Capitol Hill Garden Club In Washington, D.C., Since 1952

A Surprise To Many

January 09, 2017 7:00 PM | Joseph Purdy (Administrator)

Gardening In Buffalo, NY


          By Stephen Bauer


I lived most of my life in the suburbs of Buffalo NY. A surprise to many, Buffalo is a very interesting place - wonderful garden culture; gilded age, ordinance protected housing; smart, creative, free thinking, well educated people (hippies); many excellent theaters and cultural events.<< We expected to relocate to Washington DC and I wanted to experience Buffalo before moving. In September 2013, I rented an inexpensive apartment in a duplex home built in 1920 (367 Pennsylvania Ave) across from Kleinhan's Music Hall. I left behind a very mature, very lovely garden built over 20 years and well loved.


The apartment was located near the heart of the city. The green space about the apartment was depressing however. The backyard was covered by thatch, weeds, an 11' by 31' deck of broken asphalt, piles of debris, and garbage cans. The yard was a little more than 40' deep. Former occupants had planted gardens and trees, now long dead and abandoned. The soil was thin or none on top of clay, rusting pipes, and buried bricks and glass. It turns out that in the early 1900's, a farrier shop was located at the rear of the property. All of the junk associated with decades of business,<< human garbage such as bottles and cans, and eventually the building itself including bricks, foundation stones, lintels, wooden beams, nails, etc were buried in the yard that I viewed out of the back window of my apartment.


No matter what else Buffalo gave to me, I was heart broken every time I recalled the garden I left behind. Linda, knowing what I felt, urged me to build a garden if possible. I approached the owner in February 2014 and proposed to build the garden with my own funds and efforts. I showed them pictures of my former garden and they told me I could do whatever I wanted (!). I took their permission literally and designed and built the garden for both of us.


In March. April 2013 I bought a shovel, mattock, garden fork, lightweight plastic wheelbarrow, and a few hand tools. I cleaned up and disposed of the above ground debris piles. The asphalt was stripped off, piled, and disposed into the large trash cans to one-quarter full over two months. With asphalt removed, beneath another foot of crushed blue stone I found the farrier shop foundation, stones, bricks, lintels and debris piles. I dug up and piled the blue stone and bricks, foundation stones, and lintels. The glass, cans, nails, rotted wood, broken bricks, rusty pipes, and similar... I dug up and trashed.


In May, June 2013 I purchased organic fertilizers, crushed pine bark mulch, cow manure and compost. With a little patience, you can save money by obtaining composted manure from farms and stables and composted grass and leaves from municipal sources. I hand dug and amended beds on the left and right sides of the yard. This included breaking up and reburying several large root systems. Where the root systems were broken up and mulch added, the soil was wonderfully improved. I eventually unearthed three or four cubic yards of blue stone and a little less of bricks. The blue stone was used to construct a sitting area and path. Some bricks were used to unobtrusively 'fence' invasive plants such as Japanese anemone.


The rear or the yard faced west and had large trees behind. The yard left was south and edged by broken canopy mid-sized trees and the yard right was north and edged by shrubs and again mid-sized trees. The yard had a few patches of shade but was predominantly in part sun to full sun. Average annual rainfall in Buffalo and Washington DC is about 41' but Washington's planting zone (7a) is a little warmer than Buffalo's (6a). The overall garden design would be informal but reflect Japanese garden concepts.

The foundation stones and entrance lintel from the farriers shop were quite large with the lintel weighing upwards of 600 pounds. The smaller foundation stones became step stones on the winding path designed by Linda. I managed to place the larger foundation stones as features throughout the garden. However, the best we could do for the lintel was to push it with pry bars into the middle of our blue stone 'sitting area'. Aspirationally, we purchased two concrete bench legs from Home Depot for $25 (the bench seat was broken!) upon which the lintel would sit. A few days later, I visited a neighborhood party and enjoyed a few beers in company perhaps mentioning our lintel dilemma. Later that day, I came home to find that six young men had roped and lifted the lintel into place. A very nice act on their part!


In order to populate the garden, I needed lots of somewhat mature plants. I found about a dozen 'mowed perennials' growing in the yard (bachelor buttons, dragons blood sedum, Kamchatka sedum, day lilies, Irish moss, dew berries, raspberries, prairie malva, morning glory). I contacted my plant friends and obtained divisions for about twenty perennials (hostas, lilies, sweet woodruff, rhubarb, Japanese anemone, Solomon seal), shrubs and vines (mountain laurel, a sprig of Chinese wisteria). I watched for sales (tiarella, fern leaf bleeding heart, St Johns Wort x2) and distressed plants (clematis) at Lowes and Home Depot. At Aldis and Kmart I found wonderful, very inexpensive woody plants (redbud, sand cherry, pussy willow, rose bushes x3, Nishiki willow). Different woody plants were carried by Aldis for a few weeks at a time throughout the Spring and Summer, so we needed to check in regularly.


I'm a long time member of Buffalo's Urban Roots Garden Club. From Urban Roots, I purchased a few favorites at large discount (nine bark, butterfly bush, butterfly weed, corydalis) with additional discounts for end of year sales (Japanese thread leaf maple). Several perennials cane from construction sites (achellia, hardy geraniums, Irish moss,...). I added a few annuals (most notably amaranth 'love lies bleeding', marigolds, portulaca) were added. Finally, I sprinkled a annual / perennial (1st year flowering) seed mix in a 4' by 4' space I wasn't initially sure about. The following year, I pulled out a few plants and kept plants that fit. Overall, the garden eventually had about 50 perennials, 12 shrubs, two vines, and three trees plus the annuals and <<< was pretty much developed during the May-August 2013 interval.


I didn't spend a lot of money on this project - about $700 over two years. I also wanted the garden to require little maintenance. I moved to Washington DC mid-May 2014. However, I showed in the Buffalo Garden Walk at the end of July 2014. I flew up to Buffalo before the Walk to water and primp for two days. I also added labels to all of the plants with common and scientific names. Our friends and neighbors had been very generous to share plants and help us build the garden. As we were moving to Washington DC, we decided to return this generosity. Some plants, especially woody shrubs and trees, were labelled to remain. A few plants were promised to friends. The other plants could be and were dug up and taken to new homes during the Garden Walk. About 150 people visited our garden over two days and the entire experience was lovely and deeply rewarding




2013, Beginning




2013, Early Work




2013, Basic Layout




2013, Midsummer Evening




2013, Late Summer




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