Reach new heights with inspiration from this Buffalo yard on Open Gardens

gate looking into garden and house in Buffalo NY
A gate affords privacy for this garden off Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. This view is from the street looking toward the house. The property is a double lot; the garden is to the right. Photo Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

The most interesting thing about the landscape of Gordon Ballard and Brian Olinski– and trust me, there are many interesting things packed into this space– is that you can’t see straight through from the front to the back.

When you step inside the gate, you follow a path lined with tall plants. There are are bushes, tall perennials and ornamental grasses; vining plants climbing up trellis and arbors, and flowers of all kinds displayed in large containers and hanging baskets (there are more than 100 containers throughout the yard).

As you stroll along, you come across an entertainment area with a table and chairs. Stroll a little further and– surprise! There’s another seating area that wasn’t visible from the entertainment area.

But there’s more! Keep walking and you’ll come across a tiki bar tucked into he back of the yard.

The garden was purposely designed to limit what you can see at one time.

“You should have to peer around corners to see more,”  Ballard said.

entertainment area in Buffalo garden
An entertainment area now occupies the space that was formerly taken up by a huge pond. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

You can see this intriguing garden during the Open Gardens that are part of the National Garden Festival. This particular garden is open from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays from July 3 to July 31 at 604 Bird Ave., Buffalo.

The Open Gardens are divided into more than a dozen geographic clusters in the City of Buffalo, its suburbs and Western New York. This garden is part of the Elmwood Village-Allentown cluster.

Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Surprise– there’s another seating area. In addition to tall perennials, trellises and arbors add height to this garden. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

You can visit all of these gardens for free as part of Open Gardens.

Be sure to carefully check the time and day the garden is open. Most gardens are open only on Thursday or only on Friday and the hours vary.

This year the book that lists the Open Gardens is free and is available at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, garden centers and other locations. You can also see the entire schedule of Open Gardens online.

While many of the properties featured on Open Gardens are also on one of the 14 garden walks that are part of the National Garden Festival, if you want to see the Ballard/Olinski garden, you must go during Open Gardens; it won’t be on any garden walk.

I visited this garden last summer, and I can tell you that if your garden feels flat, you should visit this garden for inspiration.

path through garden in Buffalo NY
Walls of plants section off the garden into different rooms. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

“We go vertical to the max in order to use all the space,” Ballard said, “even though this is a good-sized yard.”

While they have a double lot, it’s still a city property. These are folks that measure their property in feet, not acres.

You might hesitate to fill your yard with so many plants, thinking you just don’t have enough room, but I think this yard feels as big as it does because it is sectioned off into so many outdoor rooms by the walls of plants.

There are many ways these gardeners add height to their landscape.

reed grass in Buffalo NY garden
Reed grass can get as tall as the electrical wires. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Many large containers are hung along the fence to draw your eye up. Other containers are hung from shepherd’s hooks. Tall flowers include cannas and hardy hibiscus. There are climbing plants– food plants as well as flowers– including roses, clematis, sweet pea, porcelain berry vine and grapes. Don’t forget about shrubs such as chokeberry, butterfly bush and rose of Sharon. UPDATE Sept. 27, 2021: Porcelain berry is a prohibited species in New York State. See more here.

Ornamental grasses can add height as well. One grass that they use is giant reed grass or arundo donax, which you can see the photo at left.

“It’s invasive, but we keep it contained,” Ballard said. “It’s going to get as tall as the electrical wires.”

Ballard bought the property 20 years ago and it has evolved through the years.

They used to have a 3,000-gallon pond that was a showpiece for the yard, but after 15 years, the liner had become brittle and unusable. To rebuild the pond might have proved to be a bigger job than installing it initially, so they removed it.

You may see that as a loss, but Ballard doesn’t.

“Tastes change,” he said. “It was wasted space, in my opinion.”

In its place is a new entertainment area and garden.

“I did not have a master plan here,”  he said. “That’s what makes it kind of fun. It’s free form, nothing formal.”

tiki bar in backyard in Buffalo NY
A tiki bar provides another entertaining area in this backyard. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Letting go of the large pond cut down their workload, too, but there is still lots to do. In the spring, Ballard and Olinski combined can put in 60 to 70 man-hours a week in the garden, working from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. Keep that in mind if you’re envisioning a garden as large and lavish as this one.

Ballard doesn’t have a sprinkling system; he spends about 1½ hours a day watering.

When you water by hand, “you get to see what’s growing and what needs staking,” he said.

Even though there is a lot to do in their own yard, they added plants on the outside of the fence for neighbors to enjoy, too.

“Everybody has been thanking us for making the neighborhood nicer,” Ballard said.

flowers added outside fence for neighbors to enjoy in Buffalo NY
Ballard and Olinski added flowers outside their fence to beautify the neighborhood. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

9 Comments on “Reach new heights with inspiration from this Buffalo yard on Open Gardens

  1. I am excited to visit open gardens this year and there are quite a few that raise the roof on plantings. This is a pretty space and one I will be sure to see.

  2. Gordon and Brian have truly created a wonderland of hidden beauty. When you peek through the gorgeous gate on Bird Ave you see perhaps 1/10th of what exists here. Hard to believe this is a CITY yard. They are the proof that Master Gardening and the huge workload that goes with it are so rewarding. I urge you to see this during their open hours in July. I am proud to call them friends and learn about gardening from them too. Thanks guys!

  3. I love this garden. I like the idea that they had “no plan” in mind. I too had not plan when I started putting in plants/flowers but after 5 years my backyard is shaping up to look like a place one can relax in a park setting. Thank you for sharing this. I’m looking forward to visiting this area.

  4. An oasis is an understatement! I’ve had the pleasure of seeing their talent, creativity and hardwork blossom over the years. I am always amazed by the growth and expansion!! Gordon and Brian are extremely talented and dedicated to making their yard a virtual paradise in the Buffalo area!! Congratulations!!!

  5. Gordon and Brian put a lot of time in creating these Masterpieces in their backyard. If you want to see a totally different world in all kinds of beautiful flowers within the City of Buffalo, NY, I would ask you to visit their garden and see for yourself, it’s totally breathtaking…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *