The architecture of gardening



I must thank Susan for turning my attention from the frivolous matter I’d planned on addressing today (why I love geraniums, my secret addiction to Miracle-Gro, that kind of thing) to some fine sustainable gardening initiatives taking place on my own home turf. Actually, I’d planned on updating you all on the progress of Urban Roots, Buffalo’s co-op garden center, but hadn’t gotten around to it. This community garden center—one of only two garden centers within the city limits—is a co-op retail business, run by a board and governed (somewhat) by its members, of which I am one. It took a while to get started, but now it has a building and a lot, located on a busy West Side intersection. In the video below, you can see my friend Monique, one of the directors, talking about their plans. I was particularly interested in her mention of the meaning of coleus for local Puerto Rican gardeners and want to research this further. (I love coleus too, who wouldn’t?) The video was produced for Buffalo Rising Online, a local website. (If you hit pause, and play again after hitting play, it seems to start up faster.) I must also add that Urban Roots is the first nursery locally to offer heirloom tomato seedlings (over 20 types) and this has added greatly to their current success. They’re doing very well.

A rendering of the proposed garden center is shown at the top of this post; now it’s a small storefront, with a large yard filled with plants. They have been nice enough to take some of my suggestions for heirloom annuals, and I am looking forward to more shopping there. I’ve bought some things, but I have too many exotic and expensive habits to limit myself to one nursery.


Even more ambitious, particularly in terms of the renovation and bureaucratic hurdles that will be involved, is the Queen City Farm project, in which a few acres of East Side land, as well as an abandoned and deteriorated house, will be reclaimed for an inner city farm. This project is very much in its infancy, but the people behind it are experienced and determined. There is a 12-minute film about the project by local documentary maker John Paget, which I admire, but include with some reluctance as it makes Buffalo look like the burned-out remains of a four-decade-long civil war. However, some parts of the city—and parts of many other Northeastern cities—do look that way. The film mainly focuses on the urban issues involved; they only get to the farm part at the end. (Really, I must warn you—a LOT of this is NOT about gardening. Though the part about limited food choices in low-income neighborhoods is all too sadly relevant to the issues we address here.)

So there you have it. My only involvement with all this is as an Urban Roots consumer and member, and I look forward to following the progress of the Queen City Farm. BTW, the towers you see on the lefthand side of the start-up screen of the QCF video are indeed famous—they belong to H.H. Richardson’s Buffalo State Hospital. They have absolutely nothing to do with gardening, but they’re pretty damn cool.

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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 regular 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 thank E for the credit but before folks get the impression I nag my partners to write about my pet topics – I don’t, really! Someone had written to the DC Urban Gardener Yahoo group asking if anyone knew of these great things happening in Buffalo, so I immediately wrote to ask E about them.
    But I still want to hear about those secret addictions (always).

  2. When you have to post on SOMETHING twice a week, it’s always good to be able to save that celebration of impatiens for another time. Heightens the anticipation.

    Urban Roots and Queen City Farm are great projects; I am happy to bring them to the forum.

    Also–to readers: the compost tea/Battle of the Jeffs is coming very shortly.

  3. Thank you for posting about urban renewal with a botanical slant. It was great to watch the video featuring some of my old stomping grounds: I grew up on the westside, back when it was predominantly Italian, and as a kid rode my bike through the state hospital grounds. I have a great appreciation for the old architecture, and am really glad that efforts are being made to preserve more of those houses and buildings.

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