Serenity now


Who knew that this forward-thinking garden center was only 15 minutes or so from my house? Make no mistake, Western New York is relatively wealthy in excellent independent garden centers and seasonally open greenhouses. I never need to  visit the local big boxes. But Serene Gardens had not really been on my radar until I heard that the combo restaurant/garden center was opening another restaurant within the city of Buffalo.

Their main operation is in the town of Grand Island, about 10 miles north of Buffalo. It is a Japanese-themed garden center/landscaping company and restaurant. The owner, Josh Smith, has a PhD in sociology from Osaka University and also studied Japanese gardening during his twelve years in the country, apprenticing at Furukawa Teijuen in Kansai and maintaining the Taimadera Temple in Nara. Smith still apprentices in Japan periodically. His wife Satomi is the chef of the operation, having grown up in a family-run restaurant in Fukui. She’s also a certified Ikebana instructor. Josh’s brother, Matt, is the garden manager and landscape designer and was recently the cover boy for Green Profit (Young Retailer of the Year).

Serene Gardens may be physically near me, but my gardening aesthetic is light years away from Japanese principles; I’m messy, I don’t prune anything unless absolutely forced to, and although I get the concept of serenity, I don’t actively seek it. But still—wow! These people are impressive; they’ve created an interesting niche business that must be very attractive to a lot of people around here. The concept of the Japanese garden is one that appeals across the board, including those who may not care that much about gardening per se.  And they’ve definitely brought the concept of the garden center café to a new level. I just hope their branching out to Buffalo does not move the business so much into food that the garden part drops away. Though given their backgrounds, I don’t see that happening.

Just one thing—Serene Gardens, your website, though better than anyone else’s around here (which says nothing), could still be improved. It’s slow and there needs to be a much better photo gallery of your local landscaping jobs.  I’d like to see some garden photos that are as enticing as the cocktails.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Our local independent garden center has a beautiful old Victorian house in the center of it that struggled to find it’s purpose for years. Mostly it went through various incarnations of a garden/ houseware-themed gift shop. A few years ago, they turned it into a cafe, with seating indoors, outdoors on the porch, and in the attached atrium that houses houseplants and leads to the retail building. It has been wildly popular. I think it’s a great idea-although it’s not like I needed another reason to linger there, anyway!

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