Come high summer, you probably think you know Buffalo’s Olmsted Parks. Maybe you have cooled off at the big splash pad in Martin Luther King Park, walked the ring road in Delaware Park, or watched fireworks in Riverside Park.
Take a closer look at these parks, though, and surprises lie in store.
One misty morning recently, The News asked Thomas Herrera-Mishler, the president and CEO of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, to direct us to a few corners of the parks most people don’t know about. Herrera-Mishler, whose enthusiasm for the parks is boundless, pointed out plenty. Here are five, from five different parks. All of them, though just steps away from the noise of the city, make you think you are in a peaceful, magical world. Pack your picnic basket, a book of poetry and a sketch pad. Adventure awaits, right here in our own backyard.
The Shrub Garden, South Park
The romantic Shrub Garden, also known as the Peace Garden, comes complete with a gazebo. It is hidden behind the majestic Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.
“This garden reveals itself to you as you walk along the curving path,” Herrera-Mishler says. You never know what is around the next bend, and the colors pop out at you – outrageous bright orange lilies, magenta dahlias. A katsura tree, an Asian delight, is known in the fall for its sugary fragrance.
While you are in South Park also check out the Bog Garden, whose still waters are covered with lily pads. And look up as well as down. Herrera Mishler says that because of the countryside and the wetlands, the bird watching is great.
The Rhododendron Garden, Delaware Park
We hear all about the Rose Garden. What about the Rhododendron Garden? This little known destination, accessible off Rumsey Road, is still in a nascent state – a plot planted with baby flowers. But as we wait for the rhododendrons to grow, there is a lot to admire in the immediate vicinity. So much of Delaware Park is busy. The Ring Road is full of soccer games and people exercising. Shakespeare Hill is full of Shakespeare. But in this lesser-visited part of the park, you feel as if you are out in the country, even though you are in the middle of the city. As Herrera-Mishler said, “It feels like what Olmsted was intending you to feel.”
Suspension Bridge, Cazenovia Park
To see this wonder you have to venture onto the golf course – and Herrera-Mishler, a golfer himself, loves to quote Mark Twain: “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But the journey is worth it, because the landscape is breathtaking, and because of the bridge’s unique nature.
Built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project, it is Buffalo’s only suspension bridge. It feels great to walk – or drive in a golf cart – across it. You feel the bridge’s gentle give, its natural ebb and sway. And the view of the creek on either side is stunning. Who knew you were in the middle of the city? Look for the bridge at the southeast end of the park, on the edge of the Cazenovia Park golf course. And stay to marvel at the golf course itself – beautifully landscaped and serene, with the creek running through it. Top off your visit with a beer at the cafe.
The Cottage Garden, Martin Luther King Park
The cottage garden tradition comes from Britain, where master gardeners aimed to design gardens that looked as if they had grown there by accident. The enclosure for the Cottage Garden in Martin Luther King Park was put there in the 1920s. It used to be the site of the Rose Test Garden, where they would cultivate various varieties of roses.
Now, the garden – situated right by the parking lot of the Science Magnet School – overflows with a wealth of flora both rare and well-known. A purple Rose of Sharon tumbles over the wrought iron fence. We saw staffers planting zinnias. Daisies and coneflowers burst forth in splashes of violet and gold. This charming, walled secret garden is a spot of unbelievable serenity in the middle of Buffalo’s East Side. Sit down on a bench. Breathe it in.
While in the park do not neglect to notice – and perhaps take advantage of – the restroom building, with its peaked fairy-tale roof, like something out of the Brothers Grimm. They have been renovated and are fine and functional.
The RiverRock Gardens, Riverside Park
Completed just weeks ago, the RiverRock Gardens sit in the northwest corner of Riverside Park. This vast rain garden occupies the site where once sat the Minnow Pools, a stream Olmsted designed with waterfalls and bridges. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy thought about restoring the Minnow Pools, which were removed, for whatever reason, decades ago. But Herrera-Mishler said that the public’s response was “rather negative.” Perhaps people were squeamish as they pictured little minnows darting this way and that.
In any case, the RiverRock Gardens are lovely. Countless stones of varying heft surround an extremely long arabesque path of pebbles, designed to absorb rainfall. The path follows the pattern of the Minnow Pools. “This rain garden is the largest in Buffalo,” Herrera-Mishler says. There is a new stone bridge and a collection of benches where one may sit of an afternoon and contemplate nature.
It is a young garden, Herrera-Mishler stresses. And he knows how he would like Buffalonians to celebrate it.
“Once a year,” he says, “for the rest of their lives, I would like them to visit the garden and see it mature into what Olmsted intended.”