Livin’ the dream on my Buffalo junket


When a New York City-based P.R. firm sent me an invite to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Buffalo to explore that city’s “passionate garden culture,” I must admit I had some hesitation.  These trips are fun, but the fact that they’re underwritten makes them an ethical problem. It can be difficult to convince readers that you’re being completely objective when they know you’ve been wined and dined by a visitor’s bureau or other interested parties.

However, the topic advanced by the publicist—Buffalo’s unique tradition of hellstrip cultivation—was just too intriguing to pass up. I am always interested in problems particular to urban gardening, and whatever you call it—tree garden, hellstrip, easeway—that patch of land between sidewalk and street can be a nightmare to deal with.

I was able to view a number of interesting hellstrip treatments within a block’s walk of my B&B, a lovely brick Victorian located on a block of similar structures.  The best of them possess an exuberant, take-no-prisoners attitude toward easeway cultivation, basically operating under the assumption that this patch, even if owned by the city, is just another part of the perennial garden, and a perfect location for anything that will grow there. While hostas were among the most common easeway plants, I also saw cotinus (smoke bush) and other shrubs, columbines, delphiniums, daylilies, lychnis (rose campion), and many other spring and summer perennials, most of which will take some shade. The streets are mostly lined with trees, which make shade tolerance a prerequisite.

It was delightful to see all the imaginative ways in which these gardeners try to express their particular aesthetic in a portion of the garden that is always going to be somewhat compromised—bombarded with road salt in winter, subject to dry shade in summer, and trampled in all seasons.

As for the rest of my junket, I can’t say much for the service at this B&B. It is a nice place, but I’ve pretty much had to fend for myself. For example—although alcohol flows freely at all hours, I’ve never actually been served any breakfast.  And, finally, the B&B hellstrip (which I am not showing, so as not to embarrass the PR firm) needs a lot of work!

(Yes, I do live in Buffalo, on the same street as some of these gardens. Still trying to figure out how I can somehow benefit from the PR group’s kind invitation.)

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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. Beautiful street side examples. I hate cities, but when folks can come together and accomplish something like this, it makes it living not just survivable.

    BTW, one question. In two of those community plant photo shots above there is an Oak tree there in the center of everything. Do you know what variety this is ? In the woods near my house here in Sweden, there is a very large one of these link of Oaks and several younger ones which have reseeded. It’s not native here but has naturalized itself quite well.

    Thanks – Kevin

  2. Perhaps the B&B you are staying at may have better service at happy hour and could be a B&HH or the second B stands for something else. Have a beverage and help them out with their shameful hell strip.

  3. Those are some great example of plantings on the berm (as we call it here in North Dakota). I’ve only been in my town for a few years and don’t yet know the rules on what I can and can’t plant on this strip of grass that the city technically owns. Since this area is also quite utilitarian (it’s used for piling leaves for city pickup or brush/trash that you can leave on city-wide clean up days), it might be a tough sell to the neighbors to have something other than grass – which is what everyone else has in this space.

  4. As the co-owner of the B&B in question, I can only apologize for the service at our establishment. We like our guests to be self-reliant, so we have them cook their own meals, make their own beds, clean up their rooms, and so on. Elizabeth was warned about this before she arrived, but I must not have been clear enough in my explanation of our philosophy. Our motto is “We’re like your second home: we leave the housework to you!” Yes, that is unusual in the B&B business, but that’s how we roll. Elizabeth is entitled to a free stay at our establishment anytime in the future as compensation for any inconvenience we may have caused her. P.S. We love Next time we have guests, we will have them work in our garden for us!

  5. In our Chicago-area parkway, we use wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), wild petunia (Ruellia humilis), nepeta ‘walker’s low’, smooth penstemon (Penstemon digitalis), golden alexander (Zizia aurea), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), and brown-eyed susan (Rudbeckia triloba). We also have spring bulbs – species tulips and grape hyacinth. This makes for tough and colorful curbside garden.

    As to any future ethical dilemmas, my years of work with various state legislatures has made me completely indifferent to such niceties. Feel free to pass them on to me, but only if they involve better accomodations than exist in my own home.

  6. I’ve stayed at the B&B in question and have always thoroughly enjoyed myself. Beautiful house, lovely garden, but it’s really about the amusing company. Not only are the innkeepers always ready to stay up late drinking and talking–civilized people, in other words–their friends are also delightful.

    I’ll be back!

  7. Is there no street parking on any of these streets? There can’t be or there would be no way for passengers to exit their cars, or get the baby seat out of the back without standing in the road or in your plantings. . I would assume parking is at a premium in these old neighborhoods. Doesn’t all the snow/salt from the plows damage the per. plants? Do you curse the city employees when they remove your plants to fix a water line or sewer line?

    Very pretty, would really enjoy walking those streets, but not very user friendly or practical.

    Hey, where is the preview button, like on the old format? Bad speller that I am, I miss it.

  8. Yes, there is street parking, yes there is road salt, yes there is occasional water, gas, and sewer line work. Yet, we still plant and the plantings survive. The ones I photographed have been in place for some years, with yearly alterations. These are actually pretty tough perennials you’re looking at here, for the most part–especially the hostas. Anyway, we’d rather have these impractical plantings than the alternative (ratty-looking grass).

  9. Gorgeous, gorgeous. I have Master Gardener previewing a novel I wrote about a landscaping artist who lives and works in upstate New York. I would have liked to have had these photos before the finals edits! I can only hope I did justice to some of the beautiful artists in Buffalo!
    -R.T. Wolfe

  10. I don’t know, there’s something about accepting junkets in exchange for publicity that feels–hmm, what’s the word, icky to me. Obviously, garden blogs should not be held to journalistic standards. But what I love so dearly about the Rant is the outsider’s perspective. You’ve taken on the garden establishment (in all its various forms) with honesty, perspective, and humor.

    So all expense-paid junkets (in exchange for 3 photos) just doesn’t jive with my mental image of what the Rant is about. I don’t know, maybe the Rant IS the establishment now. Perhaps it’s just the natural evolution of things.

    Of course, it WOULD be nice to have a free weekend trip, and it is just a garden blog. So yes, I may need to lighten up. I just have this romanticized notion of the Rant as a group of good-natured guerilla warriors, standing up for what is best in gardens. Junkets somehow kill the romance for me.

  11. I agree Thomas. I feel dirty. And like I said, the amenities on this junket really kind of suck! No food, making my own bed. The host is kind of overly familiar, too.

  12. Thomas, I love your romanticized notion of us – good-natured guerilla warriors! – and I’ve gotta say, I think that’s our reason for still posting after all these years.

  13. I think I inadvertently may have landed you this “junket.” When Buffalo’s media relations firm was visiting recently (from NYC), I made the case for Buffalo’s creative use of hellstrips and thought that would be a unique angle for pitching stories.

    Not much can be found in gardening magazines on how to approach hellstrips. What I’ve learned I’ve seen on garden tours and blogs. Has “Garden Design” ever covered hellstrips? For urban gardeners (and there’s a lot of us) it’s a complicated garden plot — size-, soil-, elements-, legal- and utility-wise.

    And Thomas, get in on the junket joke. Elizabeth never had to leave her house. Mostly ’cause that’s where the drinks are served most evenings.

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