Best Buffalo plants
With 1,000 private gardens open to visitors, these are the plants people are talking about
A huge stand of hakonechloa grass contrasts well with nearby aruncus (goatsbeard).
Some plants just take the stage. These are the ones that draw the cameras and the question: what is that?
In its twenty-fifth year, Garden Walk Buffalo has achieved national fame (the largest garden tour event in the country with roughly 70,000 visitors) and a large but somewhat predictable plant list that’s evolved for two good reasons:
New gardeners copy success. Someone’s stunning seven-foot Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ will be seen in ten area gardens next season. “What is that?” leads to “I want that!” Familiarity breeds popularity.
The influence of timing. The placement of a garden show or tour on the calendar affects the plant palette. The Buffalo event is always on the last two-day weekend in July (July 27–28 this year). Local gardeners have learned which plants are trustworthy for peak performance at the end of July. Certain plants perform the best and have risen to regional stardom.
Plant collections and mass plantings
Tourists cannot leave Western New York without noticing our success with several plant genera that a few gardeners display en masse.
The most popular perennial in America, this plant is a stellar performer here. Marcia and Dave Sully in Eden feature 1000 different hostas, while Mike and Kathy Shadrack’s Smug Creek Garden showcases countless specimens—all labeled.
New varieties appear every year; it’s easy to create great combos.
Most northeast gardeners use a variety of annuals for pops of color, rather than a sea of cultivars from one genus. But Joe Hopkins (Hopkins/Dunlap garden, 16th Street) collects coleus. The leaf patterns, textures, colors, and combinations are breathtaking, as is Hopkins’ secret: “Do you like how I blend the leaf patterns and colors,” he asks? When we nod our heads in admiration, he adds, “Guess what—I’m colorblind!”
Heucheras (Coral Bells)
This has become a cult favorite, and comes in many colors.
The best advertisement for this genus, from which hundreds of cultivars continue to evolve, is Stephen Bellus’ garden on Lancaster Avenue. Mixed among hostas in an artistically designed shade garden, waves of ginger to lime-colored foliage satisfy the eye.
This is a tender bulb that many gardeners save in the basement over winter and pot up for the summer show. In the Locke/Irey garden on Lancaster Avenue you might count hundreds of blooms.
Dwarf and unusual conifers
In Hamburg, Barb and Dave Whittemore aren’t showing you tightly pruned evergreens that have been cut down to size. Among the train sets and little hostas are true dwarf or miniature conifers. Lesser known specimens and larger dwarfs are also fascinating visitors in the Bannerman garden (Orchard Park) and Hajnosz garden (Hamburg).
It’s a national craze and WNY is not immune. While people remember the “traveling succulents” story (Sully garden, Eden) and Jim Charlier’s framed succulents (Lancaster Avenue), these sun-loving plants are found in gardeners’ driveways and pots on tours everywhere.
Sometimes the weather pattern finishes off many daylilies (Hemerocallis) by mid-July, but not in the Bannerman garden (Orchard Park) or the Coyne/DeNezza garden (Amherst).
Echinacea is a beautiful and reliable native pollinator
See daisies, Bee-balm, and huge Echinacea clumps—among hundreds of annuals and perennials in massive plantings—at Ellie Dorritie’s front yard on Little Summer Street, the Brennon and Rogers garden (Kenmore), and the nearby Blythe Song ’nÆ Bird garden (Tonawanda).
A few perennial plants always solicit inquiries after tours:
Crocosmia (formerly called Montbretia), typically the cultivar ‘Lucifer’: a dramatic plant that blooms red-orange at just the right time of year.
Hakanchloa macra (Japanese Forest Grass): a shade plant, it forms elegant, gold-colored clumps—slow to start but worth the wait. (McCall garden, Lancaster Avenue)
Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstonne’: This Black-eyed Susan relative makes a strong, tall, and yellow-flowering anchor plant. See it on Richmond Ave (Halloran garden) and on many town tours.
Featured annuals and tropicals
Persian Shield - still the annual everybody asks about
A riot of lush texture and bright color—such as that found at the Ballard/Olinski garden on Bird Avenue—is almost impossible to achieve without tropical plants. That garden features bananas, cannas, elephant ears, mandevillas, and dipladenias, with a variety of unusual annuals and succulents in the hayracks and large containers throughout. A large percentage of the region’s memorable gardens use different annual plants each year. Ken Haberman of Hamburg starts hundreds (maybe thousands) of plants from seeds in spring, with new cultivars of zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, petunias, and many more.