A cottage garden on steroids


One of two ponds

As much as I love urban gardens—their verticality, their elegant hardscaping and surrounding architecture—I wonder what it would be like to have acres to play with. Or at least one acre. If I judged by the comments of the suburban gardeners who visit me during Garden Walk, I would assume all suburban gardens are filled with a few bushes and a whole lot of chewed off stubs, the ravaged remains left by hordes of ravenous deer and rabbits. Discouraging. Doesn’t make you want to run out and start gardening in the burbs.

Indian corn and flowers

Fortunately, I know this dreary picture is far from true, largely through the bloggings of many of you. And just last weekend, I visited one of the most gloriously abundant suburban gardens I have ever seen. It was part of the Ken-Ton (Kenmore-Tonawanda) Garden Walk, just outside the Buffalo city limits.


Behind an unprepossessing little Cape Cod (above) lies a winding, meandering series of beds, ponds, trellises, arbors, sheds, even a little train. I was particularly impressed with how food gardens were blended with flower gardens, and nothing was behind wire fencing. I also loved the use of many, many old-fashioned annuals such as cleome, castor bean, lavatera, nicotiana, and amaranth.


The owners, the Blyths, have a small mail order seed company, Song ‘n’ Bird Gardens; there’s no website, but I think the stapled catalogs are distributed locally. They grow a variety of annuals from seed and sell them in fours and sixes for pick-up.


Who would have known that such a place was a few miles away? This definitely solves my seed-starting problems. I’ll be ordering plants from them, including castor bean. Mine (from seed) is now about 12 inches high, and none of my indoor-started seeds made it.

This garden would not be my garden. It’s a bit too rustic, and some of the annuals are not my favorites. But I am tempted by the idea of having something this extensive to wander through. No designers or landscapers here: just a plant-loving couple who are all too willing to share it with others.

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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 yahoo.com


  1. I love it! And “This garden would not be my garden” just reflects how individual our gardens are, not a judgment. What would be the point in judging, anyhow?

    The other point Eliz makes is about WANDERING THROUGH a garden. Almost no matter what’s on either side of your route, the wandering and observing is an amazing way to connect with nature – every day.

  2. I might go more nuts if I had to live in a cramped city sized garden. Suburban sized from the fifties to maybe the seventies is just barely big enough. New suburban sized yards might as well be urban sized city lots. I just need more land to accommodate my addiction. I need to wander.

    Not that there is anything wrong with tiny urban gardens.

  3. I have the opposite issue, Chris- I have a 1/4 acre city lot, and I feel like if I had more I’d become a planting fiend and create all kinds of maintenance for myself. Granted, I’m looking forward to when I can purchase land for the business and get all the crap out of the yard!

    Designers and landscapers are plant lovers too, by the way. We just don’t often get to work on gardens like the one pictured- they’re too much a personal expression of someone’s love for plants for us to get called in.

  4. Wow… I want to wander down that boardwalk and disappear!

    I do have a full acre to play with…I go “light” on the annuals ’cause that would be a lot of work!

    Most of my yard is covered with native wildflowers, a small vegetable garden, and small beds of “cottage garden flowers” like Hollyhocks (but only the old single varieties; don’t like those new-fangled “doubled flowers”:)

    Right now I’m installing a red brick “block” (fake brick) pathway through the wildflower woodland. It should be a striking feature surrounded by Violets, MayApples, and Trillium!

  5. While Buffalo was enjoying their Garden Walk last week , out here on the west coast we were breathing in the beauty of the annual S.F. Bromeliad Society Garden Tour.
    All of the gardens were in the ‘burbs and were planted and tended by plant lovers.
    Some of these plant lovers are even actually designers and landscapers too !

    So far I have posted the photographs from two of these gardens – http://deviantdeziner.blogspot.com/
    I would love to live and garden in all of the gardens that we visited on this open tour day ,though ponds seem to be a bit more maintenance than I think I would want to tackle .
    At the end of the tour I felt extraordinarily fortunate that I have the opportunity to trade cutting, seeds, and bromeliad pups with my fellow garden club members on a monthly basis and to view their open gardens once a year along with a great pot luck dinner .

  6. Ummmmm — a tad patronizing, I think. Not to offend anyone but “run out and start gardening in the burbs…”, or “an unprepossessing little Cape Cod”? Many of us DO garden in the ‘burbs, many of our houses are unprepossessing little houses (our money goes to plants, books, college educations for our kids, etc.) and I just don’t see what that has to do with how lovely or not the gardens are.

    It is indeed a lovely garden, beautifully planned and realized, and I would be proud if it were mine.

  7. Well, the point being is that the garden is way huger than you would expect from the house. WAY. You would never expect it and no other house in this neighborhood has anything close.

    As for cost: a smaller house in the burbs in a good school district could very well cost more than mine in the city. Considerably more.

    No condescension meant.

  8. Didn’t mean to be prickly, Elizabeth, and I do know what you mean about houses in good school districts etc. Just had a ticklish day here. And, as I said, it is a gorgeous garden and I wish I were close enough to buy those annual starts in the spring!

    I do start my own now though, from cuttings and seeds, with some although not complete success.

  9. Well, the truth is Rosella, when you mentioned expensive houses I had to smile. House prices here in WNY are shockingly low.

    But to be honest I do prefer city living and my type of (bigger but no doubt similarly priced) house and I am sure that came through in my post. We like what we like.

  10. Lovely garden – I’d like to wander through, too. In fact, I’d like to wander through my own garden, but right now, it’s been pushed to the perimeter. I’m working on bringing it in some. I think I could use one of those walkways, too. . . . . . . I really appreciate seeing photos like the ones you posted – they’re great for ideas.

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