The wild side

Buffalo's Delaware park
Buffalo’s Delaware park

At this time of year, I often prefer hiking to gardening.

Late summer is my favorite time for the plants that grow wild in the parks and the preserves of Western New York, and the more common they are, the better I like them.  They don’t even have to be native. I enjoy the fact that they’re just there, ready for me to enjoy. I don’t always know what they all are, which adds to the delight. On recent walks, I’ve enjoyed eutrochium/eupatorium (all types), veronicastrum, bull thistle (cirsium), oenothera, linaria, wild impatiens (jewelweed), every type of wild aster, and much more, including a lot of sea holly in parks that must have been planted by someone at some time. And then there is all the stuff where I have no idea.

Zoar Valley
Zoar Valley

On the other hand, my garden, though it’s still looking fine, has become somewhat more of a chore, mainly because the container plantings are thoroughly rooted-out and require daily attention, as do the annuals I planted in dry shade, to provide some brightness. I need these for all-season interest, but I’m also used to them by this time. There is very little left to surprise me in the home garden—my own eupatorium (the common type that flowers later), some chleome, some roses, and just a couple other things have yet to flower or reflower. And there’s a lot of deadheading at this time. The untended gardens owned by the state of New York or the county of Erie require no such work, and the exercise of walking through them is just as good or better than what I get working at home.

I don’t think I could do what this wildflower afficionada is doing, however. Blogger and nature lover Heather Houskeeper has just hiked all 900 miles of the Finger Lakes trail,  mainly for the purposes of studying herbal medicine and plant taxonomy. This field work is for a book she’s writing on the edible and medicinal plants on the trail. (She’s already written one on North Carolina’s mountain to sea trail, and its plants.) Here’s her blog.

Of course, Houskeeper is doing exactly the opposite of what I’m aiming for. I don’t want to make my hiking work, and I never bring any kind of plant identification books with me. (Once in a while, if I have cell coverage, I might use one of my phone apps, but that’s rare.) I admire her mission, however, and I look forward to seeing her book.

Zoar valley
Zoar valley

We’re lucky in our state parks and preserves here. Zoar Valley, though dangerous, has some of the oldest growth forests in the eastern US. The Niagara Gorge is also unique in that regard. There’s even several nature preserves within Buffalo’s city limits—easy biking or even walking distance. There’s still plenty of time  to take a hike wherever you are—let someone else do the gardening for a day!

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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 regularly 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. This hike looks so refreshing and we are ready for some cooler weather down here in Florida. We are looking forward to getting our fall vegetable garden planting in. Thanks for sharing the snippets of Zoar Valley.

  2. Beautiful, Elizabeth! I love hiking for many reasons, but the plants are always part of it. One thing you mention, the mystery, surprises and disclosure, is a big reason why I think many of us garden too.. But I’m curious: in what way is the Zoar Valley dangerous?

    • Hah–in what way isn’t it is the real question!! There are deaths in the gorge every year. It is deep and there are just one or two isolated roads leading down. Just google “Zoar Valley” and “dangerous.” (or death, whatever, your choice)

  3. Unfortunately, here in suburban Maryland, just outside D.C, with county executives begging businesses to locate themselves in our communities, welcoming builders of huge multifamily complexes, government contracting firms and small businesses, we are losing our open space at a rapid rate, so I have to go further for nature walks.


    I always have my home garden, now roaring with insect and bird life. Deadheading, watering, and natural fertilization is a must to give these creatures all they need for winter survival as their habitat is shrinking daily.

    The yard is teeming with blooms, unkempt perhaps, but the neighbors don’t mind so much when I give them tomatoes heavily weighted with deep red tomato juice.

    The insects have given me a vegetable bounty and put on a show for the eyes and ears, so I must give back to them. Therefore for me, August and September are my favorite months in the yard.

    • No-one has foisted any zucchini on me for two or three years now! What have I done to deserve this? I adore zucchini bread…

      • Hi Susan.
        First of all, thank you.

        Flowers, as you know, give rise to fruit and seeds. Seed ensures the survival of the species. In some instances, once seed is produced, the plant will stop blooming. There’s no reason to put energy into blooming anymore.

        Removing the flowers before they produce seed makes the plant produce more flowers.

        Some things I do to extend the season for the pollinators:

        1. Deadhead.
        2. Fertilize and water.
        3. Choose sterile plants that don’t produce seed. (How frustrating that must be for them.)
        4. Start germinating indoors (my preference) or outdoors pollinator-friendly annuals in June for new, healthy flowering plants from mid August to frost. (You can do the same for tomatoes, giving you fruit until November.)
        5.Buy nursery plants in August when they are on sale. (I just bought 4 salvia farinacea in full bloom for $10 and had to brush the moths away as I planted them Sunday.
        6. Of course, make sure you have the asters and goldenrod, but don’t forget the non-double bloom zinnias. I have 4 varieties that are great attractors and will flower, with help, until frost.

        Bumblebee queens must fatten up for winter hibernation. Solitary bees, hibernating as larvae or mature adults, need nourishment. Migrating butterflies and overwintering caterpillars need a fall bounty.

        We can assist and, at the same time, enjoy all the late summer and early fall garden activity, knowing we are are the sous chefs for a very important (and, I’m sure, quite grateful) customer.

  4. If I’m going to walk for exercise around the neighborhood, I’m going to be looking at what gardens I can see. I don’t really fancy walking for transportation, but if there’s something horticultural to see, I can walk for quite a while.

    I also enjoy geologic beauty and interest in the wilderness lks.

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