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.)