Gardens get Buffaloed


Here’s a book that raises all kinds of interesting questions. Like:

Can a city have its own style of gardening?

Assuming that it can, how does such a style arise?

What are its main characteristics?

Do the people living in this city know that there’s a gardening style just for them?

How did a city known mainly for blizzards and the invention of the chicken wing as a bar snack get so gardening-crazy?

I may not be the one to answer most of these questions. For one thing, my garden is one of many featured in the book (among dozens of others throughout Western New York). I may be too close to the whole enterprise, so consider this an announcement rather than a review.

That said,  Buffalo’s way with gardens does seem to be a thing. Garden writers from out of town either love it or they compare it with the gardens generally featured in magazines and turn up their noses a bit. I remember one editor from a previous iteration of the now defunct Garden Design saying to me, “I can see that these gardens are  … attractive, but they’re not the type of gardens we feature.” She then asked me if a Buffalo garden designed in 1903 by Bryant Fleming was still in good shape. I wasn’t sure. This was in 2006, and the Garden Walk Buffalo book had just come out; I was trying to convince her to come and check out Buffalo, but, clearly, she wasn’t having any. Times have changed since then. Buffalo has hosted a GWA conference, the percentage of out-of-town visitors to Garden Walk continues to grow, and, now, this book.

Buffalo’s gardening style has attracted the favorable attention of Pittsburgh-based St. Lynn’s Press, who commissioned Jim Charlier, a longtime volunteer for Garden Walk who’s famous for his Buffalo garden (the shed!), and Sally Cunningham, longtime garden writer, to write a book that defines Buffalo-style gardens once and for all. Unlike the Garden Walk book, which really focused on that event and the gardens on it, this title is organized by garden elements considered dominant in Western New York gardens and how similar effects might be achieved by other gardeners. There are chapters on paths, edging, furniture, décor, and other basic elements, but the examples and illustrations show how WNY gardeners have addressed such universal gardening issues. It is within these solutions that the definition of Buffalo-style might be found.

The book comes out in February, but those interested might want to preorder; I think it’s likely to sell out of its first run.

Previous articleCrowd-Sourced Botany
Next articleAn Open Letter to Kim Kardashian

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. Can a city have its own style of gardening?
    Absolutely: Charleston, SC. Austin, TX. Portland, OR (several distinct styles).

    Assuming that it can, how does such a style arise?
    From the climate constraints, housing characteristics, and activities & tastes of that city’s people. It becomes a style when people see and imitate some appealing examples that meet those needs particularly well.

    In the case of Buffalo, I’d guess that the shortish growing season and severity of winter makes colorful front-porch summer gardens, with annuals, more of a Thing than elsewhere. The Garden Walk has clearly been part of spreading features that are especially well-suited to the city.

    A really interesting book that sounds as if it may go quickly to a second printing!

  2. I’m so glad I did Garden Walk Buffalo with several of my east coast friends-I think it was 2008 or so. I would love to do it again. The wonderful architecture in the neighborhoods featured was such a key element of the gardens for me-such a beautiful city. The climate and associated plant choices could not be further from my Northern California wine region city, nevertheless there are always ideas to be had and I was struck by the number of gardens that had water features of some sort.

  3. How exciting; I just ordered a copy for my upstate NY kids…..hope it worked, the system to order seemed a bit…..brief.


  4. I’ve honestly liked what I’ve seen from photos of the Buffalo garden tour/walk, and I think it’s cool to have one’s own style. That said, I hope Buffalo’s style is a style and not a trend…Maybe the difference between gardening “trends” versus “styles” should be explored?

    I know Austin, TX (where I used to live) moved toward a “style” of using plants such as agaves, yuccas, sotols, and cacti along with lots of metal and gravel. Every time I see those gardening elements, I think of Austin.

    I’m not a mover or shaker in gardening circles, but in response to what you wrote about an editor from Garden Design (and I’m not knocking them) there are few professionally designed gardens I would have as my own…Where is the personalization, nuance, and quirkiness in those gardens? Maybe professionally designed gardens cultivate a style all their own? The ones I see in magazines appear elegant and they say “money”, but to me many lack that special “something” that comes when the gardener puts his own touch to the garden. That’s just my opinion. (To be clear, this isn’t a case of status envy, because I do have the bucks to spend on a garden designer, and I’m not naïve because I know how expensive they can be.) It’s just that as flawed as my personal garden design is, I like my designs better.

    Originality wins for me. Buffalo gardens seem to have a lot of that.

    I could be missing the point…Maybe your post is not about getting a reaction to Buffalo’s style and is more about promoting the book. If so, that’s fine too. Congratulations on the book!

  5. Never having been to Buffalo, I have no idea the style that is inherent in the local gardens. However, I am excited to see the book. I think towns definitely have their own style. The local flora, fauna, and accessible supplies can all contribute to the look. There is something way more interesting about gardens not professionally designed. They tell a story about the people, the town, and the local environment. Love this article.

Comments are closed.