The real benefits of a free, uncurated garden tour

Garden Walk Buffalo" and “© D. Zinteck, Photographics 2
Garden Walk Buffalo” and “© D. Zinteck, Photographics 2

As Garden Walk Buffalo approaches, I have already been participating in the Open Garden program, helping promote the other sixteen area walks and the special tours,  and planning for the out-of-town visitors we will have on the big weekend of the Buffalo walk. GWB has turned into a month-long garden extravaganza.

But I know that many garden tours follow a very different model than ours. The gardens may be juried or otherwise chosen, admission may be charged, numbers may be limited. Here’s why I think the way we do it works surprisingly well.

  1. There’s never been a charge, yet the voluntary donations not only pay expenses (maps, posters), but generate a surplus that helps fund community garden beautification projects. People want to donate because they appreciate the efforts of the volunteers (and they’ll get a map mailed to them). Sponsors have come on board from appreciation of the positive impact (and publicity for them).
  2. Participating gardeners are required to live within the area of the walk. That’s all. Many participate out of support for their neighbors or because they want to help bring suburbanites into the city to appreciate urban living. So it’s more about community pride than competition.
  3. This lack of competition and the fact that very few of the gardeners work with professional designers gives non-gardener visitors the idea that “if they can do it, I can do it.”
  4. Participating gardeners get the positive reinforcement they need. Their neighbors see that and are encouraged to add their gardens to the mix.
  5. Certain neighborhoods have noticed upticks in property values.
  6. Participation in the walk generates a community-wide awareness of gardening, garden design, and plant trends.
  7. Area nurseries have taken note—big time. Most now offer full selections of plants throughout the summer and discounts to participating gardeners.
  8. Garden tourism is a phrase that’s being taken very seriously throughout Western New York; hotels are filled to capacity for the weekend and most of the summer. Restaurants and other businesses also benefit.

The funny thing is that, really, none of this  contributes much to my reasons for being a Garden Walk gardener. I was hooked as soon as I knew there was an opportunity to share my garden with others. It’s just … fun.

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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. yes! that’s the BIG reason—open gardens and garden walk are fun!
    and we all love hanging out on each others’ porches watching and listening to the tourists.
    and some of them give BRILLIANT advice, after seeing some problem plant or some other needy situation.
    thank you again and again, elizabeth, for saying it. and doing it.

  2. Elizabeth, what a great list of reasons to have a garden walk. A juried one ( The Joy Garden Tour) begins tomorrow in Cashier, NC to benefit our local Village Green and it sells out long in advance. Buses, heavy in volunteers and raises lots of $, so no complaints. However, the simplicity you describe of the simple sharing by homeowners with a garden walk model and the impact it has from voluntary contributions is eyeopening. Have proposed this model to our chamber of commerce along with a garden district idea…will share your post also. Thank you!

  3. This is a great piece. Not all gardens worth opening to visitors are designed by professionals as many “lay” garden lovers believe. The benefits to the community are huge, and puts it on the map as a tourism draw. More like the English gardens I remember as a young person. . .”come in and let me show you round the garden, and then we’ll have a cup of tea”!

  4. It’s so great to see what a garden tour/garden walk can become and how strong of a positive impact it can have on the entire community. So many different people and organizations benefit, it’s a win-win-win.

    I love all of the rules your organization has set up and would like to see our local organization adopt some of them. It would be beneficial to reduce the amount of competition, professional designers, and one-upsmanship that I see on the garden tours in our area. I’d rather see an imperfect garden with a persons’ own soul poured into it than a professional planned, multi-thousand dollar “perfect” looking garden.

  5. This article was forwarded to me by a fellow gardener. I organise a garden tour in my small town and it was particularly successful this year because all of the gardens were within walking distance of each other and many tourists took the tour. It is by admission – the maps are purchased from the visitors centre – and different gardens are chosen each year, but this generates a great deal of work for the organisers and the chosen gardeners. And there are many gardens that aren’t included because they aren’t quite up to the standard of expecting people to pay to see them – and new ones are required each year! However, the ones passed over are lovely in their own right. Having recently taken over organising our tour, I’ve often wondered how we could get more of the community participating and beautifying the community. I believe encouragement and recognition, and being motivated by seeing what the neighbours have done, go a long way to getting people on board. I think this could be a tough sell to our Horticultural Society, but I may give it a try.

  6. Thanks for sharing the philosophy behind the Buffalo garden tour. So inspiring because it is inclusive. Hope to tour the gardens some day. Have a great time.

  7. The GWB preview I attended in 2010 was one of the best garden times I ever had. I’m still working from some of the inspirations I got from that tour. Buffalo is a lucky town to have such good gardeners, encouraging other gardeners, and good organizers! Wish I were there.

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