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For Barbara and Jim Timlin, the best part of opening up their back garden to strangers for a month of Thursdays and Fridays is how surprised they are by what they see.

There is the tall, splashing fountain – more than 100 years old – beneath a tree’s drooping clusters of fragrant frothy white blooms. Clematis vines climb a brick wall, with scarlet and lavender flowers intertwined. Glass marble stepping stones through the moss lawn of a “fairy garden” lead to a little house and wee hostas.

Sometimes, their Allentown garden – one of 90 listed through August in the fourth annual “Open Gardens” event – even surprises them.

“Oh my gosh! Jim, did you see that?” said Barbara, noticing a curly, purple water hyacinth bloom near her feet at the fountain’s base. “We’ve never had a flower before.”

The couple, sharing their garden at 163 Park St. for the second summer in a row, experimented with their tiered fountain this year, adding the hyacinth and a potted papyrus.

“We really consider ourselves ambassadors for the city,” said Barbara. “People don’t know that you can live like this downtown.”

Open Gardens, a feature of Buffalo’s National Garden Festival, is a listing of home gardens throughout the region, from city neighborhoods to Hamburg, Lancaster and Niagara County.

Guides are available at garden centers, the Buffalo Botanical Garden and online at nationalgardenfestival.com/garden/opengardens.asp.

Neighborhoods work together so listed homes are open at mostly the same time on Thursdays and Fridays through Aug. 2 – except the July 4 holiday. In the Parkside neighborhood, a dozen gardens are open from 2 to 6 p.m. While in East Aurora and Holland, it’s 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

These private garden viewings are not to be confused with the more famous annual Garden Walk, July 26 and 27, which draws thousands.

Open Gardens is less crowded and more low-key, said Jim Charlier, past president of Garden Walk. Thursday and Friday showings, which vary by district, are intentionally distinct from weekend garden tours.

“We try to define these gardens as either worth traveling a half-hour to see or spending a half-hour’s worth in the garden,” he said. He makes time to drive a distance to see expansive collections of hosta and lilies in Hamburg.

For his own Buffalo garden, Charlier adapted ideas from travels through Europe to see chateaus and Monet’s garden in Giverny. In Belgium, “espalier”-style trees – trained to grow in shapes – led him to grow his own set of four diamond-shaped pear trees against his garage wall at 215 Lancaster Ave.

Open Gardens, GardenWalk and other garden-related happenings improve the region’s self-image, Charlier said.

“I think it’s sort of a shock to people,” he said. “We’re becoming known as much for our gardens as we are for our snow.”

email: mkearns@buffnews.com