Front Yard Garden Contest 2012

The Lockwoods Greenhouses team, led by Ken Parker starts by trimming the tree.

Monday was the start of the National Garden Festival's Front Yard Contest. This year the neighborhood chosen was Crowley Avenue, another street along a Buffalo Olmsted Park - Riverside Park. Fifteen very small front yards are being made over in the course of a week. To our knowledge, this is the only contest between landscapers in the country that makes over front yards as a community service.

Tonka toys arrive.
I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the local landscapers. This is year three, and while it was a little harder to find landscaping companies that had the time to give to the cause, most mainstays were back again this year, along with some yards being taken over by the Master Gardeners of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, with a helpful boost of working gardeners from the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. They'll be helping out as training exercise, learning from the Master Gardeners.

Trees and pavers for all!
There's even three yards not claimed by any single landscaper - but they've all volunteered to work TOGETHER to get them done. A contest where competitors collaborate. Only in Buffalo.

Actually, there are some awards handed out at the end, by different organizations, and one is a public voting award. But the crux of the competition, if you ask anyone involved, is giving back to the community by giving a deserving block a morale boost.

Other side effects include having homeowners become gardeners (they get LOTS of one-on-one and group lessons in plants and their care - even after we leave); an area around a public Olmsted-designed park gets improved; relationships are formed between organizers, landscapers and homeowners; home values potentially increase; and in some cases, neighbors become closer. Though in this neighborhood, these families have know each other well, in some cases, for generations.

National Garden Festival Director
Sally Cunningham addresses the media.
During the press conference to launch the project, it was hard to keep them down. Yips and hots became "thank yous" and offers of coffee, water, and snacks any time the workers want. Some tears were shed.

Landscapers got straight to work. They showed up with their life-size Tonka trucks, trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, baskets, stones, pavers, gravel, compost, soil and lots more. Trees got trimmed, old scrappy bushed were dug out, and LOTS of watering started.

The hero landscapers are:

Director and organizer Sally Cunningham
at the center of attention.
The contest is sponsored by Monrovia Nurseries, with additional support from Lakeside Sod, Akron Tree Farms and Unilock, Inc.

The Front Yard Contest is being coordinated by the Western New York State Nursery & Landscape Association, the New York State Certified Nursery and Landscape Professionals, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Visit Buffalo Niagara, and the National Garden Festival organizing committee, of with I am one of many members.

At the press conference, three TV stations showed up, The Buffalo News, and three or four other media outlets. So far it's been covered by all:

The first tree, a red
Japanese maple, goes in.
There's even an ongoing blog through the week with updates and lots of "before," "during" and eventually, "after" photos. Visit it at

You can see all the "Before" photos here. All the photos I took can be found on the National GArden Festival Facebook page photo album here.

Of all the things the National Garden Festival does - helping promote 14 area garden tours, holding and promoting garden education events, organizing a garden art sale, putting together 77 Open Gardens on Thursdays and Fridays, and coordinating seven garden-themed bus tours, I think I am most proud of the group for having, with this year's make-over, completed 48 makeovers in the last three years.

Oh, I'm also proud we accomplish all this in just five weeks.


  1. Black Rock and Riverside are two of the most under-appreciated and under-recognized sections of the city. There is a lot of solid old housing stock, the river is close by -- and the homeowners are invested in their community. It's great to see this area receive the attention.

  2. What a great contest. I love that the Master Gardeners are involved in it as well.

  3. Alex M.,
    I knew the neighborhood would improve as soon as you left it. I just didn't think I'd have anything to do with it.

    The Master Gardeners were a God-send this year! all hail the Master Gardeners!


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