Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Buffalo Beyond Flowers: Sustainability and Wilkeson Point Park

As part of Garden Walk Buffalo Niagara's Buffalo Beyond Flowers: Sustainability in Action tour, the nearly 30 of us on the bus made a stop at Wilkeson Point Park – one of Buffalo's newest parks along the Lake Erie waterfront.
Dean Gowen, the park's designer,
explains the origin and history
of the landscape.
Landscape Architect Dean Gowen, of Wendel Architecture, met our group and explained the layout of the park, its history, and walked us around to explain some of its features.

The park opened in 2013, adjoining Times Beach Nature Preserve, a long-ago sand beach that is now the site of stored, dredged "materials" from other parts of the Buffalo River rectification process (pretty nasty stuff - don't worry, it's capped under the water by many feet of clay, sediment, and stone).

A former industrial site, the new park was made only after the storage of the Lake Erie ice boom was moved elsewhere along the Buffalo River. With this land freed up, it was carved out for volleyball courts, a gazebo, a fishing pier, a sand beach, bike paths, "natural" playgrounds of boulders and driftwood, a slide (built into a hill), pedestrian bridges, a kayak "roll-in" launch, restrooms, picnicking areas, and these beautiful wind sculptures.

Native plants were installed at the water's edge.
Previously it was edged by boulders and
driftwood.By now there's a mix of natives and
non-natives that they try to control,
but are not militant about it.
Horticulturally, it has many rain gardens, man-made, native-planted hills and berms, and naturalistic "no-mow"areas. An emphasis was obviously trying to make it low on maintenance and high on returning the space closer to its natural state.

The Park's most unique
feature are the
wind sculptures.
The park is only minutes from downtown Buffalo – and a new bike ferry makes it extremely easy to get here. And since it is only a couple minutes from the center of the city, it has great view of both the city skyline from a unique vantage point - and spectacular views of Lake Erie, the Lackawanna wind turbines, and west to Canada were you can watch the sun set.

Dean tells us that it seemed a natural to take advantage of the constant wind in this spot on the lake to install these kinetic wind sculptures. They were designed and fabricated by artist Lyman Whitaker, who has other wind sculptures in Oslo, Denmark, LA, Asheville, Fort Worth and more.

There are large marble architectural remnants in arrangements throughout the park, found on the site, that are from from the original M&T Bank building once at the corner of Main and Swan Streets.

Since my visit, my wife and I have been down here to use the kayak launch. If we ever get back on our bikes for leisure again, we'd like to try the bike ferry and ride along the miles of bike paths along the outer harbor area. Our bike riding over the past few years has been organized bike tours, a barge and bike tour through the Netherlands, and renting bikes in OTHER cities we've visited. It would be nice to discover a whole new area of a city we've been a part of for more than 30 years!

Large arrangements of limestone architectural features are from a demolished bank building in Buffalo that were dumped here years ago.
Downtown Buffalo is really just minutes by car or bike (if you're using the bike ferry).
The park is just a bit before the downtown lighthouse.
Views of Buffalo's famous grain elevators just across the Skyway.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Update on the mother-of-all-potting sheds

With only summer weekends to work on the shed (and some of those weekends lost to trips, vacation, family visits, and weather), much progress was made this summer on the Harry Potting Shed.

Mid September 2014, just an idea.
Before the snow flies, there's still plenty to be done – adding a foundation of slate tiles, fully enclosing the bay window side panes with glass, and getting a lock for the door. Those are on the mandatory list. Anything else I can get done – that the weather allows – is a bonus.

If I can get the slate tile foundation done in the next couple weekends, there may still be time to transfer the Harry Potter Garden plants back into their spots along the driveway side of the shed (on the left in these photos). If the weather holds out a bit, it'll give them a good head start on spring growth, as opposed to transplanting them in the spring.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Garden of the Gods, Colorado

This is less of a garden post than the title implies, but Garden of the Gods is the actual name of a Natural National Landmark park just outside of Colorado Springs, CO. The park features 300' red sandstone rock formations against the backdrop of Pike's Peak. And they are quite impressive.

There are nearly 17 miles of hiking trails - from short, easy paved paths to longer nature trails to be taken. The greatest threat to the native plant life in the area is the crowds of visitors (1.7 million) that visit each year - and keeping them on trails, as opposed to trampling plants and compacting soils when visitors leave defined paths. Add in natural erosion, and inadequately managed water runoff to the human impact and you have a recipe for degrading parts of the park severely over time.

It is more lushly planted than compared to the late 1800s. Planting of non-native Rocky Mountain juniper, Ponderosa pine, and white fir. As flammable as these particular trees are, the absence of forest fires, due to human fire suppression measures, has also contributed to its lushness.

There are invasive plants to worry about too. There are crowding ones like New Mexican Locust and Siberian Elm taking up valuable space and competing for nutrients with natives. And there's noxious weeds like Leafy spurge. field staff are also trained to look out for weeds that are invasive in other parts of the state - but are not yet found in the park – like Yellow Start thistle and Purple loosestife.

We didn't spend a lot of time there, we just walked around the paved path in the more popular walking areas (staying on the paths!). It's a stunning park. If you're ever out towards Colorado Springs, it's worth a visit.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hanging Lake, Colorado

Just outside of Glenwood Springs, CO is a great hiking trail up into the mountains to Hanging Lake. When we got there very early in the morning, we debated on doing the hike because it was raining, alternating between very light to moderately. My wife wanted to continue on. The teenager was adamant about not wanting to. And I was on the fence. Having hiked it, and coming back drenched in rain and sweat, my daughter and I renamed it "Hanging Mom Lake."

It was a one-hour all uphill climb (about 1,000 feet), about 2.5 miles. But it was the Rockies, so it was dry air (except for that rain), and gorgeous scenery at every turn. The trail up zigzagged with a stream with many falls and pools the whole way. The hike was worth the effort - the turquoise colors of the lake are from carbonate minerals that dissolved in the water. The water is absolutely clear.

It was early morning,
so the fog was still lifting.
The lake gets its name from the the plants and mosses that hang over the falls' precipice, as well as the exposed roots of those plants. They are growing with both areoponics and hydroponics naturally.

Normally a very crowded trail, there were very few other hikers because of the weather. We climbed down, taking just under an hour and headed back for breakfast and a swim in the world's largest thermal pool – one immense pool at 98º and another large pool that is 104º year round.

That's how you end a hike!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

My no-longer-horizontally-challenged fence

I finally had a horizontally-oriented fence built. I've been wanting one for quite a while. When you live in such an urban setting, on only a 60'x80' lot size (with a notch taken out of even that), and nine neighbors surrounding us, with six of those actually sharing the fence, fences are important.

Early on, the bamboo seemed like a good idea – blocking
neighboring views, and providing a pretty green backdrop.
The existing fence was a standard 6' picket, not painted or stained, so it's gray and slowly rotting in place. The fence we had installed is only the 30' section at the end of our driveway. Formerly we had bamboo planted there that was invading our neighbors behind us. They are very nice and asked us what we could do to get rid of the bamboo – knowing that it will never be gone completely. Never, NEVER, let bamboo touch the ground unless you own the surrounding acres. Plant in well-constructed unbreakable, invincible pots or troughs. Or line the area for many inches deep with corten steel (the roots don't go too deep).

The fence was falling apart, and the area between our two garages was so engulfed with Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), an old chain link fence, and a large stump, that we decided together to have someone come in and clean out between the two garages and build a new fence. Most fence companies don't do the clean-up portion of the job, nor the bamboo-be-gone digging that would be required. But we did find a contractor that could fit this in between jobs.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Toronto Island gardens

From Algonquin Island. Doesn't it look like something from a Wes Anderson film?
(Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, etc.)
I have lots of posts left to cover the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling from this past June. But I figure I've got all winter to post them, as there isn't much else to post once winter hits.

Each year there's an official Fling photo.
This was taken on Ward Island. Nice view, eh?
The Fling is a get-together of abound 75 garden bloggers (freelance writers, book authors, columnists, garden enthusiasts, and more). The one thing we do all have in common is blogging. Only folks with established garden blogs (and are currently posting) are encouraged to attend. It's not a garden tour for just anyone that likes touring gardens.

In the past they've met in Austin, Chicago, Buffalo, Seattle, Asheville, San Francisco, Portland, and, this past year, Toronto. in 2016, we'll visit Minneapolis. I've attended Chicago, Asheville, Toronto – and helped organize the Buffalo fling.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Betty Ford Alpine Garden, Vail, CO

On a recent trip, we visited the Betty Ford Alpine Garden in Vail Colorado. It's billed as the world's highest botanical garden, and at 8,250 feet above sea level, you'd have to be higher than we were to argue.

It wasn't just alpines, but also mountain-growing perennials.
It's a relatively small garden (and free) that you can visit in less than an hour (unless you're a garden blogger, then you might be able to spend a day there). It's a walkable distance from the center of Vail – we actually rented bikes and were riding around and got to it very quickly.

It's conveniently located adjacent to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, and next door to the the Ford Park Athletic Fields, which is along Gerald R Ford Memorial Highway. Vailians apparently liked President Ford. He brought a lot of media when he visited on skiing vacations in the '70s. The town was only incorporated in 1966, starting out in 1962 as a village established at the base of the mountain for local residents and offered lodging for visitors. By 1969 Vail was the most popular ski resort in the state. In 1988 Vail opened China Bowl, making Vail the largest ski area in North America.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Taj-maShed Progressing

The mother of all potting sheds, the Shrieking Shack, is slowly progressing. Major projects still include the roofing and the tiling of the base with slate tiles. Small projects abound, from framing the round-topped window (NOT looking forward to that), trimming out all the windows and door with stop and trim, adding latches and a lock on the door, and siding the entire back side (it can't be seen, so it wasn't a priority!).

Tomorrow I'll probably add the fourth, and last window that goes in the bay window area facing the street. It'll look much more finished when that is done. All the windows were our attic windows that got replaced this year. Even the door came from the house originally.

The goal now is to make it weather tight. Then later this fall, and in the spring, I can add planter boxes, lattice trellis, and arbor, finish up the painting, add some solar lights, and outfit the interior with a potting/work bench and peg board and the like. And I have to start to put the Harry Potter Garden back in front of it.

It won't have electricity or water. It does have wifi though - because it's so close to my home office.

I love working on it. It's like constant problem solving and I can work on it for hours at a time.

I've found the secret to carpentry, for me anyway, is the art of mistake covering – you build a frame and make mistakes – and cover it with paneling. You make mistakes with paneling – and you cover it with clapboard and shingles. You do sloppy clapboard and shingles – and you cover it with trim pieces. I just have to get better with trim – there's nothing to cover that with.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Vallarta Botanical Gardens/Vallarta Jardin Botanico

We visited the Vallarta Jardin Botanico in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, way back in April of this year. I'm finally getting around to posting about it. I'm WAY behind.

 I was first made aware of the botanical garden during the North American Conference of the International Garden Tourism Network, when they were named one of the Top Ten North American Gardens Worth Traveling For.

While at the conference, I briefly met Jesus Reyes, then the Gardens' Director of Operations. I mentioned I would be visiting Puerto Vallarta in just a few weeks from then, and he encouraged me to visit.

I convinced my friend Jay, whom we were visiting in Sayulita, to take the trek out to the Gardens. He'd never been there, but knew of it and had friends that were volunteers there. He's got a fantastic garden and is always up for learning more. It's a much different plant palette than what he uses in NYC on a terrace.

It was nearly a two hour drive from Sayulita. It's about 45 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta itself (and Sayulita is a good 45 minutes north of Vallarta!). Beautiful drive along the coast though.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Garden Walk Buffalo - put it on your bucket list

My house. I know, it's subtle.
I've been a bad blogger and haven't posted in quite a while. I've had lots of great garden experiences, including a garden/sustainability bus tour, a gardener's party at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, hosting a garden bus tour from AAA, visited some Open Gardens, was a stop garden-by-bike tour that was part of a Roswell Park Cancer Institute gala prize package, and a couple other garden parties. not to mention participating in America's largest garden tour, Garden Walk Buffalo. With 416 gardens open for free for two days, if anyone can find a larger residential garden tour - please let us know!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

All ready for America's largest garden tour...

The best Garden Walk ever? We think so, but we're extremely biased. This was the "above-the-fold" banner on the front page of the Buffalo News when I woke up yesterday. Always the start of a good weekend.  

And to the right here was the Home & Style section. Have to thank the Susan Martin/Sally Cunningham duo to give garden tour coverage its due.  

I was then off for a 6:00 a.m. live TV segment on the local NBC affiliate with Channel 7 WKBW weatherman Andy Parker. At the same time, Garden Walk Buffalo Chair, Cindy Loomis, was on WIVB's News 4 Wake-Up morning show. After my segments, it was off for a radio interview with WECK's Tom Donahue.

Then, home to do more Garden Walk Buffalo Facebook posts, a client meeting then helping set up our three headquarters. I'm tired.

But, the garden is ready for around 3,000 visitors today. Well, as ready as it's gonna' get anyway. In total we'll have around 70,000 visitors. And Andy Parker said the weather will be good – hot. Maybe even the hottest its been in two years.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Shrieking Shack update

Lots of progress cladding the exterior this weekend, got more windows hung. Still more shingles to add at the top of the one side, but have to buy a vent first. Once that's done, then I can start the window and door trim.


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