“The National Garden Festival in Buffalo has been known all along for its gardens and beautiful flowers,” said Mary Van Vorst, but she and other organizers have felt that there should be more attention paid to the environment and green movement.
That’s why this year you’ll see a new feature as part of the festival: the Beyond Flowers bus tour to be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3.
It’s a little bit different than the other bus tours offered as part of the National Garden Festival. Instead of a luxury motorcoach, you’ll ride aboard a yellow school bus.
At $30 per person, it’s less expensive, too. Lunch is still included.
The tour starts and ends at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus parking lot, 589 Ellicott St. at Goodell, Buffalo, where you’ll learn how a relatively narrow strip of vegetation at the end of the four-acre parking lot can divert 4 million gallons of storm water annually from Buffalo’s sewer system.
The other stops will be at the Massachuetts Avenue Project tilapia farm and compost operation; PUSH’s new environmentally conscious park and playground and PUSH’s community gardens; the Outer Harbor Parcel including wind sculptures and a natural playground; Riverfest Park on Ohio Street; lunch at Mutual Riverfront Park on Hamburg Street, which has a wonderful view of the world famous grain elevators; an urban habitat at the Buffalo Central Terminal site, and gardens built on the roof of the Broadway Market parking garage.
At each stop, representatives of that community project will be on hand to explain the details of the project.
The folks coordinating the Beyond Flowers tour are Van Vorst, Peggy Dryden and Craig Coyne, who had previously organized the Open Gardens for the National Garden Festival. They are joined by two new members: Jeff Leyonmark, who shared his garden with our readers in 2011, and Neil Carroll.
The tour focuses on two things: a healthy community and a healthy environment, Van Vorst said.
“Each of the sites addresses these in different ways, but it always comes back to a healthy community and a healthy environment,” she said. “We address it on a very grand scale at the outer harbor.”
The Outer Harbor Parcel is a section of waterfront property along Fuhrmann Boulevard that was a brownfield– garbage was dumped there for decades, Van Vorst said. Now that land is being reclaimed and a natural playground is scheduled to be open by Memorial Day.
Despite Buffalo’s location directly on Lake Erie and the Niagara River, people don’t have much access to the water. We celebrate the Erie Basin Marina, Van Vorst said, but that’s just a tiny spit of land.
“Now we can watch as waterfront property is reclaimed,” she said. “We need to promote the positive things that are important to us. We don’t do it often enough.”
Mutual Riverfront Park on Hamburg Street, which opened last year, has a spectacular view of the grain elevators and access to the water. Riverfest Park on Ohio Street opened a couple years ago.
You can visit these public places any time (and you should!), but on the tour you’ll learn how they were reclaimed.
“The educational component for this is huge,” she said.
Other sites on the tour help build healthy communities in other ways. At the rooftop garden at the Broadway Market, anybody in the neighborhood can plant anything they want.
“People tend to take care of one another’s plots,” she noted.
Then there are the PUSH community gardens on the West Side that help many residents, including refugees, who can grow some of the foods they used to grow in their native country.
“It allows people to meet people that they might not otherwise run into,” Van Vorst said, and that helps build communities. “It keeps circling back to that for me. We’ve neglected both these things (healthy communities and healthy environment) for a lot of years.”
At the Central Terminal, you’ll learn how sunflowers can help clean the soil.
The tilapia farm at the Massachusetts Avenue Project is especially intriguing– The plants and fish feed each other. Water from the fish pond is used to irrigate the plants. The fish excrement in the water fertilizes the the plants. The soil filters out fish excrement, then clean water is returned to the pond.
“It’s a modest operation, but the benefits and implications are big,” Van Vorst said.
There are only 41 seats available for this tour. The registration form was just activated a couple days ago and people have have already signed up, Van Vorst said, so if this tour interests you, don’t wait until the last minute or you may be disappointed.