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By Cindy Loomis

Residents of Buffalo – primarily those on the West Side of the city – prepare for an invasion.

The tens of thousands expected this weekend will be among the most respectful invaders to visit our city, and we will welcome them with open arms and, appropriately, open garden gates.

Into the City of Good Neighbors they will come for the 20th anniversary of Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest garden tour in America, on Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27. We will invite them into our neighborhoods and into our private backyards to demonstrate the impact “flower power” can have and to spread a positive image of Buffalo as a growing (pun intended) area.

As in past years, these visitors will come from the suburbs, from Canada, from nearby states and from other continents to see what we gardeners have done to beautify our neighborhoods and take pride in our city. They will take our free shuttle buses to visit as many of the 396 gardens as they can during the two-day event; they will be amazed at our residential and institutional architecture; they will spend money for meals and lodging; and they will return home, spreading the good word about Buffalo to the delight not only of our business population, but also of Visit Buffalo Niagara.

This free event has transformed the West Side of Buffalo. During the last 19 years, more and more residents have turned to gardening to show their pride in their property and join with neighbors to help turn blocks away from blight and into places where like-minded residents choose to live and raise families. The efforts of Garden Walk Buffalo are joined by those of Buffalo in Bloom, also celebrating its 20th year, and Grassroots Gardens, which has a slightly longer history of greening Buffalo neighborhoods through community gardens.

Free Garden Walk Buffalo maps and guides listing the location and description of participating gardens can be found now at our sponsor locations and at our headquarters sites during Garden Walk weekend. Visit GardenWalkBuffalo.com for details. There you also will find the list of buildings and historic sites that will be lighted green, as well as related events such as those conducted by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Burchfield Penny Art Center, all in celebration of our anniversary.

While other cities outside of Western New York conduct garden events, it is only in our special city, where we celebrate being good neighbors, that we welcome people in sensible shoes, who wander guided by maps in hand, often down the middle of side streets, into our private spaces. Who wouldn’t want to visit, smell the roses, and talk “dirt” with others?

The board, organizing committee and many volunteers who conduct this annual event welcome all to join us.

Cindy Loomis is president of Garden Walk Buffalo.