Instant Make-overs Done Right in Buffalo



The blogosphere is already brimming with posts about Buffalo, and soon we’ll be seeing dozens more as 70 of us gardenbloggers unpack our bags and photos and seriously debrief about our whirlwind meet-up there over the past four days.

So where to start?  Well, this exhausted blogger/traveler will simply send readers to this growing list of blog posts about it all, and report on one brand new feature in Buffalo’s extravaganza of gardens (all enhanced by what MUST be the greatest concentration of superb historic buildings in the U.S.). It’s the competition among landscape designers who volunteered to turned 19 plain front yards into gardens.  Not just any front yards, these are surrounded by historic homes AND a park designed by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted.

Just like so many made-for-TV garden make-overs, they were done quickly, in just three days, and I confess to some moments of cynicism when I saw the instant results and heard that none of the chosen homeowners were actual gardeners.  “Probably a waste of money,” I sneered to myself, imagining them quickly succumbing to neglect.  But the brains behind Buffalo’s urban garden activism know better, so these homeowners agreed to become gardeners.  They had input into the design of their gardens.  They were a big part of the general hoopla about the make-overs.  And to help turn them into gardeners who can sustain and even enhance the transformations, they’re the lucky recipients of free training in all aspects of garden maintenance, including pruning.  Plus discounts at the local garden center.  These people think of everything!

Click here to see all the Before-and-Afters and vote for your choice.  And here’s their Design Competition Blog, with great During photos.  Below may be own favorite, though it’s hard to choose.


We’ll never tire of praising Buffaloans for their use of gardens to bring the city back to life.  Cityfolk everywhere can learn from these front-yard make-overs and the famous Garden Walk coming soon to this lovable, livable city.

Finally, a big virtual hug and THANK YOU to Elizabeth Licata and Jim Charlier for giving us such an awesome four-day event.  The standing ovation we gave them at Saturday night’s dinner was spontaneous, long and loud.


  1. Susan, It was a stellar four days~I missed that the homeowners agreed to become gardeners and that’s good news~It would be wonderful to see programs like this one all over the US. gail

  2. I was pleased that we decided to stop by there that afternoon. That is an amazing transformation. What you don’t see in the picture is that all these houses face the park you mentioned. It is quite a beautiful street now.

  3. This was just emailed to me from Sally Cunningham seconds ago:

    “As you know, it isn’t easy to get people to water correctly.
    Both Sunday and Monday mornings both Otis Glover and I were there, talking to many neighbors, checking on voting forms etc. and discussing watering. One person at a time, we’re pointing the hoses to the base of the plants, trying to get across the fairly complex topic of watering! Then other Olmsted staff came through, and will be looking over the properties.

    We will distribute how-to sheets, and we’re planning at least a couple of classes, and a walking tour this week. (Many folks would like to know what they have, as well as how to take care of them). By the time we’re finished, everybody should get it–at least more so than most gardeners or homeowners.

    Give a person a fish—Teach to fish….. In our terms: Install a garden and Make them Gardeners!

    p.s. Nevertheless, pray for rain, about 2 inches a week every week.”

    Sally’s the overall coordinator and public face of the National Garden Festival and Otis Glover is the Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s coordinator for this Front Yard Garden Competition.

  4. Am I clicking the right links? It just looks like they added some basic foundation plantings to most of these houses. I’m sure they’re very nice foundation plantings, but tossing in a couple of baby boxwoods doesn’t really require the homeowner to become master gardeners to keep up. There were one or two nice terracing jobs that could probably make snazzy perennial gardens, though.

    …I may be looking at the wrong photos. I didn’t see your above photo in there at all, so perhaps I’m clicking the wrong area.

  5. You know what? I don’t think those “after” images on the site are really the afters. I saw this and much more was done than what you see there. They need to fix that.

  6. That certainly makes sense, if the afters aren’t after! (During, maybe…hardscaping, maybe…) I didn’t see any flowering plants at all.

    It’s probably much more impressive in person!

  7. The “after photos” look to me as if they are CAD drawings of the plantings that would be installed. Could that be the case? The finished gardens are probably much more lush.

  8. Man,

    You guys are tough. I think the second photo under the hydrangeas with the beautiful home and the garden below are fabulous! Whether it is the gardens or not that makes them paint those houses as they do; I believe the houses themselves beg for those colors. They aren’t your typical little row house by any means and need to stand out and be seen. I give anyone credit that wants to learn to grow a garden…it is an art after all, and not everyone, no matter how much they learn, will acquire that art. Let’s applaud their effort! I can’t wait to see more of those beautiful gardens! Floridians could take a lesson or two

  9. About the Front Garden make overs. First the photos on the website do not show those gardens off to best advantage. The photos I took are much better – and I am no expert. Also, Any new garden looks – well – new! I put in a new blue and white garden where I pulled out an overgrown shrub and that area is nothing to write home about, but just wait til next year. I also think we have to applaud the people who are willing to learn and make their part of the world more beautiful, and the people who are willing to help them.


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