The angst of the amateur show gardener

Think this is Little Quickfire

If I wasn’t part of a huge garden tour every year, I wouldn’t make too big a deal of plants that don’t perform at the top of their specifications. I’d freely pull out or cut back perennials that annoy me and would likely not bother with weekly feeds for my annuals in pots. Maybe I’d have nothing but native plants. I might even take a long vacation for most of July.

In Buffalo though, we Garden Walk gardeners must keep a wary eye on the countdown to  the last Saturday and Sunday of July. The world may not be watching, but thousands of garden tourists will be. Is there something new I’ve installed or planted for 2019? If not, can I make something up?

As I write this at 10:11 p.m. on the eve of GW, I still have a wheelbarrow of mulch leaning against the garage and gloves and pruners waiting on the table. There is one plant that still needs to go in. Spectacular failures can’t be fixed at 10 p.m., though. A stand of daylilies eaten by deer can’t replaced. A lineup of ferns that got stomped by drunks passing by can’t be propped up. Thankfully I do not live in the suburbs and the drunks have been kind this year.

I’m testing this On Top Sunglow for the local Trial Gardens. A+ so far!

But what I’m really thinking about are not animal- or disease-induced catastrophes, but the other gardeners. Was their weeding much less haphazard than mine? Did they plan their borders better, and not crowd everything together as I am so apt to do? Will visitors be seduced by larger spaces with multiple paths or beds bursting with color? My beds have color, but I’ve never been able to achieve the bursting part. Will everyone else have dozens of monarch caterpillars clinging to their asclepias, while my one, lonely plant (I could swear I planted more) remains uninhabited?

These are the plaints of the unintentional show gardener. It’s not what I trained for; I came into this property with near-zero horticultural knowledge. And yet—there was a garden. And, also, all those twenty years ago, there was a Garden Walk. I couldn’t be left out.

You fight the battles you can win when it comes to being on a garden tour. Here are some of mine:

I’d rather have crazy petunias than crazy calis.

Learning to reject trends:
I don’t hope to convince anyone, but I find the performance of most petunia hybrids to be so much better than calibrachoas, and now that the petunia breeders are really letting their inhibitions go when it comes to colors and patterns, I am team petunia from now on.  My friend Stan Swisher, who runs the A.A.S test gardens here in Buffalo, agrees completely.  (I am doing weekly feeds.)

Keeping many in pots has helped.

Don’t let a beetle win:
Many longtime horticulturists are now advising to avoid lilium altogether so as not to give lily beetles a place to live. Eventually, they’ll go someplace else. That could take years, however, and I’m hitting them early and hard with Neem and hand-picking. It’s much better this year as a result. Like all lily fanciers, I am hoping the parasitic wasp arrives here soon to do its death-dealing work.

Keep what works and buy more:
-Hydrangeas of all kinds
-Hostas of all kinds
-Heucheras of all kinds
-My favorite natives: aruncus, eutrochium, filipendula, and polygonatum,

Play the right music:
Brazilian jazz all the way.

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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. I’ve pretty much given up on all the plants you’ve listed due to the deer, lily beetles, chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits. I can’t keep petunias or calibrachoas blooming much past the end of July even in hanging baskets, well watered and fertilized. Lily beetles have long since wiped out the lilies and the deer take care of the hostas, hydrangeas and day lilies despite regularly spraying deer repellent. But the weeds are doing well.

  2. I am so happy to be able to say I have never seen a lily beetle. I hope to never do so. I love to go into a show garden and find a weed that was missed. It makes me feel better for some reason. I guess it is becasue when I see a perfectly manicured garden it makes me feel like a failure. ha… Good luck with your tour. I hope noone has a bit too much to drink while sashaying through the gardens.

  3. Came to Buffalo from Maryland for Garden Walk and was not disappointed! What a great weekend – we are leaving inspired and exhausted!!
    Awesome gardens and wonderful people!!
    If you haven’t made the trip to Buffalo for this wonderful event I would highly recommend it!!


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