What is a Buffalo-style garden?

Andrew Sprung, writing for the Daily Dish on Atlantic.com, said of his visit to Garden Walk Buffalo, "There are Japanese gardens, English gardens, Russian gardens (i.e., barely controlled wildernesses) and what I would call Buffalo gardens - eclectic, funky mixes in which found objects and exotic-looking surrounding rooftops figure prominently." You can read his full article here.

That got me thinking, does Buffalo really have a style of gardening all its own? Do we not recognize it because it's what we do and don't think it unusual or different from gardens in other parts of the country?

I think there are a few factors that contribute to this difference:
  • We have a short gardening season with spectacular weather.
  • We have a population of very creative people (painters, sculptors, chefs, actors, dancers, writers, curators, designers, singers and so on). Our creative community is rather large considering the size of our city. 
  • People on Buffalo's west side do not have necessarily budgets for professional landscapers, which makes them more creative with less money. Found art and used materials fit in most budgets, giving gardens a patina of use and time.
  • We have very intimate urban yards, for the most part, forcing us to be creative in a small space.
  • We have incredible residential architecture - varied in scale, quality and style. 
  • There's are no gardening professionals on Garden Walk Buffalo.
Going forward with next year's National Buffalo Garden Festival, we're looking at giving, as input, a definition Buffalo style garden to the landscapers in the Front Yard garden competition.

Elizabeth (Garden Rant & Gardening While Intoxicated) and I came up with this statement, trying to define what makes a Buffalo garden different than gardens you might see in other parts of the country:

In Buffalo, you’ll find small urban gardens that pack a big punch — including cheerfully brash juxtapositions of colorful perennials and unique annuals, minimal or no lawns, and creative uses of found objects and architectural artifacts as sculpture. A Buffalo-style garden will have the patina of a well-used, customized space, often with complete disregard for garden design conventions. Buffalo gardeners take advantage of the sides of houses and fences by hanging artwork, sculptures, grates, mirrors, plants and more— incorporating the impressive and diverse architecture found throughout every neighborhood.

Any comments? Agree, disagree? Anything to add? What do you think makes a Buffalo-style garden? (Looking  forward to hear what some of the Garden Bloggers that visited last summer might have to say...)

Little to no grass is common in a Buffalo style garden. Photo by Don Zinteck.
Exuberant colors, juxtaposed, are common. Photo by Don Zinteck.

Creative use of found objects is abundant. Photo by Don Zinteck.

NOT the aesthetic of a schooled gardening professional. Photo by Don Zinteck.

Small spaces are particular challenges to urban gardeners.
Unique architecture accentuates gardens in Buffalo. Or is it the other way around?
Creative use of hellstrips abound. This one has sculpture.

Creative people are not afraid of color.
Found art sculptures are found in many gardens in Buffalo.
Found in the same garden as the bowling balls above.
Great, and adventurous colors on the Blackrock/Riverside garden tour.
Everywhere you look, there's more to see in most Buffalo gardens. Photo by Don Zinteck.
Not found art, but you won't find this in a garden in Kansas City.

professionals might have issues with fruit trees in buckets, stored in the garage in winter.
Found on the Blackrock/Riverside garden tour.
Well-used spaces feel comfortable & "home-y."
No lawn mower needed. Photo by Don Zinteck.
Great 19th Century architecture like you'll find in few other cities. Photo by Don Zinteck.
Daring color and creativity in a small space. Photo by Don Zinteck.
Here, a garden is integrated right into, and up to, the house.

Short gardening season, but with spectacular weather,
encourages strong-colored annuals & perennials. Photo by Don Zinteck.


  1. We've not made the "WALK" yet - but believe me, we've put next year's dates on our calendar. We admire Buffalo style! Can't wait!

  2. Thanks for noticing my little mash note to Buffalo and the Garden Walk. On this year's walk, I tried to catch backdrops and other interesting surroundings in most photos, available here:


  3. I really noticed the sense of... community, I guess in the gardens. Because these are gardens created by gardeners who actually live next to each other, I really felt like the gardens on a given block played off each other -- instead of going to professionals or magazines for ideas, they're going to their neighbors, making for a strong sense of continuity in the gardens. Though intensely personal, each garden also felt pat of a large community. As a gardener who has always lived around non-gardeners, that really appealed to me.

  4. Those are some beautiful gardens! I think there is kind of a midwestern-great lakes style of gardening. I've seen stylistically similar gardens in both Chicago and Minneapolis but nothing like that on either coast. I think non-coastal areas have a certain quirkiness that allows for a more "fun" and personal feeling to the gardens. The gardens are first and foremost for them, it just so happens that everyone gets to enjoy it.

  5. I would love to do the garden walk in Buffalo! I'm all for no lawn. The colors and variety there is amazing.

  6. The Buffalo style garden is a regional phenomenon. I agree with Joseph that gardeners who are surrounded by other gardens inspire each other to do greater things.
    However, to see so many gardeners living side by side in America, is unusual. The question is how did this happen? The short growing season ought to have had the opposite effect and it didn't. That is fascinating.

  7. Rebecca,
    We're anxious to have you visit!

    Thanks for commenting! Your article last year is an oft-quoted gem we use in grant pitches for foundations. I have visited your "backdrops site" before and on the Photobucket site and had passed those links onto the Garden Walk gardeners a while back. The "Buffalo-style" is going to be used going forward with gardening projects in Buffalo, from the National Garden Festival Front Yard competition to community garden makeovers. You've provided us with a big idea. Royalty checks should start flooding in any minute now.

    How eloquent you are! Thanks for that expansion on what makes a Buffalo garden unique. We have created a community of gardeners (more than 350 and counting on Garden Walk, more than 1,000 on ALL the garden tours in the area). I somehow didn't think that was different from other cities.

    I'm going to have to start paying more attention to Great Lakes gardens! I would say that our gardens are less "polished" than both coasts. I attribute that to not having schooled garden designers creating our gardens they happen more "organically."

    Sherlock Street,
    If you do get here for a Garden Walk, please stop by. No lawn for myself is because I'm lazy and hate mowing, not some ecological puritanism on my behalf.

    How did his happen? Funny you should ask. An associate professor of sociology at a local college is conducting a research study about "the importance gardening in the context of voluntary associations and civic responsibility, and the effects of gardening on the civic image and revitalization of Buffalo, New York." Once completed, you can be sure I'll report about it here. Its purpose is to shed some light on what's happening in Buffalo to hopefully benefit other cites, especially those in the "rust-belt."

  8. What a wonderful post and analysis of the gardening community in Buffalo. What I notice from living here, but not being a native, is that there really is a sense of community. Neighbors share gardening ideas, plants, community spirit of place, and their creativity with one another. Gardening is infectious in Buffalo, more so than competitive I think. I did not realize that their are no professionals on the Walk. That astounds me.


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