Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Numbers on Garden Tourism

This article originally appeared in Buffalo's weekly arts and culture newsprint publication, The PUBLIC on June 15, 2016.

Did you know that, in the U.S., more people visit botanical gardens, botanical parks, garden tours, and garden events than visit Disneyworld. And Disneyland. Combined. That’s more than visit Las Vegas each year.

Smug creek Gardens in Hamburg.
So I called up the guy who wrote the book Garden Tourism, Richard Benfield, the guy who published the factoid above, and started asking him questions about regional garden tours, attendance numbers, ZIP code research, economic impacts, and more. He tells me he is the nation’s leading expert on garden tourism, basically, because, there is no one else. And, since I was asking such good questions, I could be number two.

It turns out his book was the first ever published on garden tourism, and to date it’s the only book written on garden tourism. And Buffalo has two and a half pages in it.

At the time, I was a few years into my seven years as a leader of Garden Walk Buffalo, which has turned into America’s largest garden tour. I was trying to figure out, through Benfield, where Buffalo stood as far as the size, scale, and impact of our tour. It turns out, there’s really nothing quite like it.

Garden Walk Buffalo, at 23 years old, attracts an estimated 65,000-70,000 visitors to more than 400 participating gardens; 20-23% of those visitors come from more than 50 miles outside of the city, and the two-day event has an estimated $4.5 million economic impact to the region. And that’s each year, for the past eight years. You do that math.

A garden on the Lancaster Garden Walk.

The tour has also given back to the community nearly $100,000 in Marvin Lunenfeld Beautification Grants to block clubs and community groups. 

Lunenfeld was Garden Walk’s founder. Did I mention Garden Walk Buffalo is totally free for visitors and its gardener participants? And it’s completely run by volunteers? And even the shuttle buses are free? (Thank you, donors and sponsors!)

That’s just a two-day tour. Add in the nearly 100,000 visitors to the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, the more than one million who use the Buffalo Olmsted Parks, the tens of thousands that attend other regional neighborhood garden tours, and busloads of visitors from other states and Canada, as well as participate in local garden-themed tours, bike tours of gardens, and our local Garden Art Sale—and you can now see how much financial impact garden tourism has on the region.
Garden tourism is rarely considered a viable subset of tourism by most regional visitors bureaus. But when you start looking at actual data, it no longer looks like a small niche subset. We’re fortunate to have Visit Buffalo Niagara, our visitors bureau, which looks at the numbers and makes garden tourism a priority. And the PR boost of green gardens, gracious gardeners, beautiful neighborhoods, and bountiful creativity does a good job of stemming some of the rust-belt, snow-belt image stuck in the heads of the nattering nabobs of negativity out there.

A Garden on the KenTon Tour of Gardens.

A 2006 Visit Buffalo Niagara market survey found that a common thread between tourists in the realms of art and architecture was gardening. 

With one of the nation’s leading art museums, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House and Graycliff Estate both becoming desirable architectural destinations at the time, it made sense that gardening could be another “leg of the stool” for cultural tourism marketing. Garden Walk Buffalo, and Buffalo in Bloom, at that time, had both been operating for 11 years. The Buffalo Olmsted Parks is a world-class park system. PLANT WNY’s popular spring event, Plantasia, brings in 14,000 visitors and gets them primed for gardening.

Over a third of world travelers visit a garden on their trips. 

Tour operators say that having a garden as part of a tour is a contributing factor in sales. Compared to other attractions like amusement parks and casinos, gardens as entertainment is an inexpensive option. But even botanical garden entrance fees and garden tour tickets are not deterrents to visitation—Pennsylvania’s Longwood Garden’s entry fee is $20 and it had 1.16 million visitors last year. Most garden tours charge anywhere from $12-$75 to view just a handful of gardens.

An Open Garden in Hamburg, near Lakeshore.

Our regional garden tourism entity is Gardens Buffalo Niagara

This group of volunteers organizes garden tourism events—like its Garden Art Sale (held at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens), specialty tours including a Beyond Flowers Sustainability in Action Tour  and tour of amazing East Side garden-based projects, educational events, luxury motorcoach tours, and Tours of Open Gardens (with 75 exceptional gardens open for touring throughout Buffalo Niagara on Thursdays and Fridays in July). It also promotes all 18 regional garden tours from Lewiston to Springville, including Garden Walk Buffalo.

A garden on the South Buffalo Alive tour.
Under its former name, the National Garden Festival, Gardens Buffalo Niagara won the 2012 Garden Promotion Award from the biennial International Garden Tourism Conference in Toronto. Representatives from Buffalo have also made presentations at this conference. Twice. This fall, I’ll be making a presentation “Tourism from Beautiful Home Gardens” at the America in Bloom annual conference in California.

As we, locally, find out more about garden tourism nationally, we’re finding that our local offerings—and horticultural tourism sophistication—is leaps and bounds beyond what other communities are doing. And they look at us to see what they should be doing.

Get out and enjoy some gardens this summer—walking, in a car, on a bus, riding a bike, shopping a garden art sale, attending a workshop, visiting the Botanical Gardens, or picnicking and playing in an Olmsted Park. Encourage others to do the same. It boosts Buffalo’s moral, self-esteem, neighborhoods, and bottom line.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A make-your-own garden totem fountain

I bought myself a make-your-own totem of hand-thrown pottery pieces and made it into a fountain. I help organize a Buffalo-style Garden Art Sale and their booth was next to the booth at which I sat for two days for Garden Walk Buffalo at the Sale.

The vendor was Peter Goergen of JPG Pottery (3385 Maple Avenue, Allegheny, NY 14706 716-951-0172

I watched other folks decide on their height first - an unseen interior metal pole screws into a fitting set in a concrete base. The fitting in the base is an "L" shaped pipe that can accommodate tubing to make it a fountain, although Peter hadn't seen any of his totems made into fountains.

You buy the concrete base and pipe for a base price of $25. Then you can add elements - hand thrown clay dishes, columns, balls, finials and more. And you pay individually for each piece. Price is determined by size, design, and complexity (ranging from $9 to $125 for mine). The total for mine was just a hair over $300.

The fun part was choosing the pieces. After I decided on the pieces and budget (they go hand-in-hand, don't they?), I had to take a photo so I remember how it went together, since I'd be disassembling it to take it home, then reassembling it again days later.
The large leaves in the background 
I pounded out of copper roof flashing.
I did have to purchase a basin, tubing and a pump. Set up was pretty easy. I did add clear silicone between each piece to make it a bit more waterproof and "adhere" one piece to another - not wanting it to be a permanent adhering. I will probably store it inside the garage for the winter – not sure water, pottery, and freezing temperatures are ever a good combination.

I planted it in the middle of my raised bed potager garden. Previously I had a rose standard here (a classic in potager gardens). The standard lasted for about five years, but last year gave up on me. I was looking for something with some height, and wanted a water feature too. So this fit the bill perfectly. Colors were ideal.

Originally, the four quadrants of the potager were planned for vegetables. A River Birch tree planted across the driveway about the same time as the potager now provides too much shade to grow vegetables here. I'm always looking for the right plants to grow in this area that will provide color. The petunias aren't cutting it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A new favorite garden

I consider myself fairly well-versed when it comes to the region's gardens. Every once in a while, I find a garden that is a real surprise – that I didn't know existed – and this is this year's. This is the garden of Carole and John Hajnosz, in Hamburg, NY. It actually backs up to the Wanakah Country Club's golf course, very near Lake Erie. 

It is on Garden Buffalo Niagara's Tours of Open Gardens. I'm vice president of Gardens Buffalo Niagara, and I help, tangentially, with putting on this tour of 70+ gardens open for select hours on Thursdays and Fridays throughout Eire and Niagara Counties in the month of July.

Carole and John have been working on this one-acre property for 25 years. He described it to me as looking like a football field when they moved in. Brick, grass, stone, and slate paths meander throughout the space, alternating open spaces with densely planted narrow paths.

His original plan was to build an arboretum, but didn't think he had enough room. It is a small-scale arboretum no matter what he says! There are ornamental trees, fruit trees, and mini, dwarf  and standard conifers. He's got an ever-increasing collection of azaleas, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas – and dozens of other flowering shrubs.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Boxes, baskets, pots, planters, walls, and grates...

This year's window boxes and cone baskets, wall hanging, grate-climbing vines, pots, planters and vertical succulent gardens came out great. They're ready for the big show in two weeks, the big show being Garden Walk Buffalo.

Figuring out what annuals go best where for each is a years-long learning process. I've forgone most flowering annuals because they need constant watering, fertilizing and deadheading. All things at which I do not excel. For most window boxes and baskets, I use coleus for color. They come in such varied colors and texture, and I don't have to worry about deadheading. And their color is constant.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A tour inside the Taj-ma-Shed...

The inside of the 'Taj-ma-Shed" is complete! I built the shed - pounded every single nail, laid every single shingle, cut every board. My wife and daughter did help with extreior painting, as well as held the ladder for me plenty of times, but other than that, I did it all myself. Well, okay, my friend Roger helped me put the counter top on the potting bench - that was HEAVY!

It's complete just in time too – a magazine is sending a photographer tomorrow to photograph it! And another local magazine is coming later in the week to shoot it. Both are for issues to be published next year.

Can't mention names, because I know that sometimes these things don't happen. Once, Martha Stewart Living magazine photographed my garden and the photos were never published. There's some great shots of my garden taken by a Toronto photographer, I've never seen, sitting on a hard drive somewhere in New York City. But I'm not bitter.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Happy as hellstrip

I finally, after many years, finished my hellstrip - the area between sidewalk and road. The spring hasn't been all about the shed!

Hellstrip with dead tree gone,
but stump remaining.
It was like this for three years.
It started off a grass strip with a dying horse chestnut tree. After watching the horse chestnut tree die for a few years, the city (who has the rights to the hellstrip property) came by and cut down the tree.

Then, after three years of asking the city when they were going to grind down the stump, they finally did. They planted a young tree to replace the dead tree. That was my cue to start planting there, since it seems the city was done doing what they were going to do.

The "grass" that was there was mostly crab grass, clover, and various weeds. They were all green, so it gave the appearance of grass. For a few years, this strip is the only reason I had a lawnmower, since the rest of the front yard is a grassless jungle of a garden.

Monday, June 13, 2016

10 of Buffalo's "Can't Miss" Gardens...

In no particular order, here are 10 extraordinary gardens you can't miss during Garden Walk Buffalo. There are 406 gardens on the tour this year, not a bad one among them. In my mind, these are some standouts - out of dozens and dozens of standouts. If you go on the tour, make sure you hit up gardens NOT in the densely populated areas of the map. Good gardens are all over.

1. (Above) Baynes Street Eight Paths Garden You'll have to pick up the Garden Walk Buffalo map to find out the exact address of this garden. Mike, the gardener, is a Garden Walk Buffalo volunteer and a great advocate of the Walk. You can also see this garden on Gardens Buffalo Niagara's Tours of Open Gardens - select hours on Thursdays and Fridays throughout July. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Spring around the spread

Last weekend I got done the bulk of the spring clean up. This weekend will be more concentrated projects, eating and drinking with friends, and perhaps the first kayak ride of the season.

Here's a round up of the activity around the spread...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Well kiss my tulips hello!

This was a great year for my tulips. During the Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto last year, each participant was given a certificate for 100 free bulbs from Colorblends Wholesale FlowerBulbs (seen above). I have to say - they are the tallest, most sturdy, longlasting bulbs I've ever had.

I'm no bulb collector or tulip hound, but from my little expereince with them, these have been the best performers I've ever had. The tulips I've had for years come back each year, maybe a few less each time. Many of them came from Holland - my wife was in Amsterdam and picked up a few bags with exotic colors – reds, oranges, yellows, purples, blues – and they all came up yellow. Buyer beware.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Before and After garden bench

I made this garden bench from a bed frame we had sitting in the basement for 15 years. It was my wife's grandmother's bed. At least this way we'll be able to appreciate it in the garden - rather than the basement.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Disney Concert Hall Garden and a bit of The Broad

The Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles holds a secret garden, The Blue Ribbon Garden,  that you would never know was even there walking by the alien exterior of the building.

A steep staircase off a busy sidewalk takes you to a rooftop public park/garden oasis, about an acre in size, with plenty of shady areas to sit and relax and take in the impressive architecture. Frank Gehry designed the building - and garden.

There are areas for kids performances, as well as serves as a pre- and post-performance reception area. It's also available for private events and children's programming.

One of its most unique features – other than the space-age design and materials is a fountain Gehry designed for its patron, Lillian Disney.

Disney was a rose collector – and collector of Royal Delft porcelain. According to the John Lithgow-narrated audio tour, Mr. Gehry himself said that the Delft wasn't that royal – in that she collected even cheap souvenir Delft as well.

Since she loved rose and her Delft porcelain, he created a large rose fountain made from Delft porcelain pieces and tiles.
Another feature of the building that was nature-inspired are the columns that support the building and mechanicals. Massive tree trunk-like wood-clad pillars give the lobby a sculptural forest-like vibe.
Free tours leave from the lobby daily. We had gotten there too late for the last tour but were able to take the audio tour (at no charge) and wander the building and garden at our leisure.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

New fence. Old fence.

Had a new cedar fence built last week. Finishing touches happen this week. 

Old picket fence? It's now the walls inside my new potting shed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A potting table for the potting shed

Wow. I didn't post once in February. That's new.

It's been a crazy month. Thank god it was the shortest month of the year. We did a Caribbean cruise and a few days at Disney World at the end of January, then two weeks later did a six-day trip to Birmingham, England (Stonehenge, Warwick Castle, The Roman baths at Bath, and a monkey forest!).

Thursday, January 28, 2016

My garden is in the Bible. The Garden Bible, that is...

 I made it into the Bible, you know, the good book, The Garden Bible, Designing your perfect outdoor space. Friend (and friend to Buffalo and its Garden Walk) Barbara Ballinger has written the garden bible and Buffalo is well represented. Even a little corner of my garden was snuck in there. 

She (and I) have been waiting patiently for its publication and release. I asked her id it was like giving birth – and she said it was worse! 

Where ever a Buffalo garden is featured, Garden Walk Buffalo got a nice mention. Photos from Buffalo were shot by either photographer Don Zinteck, or myself.

It's a 224-page hardcover book with glorious and generously sized photos throughout. There's plenty here for the beginner – and the pro – with design tips and lots of inspiration (20 case studies!). They're chapters on understanding your site and climate, developing a budget, hiring professionals, finding a style, design principles, recognizing problems – and a whole section on garden tours that features Garden Walk Buffalo prominently.

Currently it's available on Amazon, but it will be seeping out to bookstores in the coming weeks and months.

Friday, January 22, 2016

DIY garden bench, window boxes, and shutters for the garden shed

It's been a busy few weeks in the basement workshop. Not only did I make three window boxes from old louvered closet doors left over from a bathroom remodel, but I've made a garden bench from an old headboard we were going to throw out. And then I made some shutters for the garden shed's round-topped windows.


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