trees have suffered, but so did the relatively young Asian elms along Bidwell and Lincoln Parkways, two of the city’s most beautiful streets, each distinguished by central medians and gracious setbacks, all lined with trees. Both were designed by Frederick Olmsted to provide pleasant avenues for carriages and equestrians.

This is what they looked like during the first drive I’ve been able to take.

Because of the medians, which seem to have been planted at the same time and with the same trees, the destruction is shockingly consistent.

Smaller residential streets throughout the area have also suffered, but it isn’t as noticeable. I’ve often heard photographers complain that our street is impossible to shoot during summer and early fall—they won’t have that complaint next year. Wouldn’t you know it though, the two Norway maples in front of my house—the same ones often vilified in this blog—are just fine, virtually unharmed. But I feel sorry for those who are cleaning up messes like this:

Having read some comments on my other posts, I would like to clarify a few things. I enjoy the weather here and would take a few snowstorms over hurricanes (south), tornadoes (midwest) or earthquakes (west)—any day. We usually don't see any serious snow until late December, when you want to see it, and I am sure what we have now will be melted in a couple days. I'm really only expressing my concern over the trees, which I do feel is a possible tragedy. We'll see once the debris is cleared away

Friday, October 13, 2006


Well, I feel a bit petty about my dahlia lament last night. Today,300,000 people in Western New York are without power after a premature blizzard dumped so much snow on the fully-leaved trees that branches and powerlines are lying in a tangled mess throughout the region. Actually, everyone on our street was hoping for a tree-trimming, but not quite like this.

In terms of garden damage, I’m hearing about gazebos split in half, trellises in splinters, and worse—like me, no one has really winterized anything this early.

So, there’s a lot of this (this fountain is still playing):

and this (these impatiens still look great):

Every few minutes I’m hearing loud booms as huge loads of snow come crashing down from trees and roofs. Tuesday it should be 60. Can we fast forward?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Are you kidding me?

Yesterday, I was admiring this—

—and believe me, it’s not often I have a dahlia I can admire, let alone the tallest one I’ve ever grown.

And today, I drove home in this:

I’m sure I’m not the only one exclaiming in horror over this early October blizzard. And I don’t even have my bulbs in, dammit. A fluke, surely. In the meantime, I guess it’s sayonara for all my potted annuals, which were all doing quite well, better than they ever have at this time of year.

I did manage to cut the dahlia, though I suppose its siblings are goners.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The spice of life? I think so.

Not to harp away on this, but who the hell cares if tulips only bloom for six or seven years? I just noticed a comment to that effect on some other blog (while narcissistically checking on my referrals) and wondered what the problem was. I guess some people sorely need to see the same flower bloom year after year for decades. Either that, or they really like to squeeze a nickel. Anyway, no way do tulips last that long, except the species and maybe the Darwin hybrids. Two or three years would be more like it—if that long.

My point is this. There are many things in life we can’t change, or can’t afford to change as often as we’d like. I can’t refinish the hardwood floors in the hallway this year, as much as I’d like to, and should. Nor can I change the paint jobs in all the upstairs rooms, though they could use it. For that matter, I'd really like at least four or five new cashmere tops for work. I don’t think it’s going to happen.

But for far less than the price of all those things, the one thing I can do is put a new set of tulips in the front yard this spring. (I’m sure our neighbors would rather we cleaned the gutters.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Flag rant follow-up and then I’ll shut up about it

Gee, I wish I could get that many comments on this blog! Just kidding—but I was reading through the comments and I’d like to respond to a few:

1. Yes, I totally agree that there are far more loathsome front yard displays in store for us in the months ahead than flags. Somehow, I don’t mind the Halloween stuff as much, especially if it’s really ghoulish. There’s something kind of subversive about it. In fact, we at GWI like to fly the Jolly Roger (the only flag we ever fly) and hang a skeleton from the eaves for the week of Halloween. I don't much mind the hay, pumpkins, and other harvest-related stuff. During Christmas—oh sorry, the holidays—our block puts electric candles in the windows. You barely notice them—rather boring, in fact.

I must admit I like to get in the car to tour the pull-out-the-stops, guns-ablazing insanity. The ones where you can’t say anything but “Holy shit!”

2. I would also endorse the belief that the cutesy flags with various kitsch on them are even worse.

3. Yes, the picture I included is rather attractive even with all the flags. It was taken by our Garden Walk book photographer Don Zinteck and will be included in the book. A pro like Don can make pretty much anything look good.

4. The ones on cars?? Don’t get me started.

Ok, all done. I have to go kick some puppies and kittens now.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign

-Five Man Electrical Band, 1970

OK, totally dating myself with that reference!

We are not talking about writ large here, just the most literal interpretation possible. We’re talking about signs in the yard. Yeah, those.

Some years ago, I felt strongly that casino gambling in downtown Buffalo was a really bad idea, so strongly that I placed a “no casino” sign in our front garden. We lived with it for many months, but when I took pictures of the house, all you saw was the sign.

I now have a no-sign policy. Recently, some very well-meaning community activists created signs that say “Non-violence starts with me,” and “I leave peace prints.” The signs have doves on them. You can see them all over the West Side of Buffalo—but not in my yard. This is not why I spend thousands of hours working on my garden. We won’t talk about the other expenditures.

I live in a preservation district, so businesses in my neighborhood have to apply for permits before they can put up signs advertising what they do. All property owners must apply for permits and submit plans before replacing windows, porches, or any other exterior features that may alter the historic integrity of their buildings. And of course demolitions are discouraged. This is a good thing. The neighborhood keeps its distinctive look; one can imagine what living in Buffalo during the nineteenth century was like.

Unfortunately though, nothing stops you from putting up “temporary” signs. The most hateful are the electric ones with "Happy 40th" or whatever on them. Sometimes, we just don’t need all the information.

(More on another type of political signifier here.)
Sorry--this is a retreaded earlier post, but I am adding an image later today of an Eastlake house utterly defaced with rental signs.

My obsession with bulbs

It has always been so. Before I even started my first garden, I was fascinated by the thought of buying and planting little round things in the fall that would burst forth into colorful life the next spring. Over the years, I’ve been known to spend $300 or better on tulip, lily, daffodil, and hyacinth bulbs—as well as miscellaneous other types. Usually, friends are the yearly recipients of my insane overbuying.

Do people plant as many bulbs as they used to? I tend to see them more in public plantings than in private gardens these days. (At one time, I tried to synchronize our whole street in tulips, but we used containers and had a hard winter, so most didn’t come up and that was the end of that.) Although I see no evidence in the media that planting spring-flowering bulbs is any less popular, I’m also not seeing as many bulbs each spring, at least not in Western New York. People here find it difficult to accept the fact that tulips are not really perennials, and when their first crop fails to return in force the next year, rather than plant new ones they decide not to bother. To me, the fact that tulips must be renewed is a good thing. It provides variety and negates the futile practice of letting ugly bulb foliage die back.

Some speculation on why bulbs may not be as popular as they used to be:
-no instant gratification here
-an increasing emphasis on low maintenance (bah!)
-more hardscaping and water gardens make less space for bulbs in quantity

Hmm. I’m not sure. They’ll always be one of my favorite aspects of gardening—which is why I have about 30-40 lily stalks dying back in my small courtyard right now.