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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
by Connie Oswald Stofko