Lake effect


Weather—we gardeners live and die by it. It may be a universal favorite as a water cooler topic, but when the chat is over, most can pretty much forget about it and move on. Not if you’re a gardener. Even now, when the work of the season is over, I still worry about weather. Should I protect the hydrangeas with  mesh covers or bank them with bags of leaves? Will the pots in the garage make it? How will I fill the gaps left by the perennials that succumb to freeze or salt? It’s winter, but the work of the garden continues, to some extent.

But sometimes there’s  weather that nobody can ignore. Last week, much of the Buffalo area was engulfed in a band of lake effect snow that just sat there, hammering what we call the Southtowns for days. The hardest hit communities got over 90 inches. Some of you might have heard about this. The event—we’re still arguing about a name, but I’m OK with Snowvember—is in the top four storms Buffalo has had over the past 50 years or so. It was very localized though—most of the city proper and the northern suburbs were relatively untouched. I think we had to have our walk shoveled twice; we got maybe a foot, if that.

There is no question that Buffalo is known for snow. The winter temps aren’t nearly as cold as the upper Midwest, and the past couple winters prior to 2013 were relatively mild. But last week’s storm sealed the deal; we’ll never get rid of our “snow capital of the universe” rep now. Even when we had the Garden Bloggers’ Fling here in 2010, a few of the attendees from southern states were outraged that it got into the 90s here in July. They’d all brought jackets.

Does it get discouraging to be a Buffalo gardener? Not at all. We have a generous gardening window—from the snowdrops of March right through to the last roses of November. Most annuals have great longevity—my lobularia was lush and fragrant until it finally got into the 20s last week.  It’s actually good to have a few months off from the active tending of a garden.  We don’t need to shovel in most of it, so it gets an even blanket, without huge piles crushing shrubs. I don’t bother much with creating winter interest; in the depths of winter, I tend to my own interests, the ones I might neglect when I’m spending after-work hours in the garden.

But it should now be obvious why I do so much with bulbs. After four months of white and gray, the garden needs more spontaneous color than spring perennials can provide. This spring, it will get it, in the form of 16 big pots of tulips (about 300 bulbs) in addition to the targeted tall hybrids and 100s of species varieties I’ve planted over the years. Then there are the erythroniums, muscari, scilla, snowdrops, and daffodils. Before that, in February and March, the house will be filled with forced hyacinths, tazettas, and tulips. Take that, Snowvember—or whatever your name turns out to be.

Snow Meme 1-1P.S. The storm had its lighter side. For your enjoyment, here are some  memes and a song.

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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. I hope they stick with Snowvember, that has a nice ring to it. Hopefully this isn’t a crazy record winter for you all up there. Good luck and hang in there.

  2. I grew up south of Buffalo (Orchard Park) and remember very well the Blizzard of ’77! My parents are still up there, my mom snowed in for several days (she just got dug out yesterday!) and my father in a nursing home with nobody able to get in to visit him (and I feel bad for the staff who were stuck there, with nobody able to get in to relieve them). Our family get-togethers in the summer are very pleasant but I sure don’t miss the winters!

  3. My mother grew up in Syracuse, which also got lake-effect winters. Somewhere after 1928, and before WWII (in Europe, that is), there was a similar storm, with snow above the windows and doors. This is where her claustrophobia was born.

    I rather like Snowvember, too. California will happily take a Janurain.

  4. So sad to see the collapses at the Botanical Garden, and so many family-owned greenhouses. Hopefully winter will leave you guys the hell alone for the rest of the season! By the way, the memes were hilarious – I haven’t stopped laughing yet!

  5. I love having winter, though I wouldn’t want a Snowvember event in my area. We got maybe 2 inches of snow, if that, and none of it stuck to the roads. Thank goodness.

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