by Connie Oswald Stofko
The National Garden Festival, which has been looking for ways to become a sustainable organization so that it can continue into the future, will be absorbed by Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest garden walk in the United States.
Visitors probably won’t notice any differences in events this year, said Cindy Loomis, president of Garden Walk Buffalo.
“We anticipate the National Garden Festival will continue this year as it has, and after Garden Walk Buffalo, we’ll figure out what to do next,” Loomis said. Changes will take place over the next two or three years.
Garden Walk Buffalo, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, will take place Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27. Western New York boasts another dozen or so garden walks, each with its own organizers.
In 2010, the National Garden Festival was created to act as an umbrella organization to bring the garden walks and other gardening events together as a tourist attraction. It was spearheaded by local garden author and speaker Sally Cunningham along with a group of committed volunteers.
The National Garden Festival had been administered under the auspices of the Visit Buffalo Niagara Foundation with Cunningham as executive director.
“Although we had four years of success with the National Garden Festival, we did not find funding to sustain it in its form with a director,” Cunningham said.
It wasn’t easy to find sponsors and grants to continue the National Garden Festival as a separate nonprofit organization, but there are many people of goodwill who are trying to find another way to make the National Garden Festival work, she said.
By absorbing the National Garden Festival, the volunteers at Garden Walk Buffalo will be taking on something that is larger than what they have done before, “and I’m glad they’re willing to try,” Cunningham said.
While Visit Buffalo Niagara doesn’t have funding to organize events, it does have a $50,000 garden tourism grant to do marketing for those events, said Ed Healy, vice president of marketing at Visit Buffalo Niagara. It will produce a directory and guide as it did last year for the National Garden Festival and do consumer advertising throughout this region, Canada, central New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
“We believe that Buffalo Niagara’s green scene is a genuine point of difference and competitive advantage, one that gives our region a very real opportunity to tell a new story and create a new brand,” Healy said. “After helping to incubate the National Garden Festival, we are thrilled that Garden Walk Buffalo is committed to taking horticultural tourism to the next level. We look forward to working with Garden Walk Buffalo on this exciting initiative.”
For the most part, the activities of the National Garden Festival, such as the various garden walks, are run by independent groups of organizers and will go on as usual. (As details on those events become available, we’ll post them on our Events page.)
However, Cunningham said the open gardens are still under discussion.
Cunningham has been hired by AAA Horizon Club Tours to organize and be a guide for motor coach tours of gardens, so those bus tours will continue and actually be expanded. Certain garden centers had held educational events, and those will probably be publicized under the National Garden Festival umbrella, she said. The Beyond Flowers Tour, a guided tour of seven spots where the community has worked with Mother Nature, not against her, will take place in August. The Buffalo-style Garden Art Sale is scheduled for June 29.
In another region, a situation like this might make everybody go away mad, Cunningham said, but not here.
“I think we’re going to make something great out of this,” she said.
Loomis, president of Garden Walk Buffalo, said she looks forward to working with the people associated with the other garden walks. Garden Walk Buffalo is producing a slick 60-page publication for its 20th anniversary and is including a list of the other garden walks.
“Garden Walk Buffalo has become very, very big and we’re very proud of that,” Loomis said. “It has become more than a neighborhood beautification project, it has become a tourism project. It is certainly changing the face of Buffalo from a cold rust-belt city to a beautiful horticultural attraction.
“If we can piggyback on that with all the garden walks, it should help them. We’re not looking to put anybody out of business. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”