Pet peeves, plant magnetism, and other tales from a garden tour



 There is so much that is out of our control as gardeners.
Plants falter for reasons a team of botanists couldn’t figure out. Hailstorms
arrive in July, ruining a crop of tomatoes or a bed of hostas in a few minutes.
Plagues of slugs, Japanese beetles, and other destructive creatures arrive

With the yearly Garden Walk, although there are some
questions I’ve learned to expect, I’m always surprised by the minor plant,
object or other garden feature that—for inexplicable reasons—captures

Here’s one I always get: “How do you make your hydrangea
that color?” The more I hear about new hydrangea cultivars and their problems,
the gladder I am that I have stuck with the traditional macrophylla, arborescens,
paniculata, and other varieties. No, I patiently explain, I do not have to add
anything to the soil to make the flowers pink. That is the “Alpenglow” variety
(shown at top); it’s the same color as it was when I bought it years ago.  I already have to site, water, prune,
and (if necessary) feed these plants. I don’t think I should be in charge of
the color too.


And then there is the fascination with this foliage plant I
discovered in the White Flower Farms catalog years ago and since have been
buying from Select Seeds. Even my husband can recite its botanical name without
hesitation (strobilanthes).


As for lilies, while most of the expensive Orienpets I have
purchased over the years are taken for granted (such as “Grandiose,” above),
the wild lily henryi will always steal the show.


Every spring I try to pull a fast one on the visitors,
adding some new cultivars I am sure will amaze them. But it’s just as likely a humble
annual or a shrub I have long taken for granted will steal the show. If we're lucky, I might learn what impresses other journalists about our Garden Walk gardens; both Martha Stewart Living and a prominent gardening magazine were scouting the event this year. Late-breaking: here's what the Martha Stewart Living blog had to say about Garden Walk.

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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. On the hydrangea question I have seen them change color depending on the soil grown in from pink to blue or vice versa it is a really neat botanical wonder “trick”. The Persian Shield really does stand out with all it’s purple splendor and your lilies are gorgeous thanks for sharing it’s all beautiful.

  2. What impresses this garden journalist is finding so many people who love plants, aren’t intimidated by gardening, manage to fit everything they want on a tiny city lot, husbands who hold down the fort while the gardener hosts out of town guests…bold color combinations that may be accidental, creative solutions to common problems, in-depth discussion about the weather, and no soil showing because it is covered by plants.

    Also, spiders.


  3. A broken foot forestalled my plans to attend the Walk this year, and I’m so disappointed. We drove up from Pennsylvania last year and really enjoyed our weekend in Buffalo. The gardens were so inspirational and we wore ourselves thin exploring the many shops and eateries downtown. I have done nothing but rave about the city and the walk for the past year, and if I could talk my husband into moving there I would do it in a heartbeat.

    Garden Walk 2010, here I come!

  4. I’m so happy that Garden Walk was yet again an unqualified success! I’m looking forward to next year’s Fling when I can see so many of its beauties for myself!

  5. Isn’t that always the way that what YOU think is special will be overlooked while the majority of the public praises the common and mundane items? A Broadway chpreographer once told me he gets the biggest applause for the easiest/simplest (in his words “stupidest”) dance moves — he said the actual really hard stuff usually went by the audience without reaction, but slow the chorus line way down to do one-high-kick and then one-high-kick all together and it brings the house down.
    My garden tour experience is that if it is bloom it gets gushed over. If it is not, no one notices it.

  6. Elizabeth = rock star host! Thank you for the tour of your beautiful home, neighborhood and community. I was impressed with how many Buffalo city dwellers have turned into inspired gardeners as a result of the annual garden walk. They are growing amazing things in small spaces!

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