Observations of the toured


touringAs many Rant readers must know by this time, in Buffalo we have a yearly free garden tour called Garden Walk. Started in 1995 by two urban gardeners who wanted to show how verdant city living could be, the walk has grown to include close to 400 gardens, and attracts visitors from all over the country—as well as nearby suburban dwellers who can only plant what deer won’t eat. (Or at least it seems that way.)

Here’s what I most enjoy about taking part in the Walk: talking to visitors and finding out what impresses them, what doesn’t, where they’re from, how deep their gardening knowledge is, and what kind of gardening they do.

doublesWhat impressed them
To a man and to a woman, the new double Oriental lilies were the plants of the weekend. Fluffy and fragrant, these beauties were all done by the time of last year’s Walk, but this year—after a vicious winter and nonexistent spring—everything is late. Almost every visitor made a beeline for them and many asked where they could be purchased.

Other comments were the same ones I get every year—who did the sculpture and the mural, how old is the house, how old is the tree, can the fish be kept in the pond all winter, and, always, “what’s that?” (The answers are almost always Lilium henryi, and Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Golden Glow.’) This year, because of the slow season, my hosta ventricosa (thanks for IDing these for me, Nancy Stedman) are still in bloom. Which brings me to my next touring topic:

ventriConstructive criticism
Many commented admiringly on the venticosa’s tall, deep purple blooms, and asked where they might buy it. (I doubt the plant is available in garden centers, but some really persistent online searching might find it.)  Members of the local hosta society also visited. They told me I had a diseased hosta, which I need to dig up immediately and discard—without planting another hosta in its place. This was good information. The society members then informed me that I had too many ventricosas planted and needed to switch it up a bit, adding different varieties.  This is also good information, if you’re a serious gardener, and prefer to hear real critiques rather than flattery all the time. However, other visitors overheard them and were—well, appalled. They congratulated me on my forbearance in not telling them to get lost.

This kind of thing reminds me of what we hear from Rant commenters quite often, when one of us has negative things to say about a certain plant, planting style, or any garden element. “Live and let live!” they cry. But you know, sometimes, criticism is called for. Not that I plan to rip out a clump of ventricosas right away. I’ll think it over, though.

Comic relief
And here’s my favorite story of the walk. It actually happened Thursday, during one of our Open Garden nights. There was a bus tour in my friend Bruce Adams’s garden, and one of the visitors backed up to get a shot of some plants. Well, she backed up too far in Bruce’s tiny space and went right into the pond—purse, phone, everything. It’s only about 3 feet deep. I don’t know what the fish thought, but apparently she was fine. That must have been something.

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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 yahoo.com


  1. If the hosta society was giving advice to help prevent disease or problems then it is helpful. If their comments were made only for aesthetic reasons then I’d tell them to go jump in a creek (or Bruce Adams’ pond).

  2. I love how the tall girl Ranter says ONLY three feet deep … for your short friends like me, that’s over half my body! Constructive criticism 😛

    • Cindy,

      Good point!

      I don’t know her height, but I understand she laughed the whole thing off. Other people from the tour bus snapped into action, getting towels, drying important papers off, and one person even had rice for her phone!

      So there was no injury and no real harm done–

  3. Who the heck carries rice with them?! LOL Well how can you not laugh at your self omgosh I would have been peeing in the pool from laughing so hard at myself!!!
    So honestly how did you take the criticism? And did you really have a diseased Hosta? Do you think you have too many in 1 area? I guess if a bunch are crammed together & no air could circulate I GUESS I could see a potential problem, to be honest I don’t know how I would have responded.. And I agree those double Orientals Lilies are Stunning!! I need to forward this post to my aunt who has several varieties growing but nothing quite like that ! Very pretty garden, I’m so happy to have found your inspiring blog ( even though I can only plant in containers, having moved)
    Everything here in NH is late too, we had no spring whatsoever! Keep up the great work.

    • Ha! I read that and thought, “Wow, what a good idea!” I would carry it for the same reason as I carry a corkscrew – gotta be available for every emergency…

  4. My garden has been on a couple of tours (edible landscaping). Funny no one gave me any constructive criticism. Though I suspect it may be that while I waited I spent the time pruning. Apparently elbow length rose gloves and several sharp pruners and loppers might make someone think twice about being a critic.

    I want some of those double lilies!

  5. I love the pictures of people taking pictures–very meta!

    It must be torture to be a hosta expert. I see them (hosta, not the experts) all over looking terrible in office parks and in blazing sun. The tour is probably one of their few times where they can try to spread the word on hosta care.

  6. Yes. It’s really helpful to have one’s garden on a tour and notice what folks are noticing. Of course, brazen blooms like your “Double Beauty” lilies don’t give us real insight….so very predictable…..but when someone asks me to ID foliage [like Kirengeshoma palmata or Epimedium ‘Domino’] I am intrigued. And I’m a self-confident enough gardener to actually enjoy someone who challenges my skills or exposes a problem I hadn’t identified. Recently, it was pointed out that while I thought I had created a charming terminus to a path with a bench backed by a rhododendron, the sunshine illuminating the compost pile beyond had created an unanticipated finale. Time to revisit that design!

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