by Connie Oswald Stofko
In some months when you approached the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, the entrance beds were full of flowers. But in other months, they looked sad.
“It would look like scorched earth,” said Jeff Thompson, director of horticulture. “It was just tilled ground.”
You can expect wonderful beds there year-round now that the entrance gardens have been designated as one of six elite Proven Winners Signature Gardens in the country.
The goal is to develop a showcase garden that complements the property and provides visitors the opportunity to view the latest new plant varieties and plant introductions from Proven Winners.
“This is really the curb appeal of this place,” Thompson said. “When people go to a botanical gardens, they expect seasonal interest and winter plants as well. The majesty of the building deserves a well-thought-out and planned entrance garden.”
Planting will be done in late May and the garden should be mature in about three years.
This relationship with Proven Winners is piggybacking on other efforts to improve the facilities at the Botanical Gardens. Erie County has identified substantial funds to completely restore one of the historically significant greenhouses, Greenhouse 3, which has been deteriorating over many years and is in desperate need of repair.
Extensive renovations are beginning now to restore Greenhouse 3 to its original beauty with modern features. This project is estimated to run through late 2016. That area is now closed, but when work is complete, the exhibit will again include the popular waterfall and koi pond as well as new plant displays.
Only six Proven Winners Signature Gardens in country
The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is in a elite group of high-profile properties chosen to be a Proven Winners Signature Garden.
The other five properties are the Hotel Iroquois on Mackinac Island; Grand Tradition Estate & Gardens in Fallbrook, CA; the Governor’s Mansions in Kentucky and Illinois, and Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester, MI. In addition, the first Proven Winners Botanical Trail was installed last year at Rockcastle River Trading Company in Livingston, KY.
With this prestigious designation, the outdoor front entrance gardens at the Botanical Gardens will serve as a regional showcase. Proven Winners will supply pamphlets and signage for visitors.
To achieve this designation, properties must demonstrate horticultural expertise, horticultural commitment and a commitment to a quality landscape presentation.
The vision for the entrance gardens
A greater use of shrubs and perennials will not only provide more year-round interest, they will provide permanence to the beds. In the past, much of the interest in the entrance gardens was provided by flowering bulbs, which were pulled after they flowered, and annuals, which didn’t come back, Thompson said. Pockets of bulbs and annuals will still add a splash of a color and allow changes to be made to the look of the garden from year to year, but perennials and shrubs will ensure there’s always something to look at.
The shrubs will be anchor plants that will delineate the design. Their size and scale will suit the building. Since the building was built in 1899, you’ll see interesting hedges that are classically Victorian.
While the design will attempt to stay true to that time period, it will use new varieties of plants that have been bred to be hardier, have better form and have a longer bloom period than plants that were available at the turn of the last century. There are many more choices of plants available now, too. The aim is to create amazing plant and color combinations.
Most of the plant material will be from Proven Winners, with some provided at a discount or donated. While there will be some large and more mature plants, many of the specimens are being grown at the Botanical Gardens from cuttings (or rooted plugs or liners). Tissue culture is used so that the plant is genetically identical to the parent plant.
Many of the plants included in the garden will be available at the Great Plant Sale which will be held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17 in the Administration Building. Note: If you’re a volunteer or member, you can attend a day earlier than the general public, from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, May 15.
To make sure the staff will be able to maintain the beds, an automatic system to fertilize and irrigate, or “fertigate,” has been installed. A sprinkler system couldn’t be used because it would spray people who were walking up to the doorway.
The drip system is a more efficient way to control irrigation, Thompson said, and it will reduce the number of hours that a person has to stand in the garden with a hose, allowing staff to be more productive.
Last fall, the area was prepared by adding literally tons of compost to the site.
Long-term relationship with Proven Winners
The designation of the entrance gardens as a Proven Winners Signature Garden is just the beginner of a long-term relationship between the Botanical Gardens and Proven Winners, Thompson said.
The Botanical Gardens has a large property, and with help from Proven Winners, large areas can be transformed. And as every garden knows, your work doesn’t end with the installation of a garden.
“Even the best-planned gardens needs to be developed and redone,” Thompson said. “The sky is the limit.”