It's human to take the good things for granted and gripe about the bad (a short growing season, weeds and pests, weather). It's easy to rail against our daily travails and forget the gifts that we receive. I will tell you why gardeners in Western New York have many reasons to be grateful.
1. Our climate
Groan as we might when winter is pending, our gardening climate is so much better than gardeners face in many parts of the country. We don't suffer weeks of high humidity, accompanied by biting flies and mosquitoes that torment other gardeners. Our droughts and flooding periods are relatively minor, and we almost never see hurricanes, tornadoes or wild fires.
We do have temperate summers with cool nights and often extended, beautiful autumns. We have ample rainfall so that trees can grow old and lawns can stay alive without supplemental watering. Winter usually gives our plants the advantage of a blanket of snow (the best mulch possible) and the dormant period that they need. Winter kills or limits the populations of many insect pests and diseases that destroy plants in less-fortunate regions. Many destructive and invasive plants that are swallowing up natural habitats or gardens in warmer climates cannot live here. Our soil – whine as we may about heavy clay – is naturally nutrient-rich and moisture-retentive, supporting a diverse plant population. This is an excellent region for gardening.
2. Public parks and gardens
The more I travel and meet gardeners from other regions, the more I appreciate our region's vast heritage of parks and public gardens.
• Buffalo's Olmsted Parks: Frederick Law Olmsted – known as “the father of American landscape architecture,” who also designed Manhattan's Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park – planned a system of parks and parkways in the late 1800s that now includes 1,200 acres with six major parks and our parkways and traffic circles. Used by at least a million people throughout the year, these parks and the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy are surely on top of our most-taken-for-granted list. Don't just jog there and drive these parkways. Join!
• The Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens: Most cities do not have botanical gardens, not to mention one that is a national historic site, with a Lord & Burnham-designed Victorian conservatory that opened in 1900. Congratulations to the board and directors of recent years who have amplified its attractiveness and strengthened its collections (seen by over 100,000 visitors annually). Have you been there lately? Joined it?
• Forest Lawn: This 269-acre cemetery, founded in 1849, is more than the home of 160,000 residents (including a U.S. president, mayors and historical figures). It is an arboretum with rare 150-year-plus trees. (Ninety percent of the trees were damaged in the October 2006 storm, and the organization does need volunteer and financial support.) Enjoy Forest Lawn for its rolling hills, art, mausoleums, history, gardens and tours, and know that many acres remain for those seeking a final resting place.
Beyond these three crowning jewels, garden tourists and residents can study plants and landscapes at the Erie Basin Marina trial gardens, the Buffalo Museum of Science, Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House and Graycliff, and our ever-improving Canalside, urban and waterfront parks. Plus, we have Visit Buffalo Niagara on point, promoting the growing garden tourism sector along with the region's architecture, art and cultural heritage.
3. The garden and landscape industry
Do you know how many people all over this state and country have to drive 50 or more miles to a good garden center, and even then find a limited plant selection? We are spoiled, with garden centers that compete with each other for best plant selection, experts on staff, workshops, tours and gifts. We have local growers that produce food, poinsettias, designer annuals and Christmas trees, and nurseries that grow acres of trees, shrubs and perennials and promote native plants. We have professional landscapers and arborists, who are accessible and affordable.
Our Western New York State Nursery & Landscape Association, now known as Plant WNY, is a New York State leader and the only region that organizes a flower and landscape show – Plantasia (March 20-23, 2014). Members are serious about raising the bar for landscape design and plant selection standards, and are proactive about education on issues such as limiting invasive species and correct (nonvolcano) mulching. They also contribute (beyond generously) to projects such as Legacy, Re-Tree, Botanical Gardens, Olmsted Parks and neighborhood beautification .
We also have a newspaper that maintains garden and nature columns, prominently placed, at a time when many papers have dropped their writers.
4. Gardeners, societies, leaders
Nearly 1,000 gardeners have opened their yards to visitors during the National Garden Festival season, welcoming bus tours, bikers, walkers and the driving public. About 350 gardeners now constitute Garden Walk Buffalo – the largest garden tour in the nation, now entering its 20th year. We have plant societies for all interests (Western New York Hosta Society, Buffalo Area Daylily Society, and rose, ikebana, gesneriad, herb and bonsai organizations among them). We have nationally known plant hybridizers, garden writers and speakers, and easy access to them. We have had Upstate Gardeners Journal since 1998, sharing gardening events and content – just honored by Plant WNY as “Business of the Year.” And for 24 years we had Ken Brown on the radio (suddenly gone from WBEN on Saturdays), educating us all.
For these people, these gardeners, these leaders – I am grateful.
My name is not Pollyanna. I do not think this is the best of all possible worlds. Even with the gardening talent and passion we have in the region, it's tough going to accomplish all that we do. Our cultural and not-for-profit organizations all have to compete for funding, attendance and memberships from the same, limited number of sponsors, foundations and people. But challenges, those uphill climbs, are for another day. For now we have so many reasons to give thanks.
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.