When the weather is windy, the porch garden that fronts the house of Renate Yuhnke on Lafayette Avenue gets pretty noisy.
Yuhnke, a retired schoolteacher, thanks her husband for the sound serenade.
“The wind chimes and gnomes are my husband’s,” she said. “There’s no place like gnome.”
More than 40 wind chimes and almost as many gnomes are at home each summer among the dozens of boxed geraniums, marigolds and spider plants that turn Yuhnke’s veranda into an urban oasis.
Yuhnke is among Buffalo’s community of porch gardeners, and she grows many of the houseplants from cuttings she nurtured over the winter. The hanging baskets, too, are recycled.
“I’m too cheap to buy mature flowers, so I make my own hanging baskets,” Yuhnke said, pointing to the baskets of New Guinea impatiens that dot the porch’s perimeter.
“My dad built the flower boxes for my mother. She liked red geraniums and white petunias, but I’m not too fond of petunias. They get aphids,” she said, referring to the insects that cluster on the plants.
The expansive porch of her Victorian house, built in 1905 on Buffalo’s Upper West Side, draws plenty of compliments from passersby, many of whom stop and snap photos, Yuhnke said.
Over on Seventh Street, the same thing happens, said second-story porch gardener Luis Rosado, 58. On Rosado’s front lawn, salmon-colored gladiolas stand tall. But high atop his second-floor porch, the hanging baskets of brightly colored flowers stop traffic.
“Canadians on their way to the Peace Bridge have pulled over to take pictures,” Rosado said. “You like it?”
Rosado shares his second-floor apartment with his wife, Lourdes Vazquez. Their porch garden requires them to thread a garden hose from a first-floor spigot located at the back of the house. The results – a vibrant and lush living space – elevate this house on the Lower West Side.
Rosado, who has difficulty navigating the steep stairway that leads up to his apartment, started his garden shortly after moving to Buffalo 15 years ago from Philadelphia.
“It’s really nice to have someone tending and caring for balcony gardens,” said Jim Charlier, chairman of marketing for Garden Walk Buffalo. “Porch gardens are usually rental properties. They are for urban dwellers who don’t have yards. When you see them around town they are striking. Five or six porch gardens in a row really look impressive. They provide the opportunity for creative gardening.”
Charlier, a gardener for 20 years, did not believe any porch gardens were among the entries in this year’s Garden Walk, which will take place on July 27 and 28.
“We have accepted them in the past, but to tell you the truth there are not a lot of porch gardeners who ask to be a part of the walk,” he said. “Although in Buffalo, I’ve seen trees in pots on second-floor porches.”
As general manager of Urban Roots garden center on Rhode Island Street, Patti Jablonski-Dopkin daily helps people with their gardening needs. That is precisely why she chose to grow a garden on the small deck off the second-floor living room of her North Buffalo home.
“I need something easy and not time-consuming,” she said. “Since I’m helping others with their gardens all day, I don’t want to get deep into mine when I get home at 8 p.m. But I absolutely need my fix.”
Her porch garden combines animal (the family has one dog and one cat), vegetable (three heirloom tomato plants packed into one 26-inch clay pot) and floral (perennial and annual) for a pleasing display that each day for seven years has attracted a bevy of hummingbirds like clockwork between 4 and 5 p.m.
“There is definitely a treehouse-feeling to our home,” she said. “I love being up on the second floor. We have trees all around us.”
Jablonski-Dopkin and her husband own the Crescent Avenue house where they live with their son. Tenants occupy the first- and third-floor apartments.
“It’s survival of the fittest out here,” said Jablonski-Dopkin in reference to her large inventory of plants that include black-eyed Susans, lofo and passion flowers that bloom for 24 hours. She combines plants based on their needs. “They need a lot of fertilizer,” she explained. “Because you are watering more often, all container plants have nutrients that are getting leeched out. Use a slow-release fertilizer that will give a good base throughout the season, but continue fertilizing each week. For my herbs, I want plant food with more nitrogen because I want more green. For flowers, I use fertilizers with more potassium and phosphorous that will shoot blooms. A little bit of science is involved.”
Each year, Jablonski-Dopkin spins a different garden on her deck.
“This is my vine year,” she said. “I’m trying different types of vines – like peas. Where I normally have a hanging basket, this year I have black-eyed Susans in the window boxes and will trail them around.”
Surprisingly, porch gardens do not require hours of maintenance. Once the garden is up and growing, daily watering and dead-heading – removing dead flowers – becomes the main chores. And don’t forget to fertilize.
“We are out here a lot, whether we are just hanging out or entertaining,” said Jablonski-Dopkin. “It’s not just a porch. It becomes another living room for us.”