Buffalo Spirit



I know, Elizabeth has already published a photo of this Buffalo garden in an immigrant neighborhood, but it’s worth revisiting because it breaks every rule of good gardening taste–and transcends them into sublimity. In other words, I completely love it.

In one sense, this garden is not very representative of Buffalo as I’ve seen it. Buffalo has the most extraordinary collection of domestic architecture imaginable, thanks to enormous riches during some very good eras–Italianate, Second Empire, Shingle, all the way up to Frank Lloyd Wright. This, on the other hand, is a pretty ordinary house. Also, most of the Buffalo gardens I’ve seen are very sophisticated, with lots of stonework underfoot and carefully edited plantings, not wild and crazy like this.

However, I do think this garden is representative in its general air of happiness and pride of place. Buffalo’s reputation to the outside world is that of another poverty-ridden rust-belt relic not worth troubling about. But that reputation fails to take into account the city’s absurd beauty, and the fact that Buffalo is full of people who, instead of considering it obsolete, recognize that it’s a great place to live, restore their wild houses to a high degree of authenticity, and throw open their pocket gardens to the world every year during Garden Walk.

In this era of $4.50 a gallon gasoline, peak oil, climate change, and a new consciousness about not being so damned wasteful as a people any more, the “modern” mode of living trumpeted so relentlessly by our culture–a brand-new McMansion with granite countertops in a suburb created out of nowhere–is revealing itself hour by hour to be an outdated folly.

As for forgotten old Buffalo, well, it certainly looks like the future to me.


  1. Lovely post Michele. I have shared it with some of our local pundits. In Buffalo, it seems it’s all about the naysayers and the boosters, as I was telling you. Not to mention the suburb vs city debate that is always simmering under the surface here.
    On thing about Garden Walk–I had more out-of-town people than I have ever had before.

  2. Bob, it breaks no gardening rules–just design rules. Such as “Don’t make the entire garden out of screaming annuals.”

    Like I said, I love it–particularly the riot on the balcony. It’s a Swiss chalet look, if only Switzerland had more exuberance.

  3. I think as interesting as the garden shown is the neighbors complete lack of plantings. Could it be a defiant stance against the red houses garishness, or the complete opposite – an intentional, stark contrast – thus a reverence for the red house…am I thinking too hard?

  4. Or could it be that the homeowner of the red house is not much of a driver and didn’t feel the need to concrete over the yard for a couple of cars?

  5. Paul, I think the neighbors are just poor. This neighborhood struck me as pretty stark, but could be on the verge of renewal. It was clean and it appeared its residents had pride in what little they had.

    One thing I noticed about the downtown area of Buffalo. There isn’t really a “bad side of town”, just little pockets of poverty. Blocks of beautiful homes, next block or two – not so much. Then, back to the beauty. Not a criticism, just an observation. Other cities I’ve visited are more defined/divided as far as socio-economic boundaries.

    I had linked (late) to garden pics on the Best. Garden Walk. Ever. post Elizabeth did earlier this week but I’m afraid it kind of got buried. I’ll take this opportunity to link again so more people can see what they missed. It is so worth the trip if you have the opportunity.


  6. Well, all I have to say is good for them! They have created a vibrant oasis of color in a cityscape. They are clearly passionate, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

    To hell with the rules.

    Robin Wedewer
    Gardening Examiner

  7. I would just add that this homeowner is the sweetest woman ever and is always eager to share seeds and cuttings. Though her english is minimal. She’s a gardener.

  8. WOW….won’t you be my neighbor. Wonder what the rear of the house looks like. I live in a sterile cul de sac with every yard looking like a dental office. I would love a neighbor like this who lives color and thinking outside the boring. I say bring it on!!!!

  9. Elizabeth, your note on this woman made me smile… and reminded me of the Russian lady who lived next to me and my former husband. She didn’t speak English very well, but was a very exhuberant gardener and we were very friendly across the fence, sharing everything from flowers to tomatoes when one or the other of us had an abundance. Good thing words like “iris” and “lavender” travel well across the languages between gardeners. 🙂

  10. I love this garden. It reminds of my favorite garden as a kid in Brownsville Tx. That yard had no grass. It was covered with zinnas and hollyhocks. Those are still my favorite flowers 40+ years later.

  11. I’d rip up the paver’s between the houses and plant Italian Cypress or some other skinny evergreen. The concrete is overwhelming.

  12. I love the funky planters on the side walk. The explosion of color is a riot and reminds me very much of the Moorsish Frank Church home in Hudson called Olana. It looks like a turkish bazzar!

    The only thing missing are water pipes filed with tobacco and dancers doing belly dances in the street.

    The TROLL

  13. This is looks like a classic southern garden I grew up around (minus the bottle-trees and whitewashed tire planters). Today neighborhood associations frown on (or sue) this style in the land of Dixie when houses are in these upper-end subdivisions. However, any trip much out of those bastions of good taste and repression will lead to a house and garden like the one in the picture.

  14. Buffalo has the most extraordinary collection of domestic architecture imaginable, thanks to enormous riches during some very good eras–Italianate, Second Empire, Shingle, all the way up to Frank Lloyd Wright.

  15. I love those planters, too, and the stark contrast with the neighbors. I’d love to live next door to these people and be able to enjoy their over the top garden every day.

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