Frank gets his landscape back—and then some


As the gardening team at Buffalo’s Darwin Martin House—really a campus with seven structures on it—enters its second year of planting and maintaining the original landscape Frank Lloyd Wright planned with the Martins, some areas look like they’ve been established for years. Others—including the distinctive Floricycle (above), a sweeping semicircle of plants that repeat and provide four seasons of interest—are still in their adolescence. Even the Floricycle has progressed significantly since I first wrote about it last year (see below, a bit earlier in the season), though it’s still not ready for prime time, unlike the lush plantings of ferns, hydrangeas, Baptisia, and a variety of easy-growing perennials. This landscape deteriorated and eventually disappeared when the estate was abandoned in the thirties, and it is the last element to be restored.

Because of their historic connections with the house, some plants that many would hesitate to install—like Dutchman’s Pipe (above) and Japanese wisteria, have been propagated from original cuttings. Other choices include lilac, spirea, dittany, phlox, lily of the valley, and mock orange—all popular favorites during Isabelle Martin’s time. Most of these horticultural selections were made by Wright’s landscaping expert, Walter Burley Griffin. The nice thing about this landscape is that it provides several types of plantings—walkway borders, square beds, courtyard beds—that can serve as models for aspiring gardeners looking for ideas and plants that are relatively easy to grow and maintain.

Summer visitors to the grounds can also enjoy the pops of vivid color provided by seven large ceramic sculptures by Japanese artist Jun Keneko. It takes tons of clay to make some of these; the artist is renowned for making some of the world’s largest ceramic artworks.

As you can imagine from these photos, the sculptures, which are not there permanently, have created a bit of controversy. Some of the not-very-imaginative critiques have centered on what body parts they resemble and how much Wright would have detested them. I love them. For me, they provide perfect complements to the largely earth-toned campus and its understated, emerging landscape. They also force visitors to walk the entire grounds to find them all. Public art projects like this have been key to making our regained appreciation of outdoor life more about discovery and less about safety. Would Wright have approved? I suppose not. But he might appreciate the devotion, more than 100 years later, that the staff and volunteers of this property are showing to his legacy, which includes finding new ways to keep things exciting.

If you’re really interested, download a PDF that documents the entire history of this.

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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 agree with you about the sculptures. They add to the experience and their colour and variety is intriguing. My sole quibble: based on your first photo, are there too many, too closely placed?

  2. Body parts??? I see organic shapes sort of like a lava lamp oozing up bubbles. I love art in the garden. Some people just don’t too bad for them I say.

  3. A happy story of careful renewal that acknowledges the fact of time, and art, evolving.
    I drive near Buffalo once or twice a year, and will visit next time.
    Thanks for the update!

  4. Can you identify the trees in the photo in the bed of ferns? Any idea of their age. They’re really lovely in that arrangemnet.

  5. Can you identify the trees in the photo in the bed of ferns? Any idea of their age. They’re really lovely in that arrangement.

  6. Beautiful landscape and it looks like a great place to relax and enjoy some quiet. We see some similar garden set ups here at tree service Newport Beach and it’s an absolute pleasure to not only work in settings like this on a daily basis but to know we are helping improve the quality of someone’s life via their surroundings. The sculptures are a really unique touch and a great idea.


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