Halloween fun: Be creative in your WNY garden all year long

closeup of fish bowl suspended from tree in Buffalo NY
Closeup of a fish bowl suspended from a tree in Buffalo, NY. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

I visited the yard of Jim “Wak” Nowicki during Garden Walk Buffalo in July. He had lots of interesting elements in his summer garden, including live fish in bowls suspended from tree branches, which we’ll talk about more toward the end of this article.

Halloween pumpkin decoration made from old fence
A tall, straight section of fence becomes a jack-o’-lantern. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

But he doesn’t relegate his creativity to the summer months. He took a few moments out of the tour of his summer gardens to give me a sneak peek at his Halloween decorations that were stored in the basement. I loved this jack-o’-lantern created out of a section of old fence, which you can see at left. I think what I found most creative is that he looked at a tall, straight section of fence and thought of a pumpkin,which is so round.

While plants are generally the showpieces of our gardens, hardscapes can add character to your garden. They become even more important in autumn and winter when your plants might not be as exciting. Think of fences, trellises, paths, steps, benches, statues and other decorations, including holiday decorations.

Nowicki had plenty of creative touches during the summer on his property at 697 West Delevan, Buffalo. He aims for gardens that are low maintenance, cheap, different and eye-catching. Here are some of the ways he achieved that.

His front garden, which you can see below, is simple, with easy-to-care-for ferns and hostas. There’s a burning bush, too, which turns red in the fall.

Black mulch is spread in the spaces between plants. The mulch keeps the weeds down, so you don’t have to spend time weeding.

“Mulch is the easy way out,” Nowicki said. “It looks clean and it’s inexpensive.” He  recommends looking for sales at the end of the season.

The plants are accented by driftwood he collected from Lake Erie and shells he collected during trips to Florida. The black mulch makes a nice contrast to the light-colored driftwood and shells.

flamingos on front lawn in Buffalo NY
Visitors to Garden Walk Buffalo know Jim Nowicki’s yard by the flock of flamingos. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Return visitors to Garden Walk Buffalo know his house as the one with the flock of flamingos on the front lawn. The flamingos are eye-catching and low maintenance.

Nowicki notes that there are many different styles of flamingo in his collection. He calls the white flamingos “snowmingos.”

The flamingo isn’t just a lawn decoration for Nowicki. He uses a flamingo as the logo for the running event called the Buffalo Suburu 4-mile Chase, of which he is race director.

“It signifies summer in the city,” he said.

Nowicki was also parks commissioner under Mayor Anthony Masiello.

sea shell planter in Buffalo NY
Jim Nowicki plants his own hanging baskets. He used a large sea shell as a planter, too. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Another way Nowicki saves money is by planting most of his hanging baskets of annuals himself instead of buying baskets already planted. Save the plastic basket from the previous season, buy flats of annuals and pot up your own baskets.

sunflower made from tree trunk in Buffalo NY
A giant slice of tree trunk was turned into a sunflower. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

The many hanging baskets at his house and the many trees in the vicinity create a natural and almost woodsy space to enjoy from the front porch and balcony. Other potted plants add to the ambiance, including annuals planted in a large sea shell.

In the backyard he has a giant sunflower made from a slice from a tree trunk. It was especially nice to have it this year because his real sunflowers didn’t come up.

The most unusual items on display in his gardens were a pair of fish bowls suspended from tree branches in front of his house. A closeup of a betta is at the beginning of this article and below you can see the macrame cords that hold the bowl in place.

Nowicki had the fish displayed outside only for the two days of the walk, and he said the pet store staff assured him the fish would be fine. The bowls weren’t in the sun; they were shaded by the tree branches and the weather was cloudy. If the summer weather had been hotter or sunnier, or if the bowls had been in a less sheltered spot, this wouldn’t have worked. (Obviously, you can’t try this in cold autumn weather.)

I think this idea would be lovely with plants instead of fish. You could even display a set of fish bowls holding colored rocks, with or without water. Use Nowicki’s ideas to spur your imagination.

“Be creative,” Nowicki said. “Be yourself. Don’t copy anybody; do what makes you feel good.”

fish bowl hanging in tree in Buffalo NY
Macrame cords were used to suspend a fish bowl from a tree. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko


by Connie Oswald Stofko









5 Comments on “Halloween fun: Be creative in your WNY garden all year long

  1. where did you get the macrame from? Also, where did you get the jar from, and what is it’s capacity? I like the idea for an indoor fish.

  2. Also, sea shells are for salt water, not fresh water aquariums. The shells leach chemicals such as lime into the water which is not healthy for freshwater fish as well.
    And I Second the comments of not using fish as “decor”.

  3. Yvonne, since I posted this article, I have heard from other people who say that a container that small isn’t adequate for a fish that size. I can understand why you would be concerned about the water temperature, but because of the conditions that day, I really do think it was within the range you specified. Still, I understand that, for the reasons you state, these aren’t optimal conditions for a fish. I think you have educated us! Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  4. Although I applaud the creativity, I do not applaud using fish as decorations. In particular in jars. Even in the shade, did this gardener test the temperature of this water? It could heat up to a very uncomfortable or even deadly heat. Betta fish at a minimum should be kept in a 5 gallon tank with a heater set to about 76 – 83 degrees and a gentle flow filter. NEVER should they be kept in these or any small jar or bowl. A fish is a live creature with feelings and stressors. Imagine the stress on these poor guys being in a tiny jar on display – even if it was only two days …. Talk to a reputable aquarium specialist, not a box store employee. I have had five bettas over the past 15 years. Maybe next year this gardener could recreate a larger display to educate the people who come to his yard about what these fish really require.

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