In Defense of Saratoga Gardens


A guest rant and photos by Janet Loughrey, whose book made me realize how distinctive my city is…if still a little short on backyard gardeners.

Spic and spac
In her July 16 rant, Michele Owens finds little inspiration from the landscapes in her town of Saratoga Springs, New York. In comparing local gardens to those in Buffalo, she writes, "…we do have an aesthetic here, that aesthetic is all about the easy riot of color provided by the same four annuals and not about gardening as personal expression."

As the author of Saratoga in Bloom: 150 Years of Glorious Gardens, I have a petunia to pick with Michele. I mean, where else can you find a fire escape garden, old megaphones used as planters, and a fountain named "Spit and Spat? "

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The "Spa City," founded for its mineral springs, is home to one of America's oldest public outdoor spaces. Congress Park was initially developed in 1823 and redesigned in 1876 by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. An Italian garden built in 1902 featured imported statuary, including a duo of tritons named Spit and Spat. Mineral springs within the park were embellished with pavilions and plantings. The Spirit of Life monument was designed in 1914 by Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon, creators of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Floral fetes held during the 1890's were so well-attended that they fell victim to their own success. These early efforts became the foundation for the horticultural inspiration found in the Spa City today.

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Saratoga's famous thoroughbred racetrack, which draws throngs of tourists in summer, is planted with thousands of annuals and plots of wildflowers. Features include planters made from megaphones once used as part of the public address system, and antique coach stepping stones decorated with Victorian urns. 06 Race Track 03

In 1979, the city started a Flower Power program, creating public gardens that inspired residents to replicate the plantings in their own yards. Saratoga, with its grand mansions and quaint homes, is a walking town, with charming residential gardens along the side streets. Metal lawn jockeys, Victorian statuary and colorful annuals define Saratoga's own unique style of gardening. One of many floral displays by local merchants includes a collection of hanging baskets along a fire escape. The city won a national America in Bloom award in 2007 for its efforts.

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Any city that embraces flowers as enthusiastically as Saratoga Springs deserves a pat on the back, rather than an admonishment. After all, isn't some kind of gardening better than none? Most communities are devoid of any organized landscaping efforts, save for a few nondescript street trees. If Michele is dissatisfied, perhaps she can spearhead a local movement towards the greater plant diversity she desires.

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CONTEST FOR SARATOGA IN BLOOM: Jim and Meg Dalton's Saratoga-area garden is a collector's dream, filled with unusual plants. Pictured is a specimen from their garden. Guess the name correctly and win an autographed copy of Saratoga in Bloom. In the case of multiple winners, a drawing will be held

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Janet Loughrey is a garden photographer and writer based in Portland, Oregon. A native of the Saratoga region, her book Saratoga in Bloom was published in June 2010. You can learn more about her work at



  1. I have to applaud the city of Saratoga Springs for their efforts. Even if they don’t stray too far from the standard impatiens and begonias, what’s important is that they do something and it works.
    The city’s garden tour is another story. While I’m sure that there are many fantastic private gardens in the city they sure haven’t been on the garden tour (although I’ll admit I was not able to make it this year). Too many ‘me too’ gardeners with landscapes installed a few months prior to the tour. The organizers should vet these a little better and tell those who want to get on it to wait at least a few years to let their garden grow in.

    Perhaps Deinanthe bifida with the white flowers.

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