Friday: Garden Walk Buffalo - The Cottage District
Long lines to view these yards are what you would face during Garden Walk Buffalo. Being here two weeks before, you'll be the first in line.
This very charming neighborhood is the most popular destination during the Walk each year. These tiny Civil War-era cottages and other homes on Little Summer, Union Place and Sixteenth Street have gardens as unique as their occupants -- an eclectic mix of retirees, professionals and artists -- gardeners all. You'll visit Ellie's alley, originally a (very narrow) driveway, it is now an immense planter. She added brick on top of the surface and made "planters" by creating raised-beds over the pavement. Narrow walkways of dapple shade can get you lost (mentally) in this minuscule magical forest.
There are three very special "secret" cottages tucked in behind other cottages & homes. The only access is by a passage in between other houses that face the street. You cannot see them from the street. One is owned by Bunny. Bunny, and her late husband, Harold, first saw this house when they attended Garden Walk years ago. One of the cottages was for sale. They were so impressed with the cottage, garden & tight-knit community, they bought the middle cottage.
And Kitty's little cottage (that's right, there's a Bunny and a Kitty on this street) is a gorgeous cottage practically color- coordinated to her garden. I rented this cottage for four years when I was first married. It never looked this good when I lived there.
One of the streets in Buffalo that has benefited greatly from the enthusiasm, encouragement, PR and traffic of Garden Walk Buffalo, is unquestionably Sixteenth Street.
To celebrate the fact, and to brighten up the street even more, they have installed these banners of past Garden Walk poster artworks.
Sixteenth Street, as little as ten years ago, was what you might call a "transitional" street -- older housing stock in need of repair; absentee landlords; aging owners that were unable, or lacked the initiative to take care of their front yards; nefarious renters; and shady-goings-on happening at the end of the street and on neighboring blocks. I feel safe in saying this -- I owned a home on Sixteenth Street from 1991-2001.
After having gone on Garden Walk, visiting gardens its first few years, I looked at my garden and said, "Hey, my yard is as good as half of these!" and put our Sixteenth Street house on the Walk. Even though literally thousands of people were visiting the Cottage District's Little Summer Street, just a half block away, our house, the only house on on Sixteenth Street on the Walk, wouldn't even get two dozen visitors. The street had that kind of "reputation."
We made the couple that bought our Sixteenth Street house promise to be on the Garden Walk. They were not previously gardeners (and still claim not to be). But they not only have been on the Walk, they encouraged neighbors to get involved, and helped start a block club. Each year they, along with the block club (and a particularly generous avid gardener on the block) help to "redo" one front yard garden for an elderly neighbor. They've added street side planters, hanging baskets and the banners.
Housing values have gone up. People are working on the houses–interiors and exteriors. People are spending more time on their porches (they used to just drag the living room furniture out to them to watch a Bills game). Everyone knows everyone else and looks out for each other. I was visiting there over the weekend and every one greets each other with a smile and wave. This did not happen ten years ago. There are 11 house on Sixteenth Street on Garden Walk this year!
This is what I'm most proud about as president of Garden Walk Buffalo–helping foster neighborhood pride, increasing home values and increasing a sense of community in neighborhoods that might not otherwise have had something to band together for. And then showing it off to a regional (and now national) audience.
And, by my moving off Sixteenth Street, I think I helped make it a much better street.
Many of these Cottage District gardens have appeared in national gardening publications - Country Gardens, Great Backyards, Backyard Solutions, Garden Gate's Backyard Retreat, People Places Plants, and of course, the Garden Walk Buffalo book.