by Connie Oswald Stofko
“I hope this is the beginning of something to bring the city back to life,” said Pete Ames, co-chair of the Grand Gardens of the Niagara Portage.
The event is a garden walk with a twist. Public gardens rather than private gardens will be the focus. You can take a trolley from site to site while listening to a guide discuss the history of the architecture you see along the way, and speakers will give presentations at the various sites.
It’s all free.
Organizers hope the event will inspire a revitalization of the City of Niagara Falls through gardening. Even the name, Grand Gardens, shows that they’ve set the bar high, Ames said.
But it’s an achievable goal.
You may have heard of the broken window theory. If a vandal breaks a window and it doesn’t get fixed, it invites another window to get broken. And another. And another.
“When things go downhill, no one cares,” Ames said.
But when someone fixes up their front yard, it can inspire a neighbor to do the same.
I’ve heard this from gardeners in the City of Buffalo as well as the Buffalo suburbs. A neighborhood is run down, but when one resident fixes up their landscape and participates in a garden walk, pretty soon the neighbor across the street plants a few perennials and the neighbor two doors down sets out a pot of annuals. People become more attentive to home repairs. The neighborhood that was once in decline is now improving.
“It instills pride,” Ames agreed. “We want to have a spark of hope.”
The second annual Grand Gardens of the Niagara Portage will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 18.
The New York State Trolley will provide continuous transportation to three stops. Pick up a map at any of the three stops.
The first is Oakwood Cemetery, 763 Portage Rd., designated a National Historical Site. It has hosta gardens designed by Mike Shadrack of Hamburg who, with his wife, Kathy Guest Shadrack, wrote The Book of Little Hostas: 200 Small, Very Small, and Mini Varieties.
The second stop is Niagara Falls Public Library, 1425 Main St., where a Peace Garden is located.
The third is a combined stop for the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center (NACC), 1201 Pine Ave., and Schoellkopf Park, adjacent to the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and bounded by Pine Avenue, Portage Road and Walnut Avenue. There will be signage on the Pine Avenue entrance to the park directing you to the trolley stop. (Portage between Pine and Walnut will be closed to traffic, creating a large festival area.)
Riders must obtain a wristband at any of the venues that day to ride the trolley, but it’s free.
Julie O’Connor from Complete Senior Care will be the trolley guide and give an informational talk along the trolley route.
Each venue will offer activities, refreshments, restrooms and free parking.
Special presentations are:
10 a.m.–Schoellkopf Park: Landscape architectural presentation by Joy Kuebler, landscape architect
11 a.m.–Oakwood Cemetery: Hosta presentation by Mike & Kathleen Shadrack, garden authors
Noon–The NACC: Presentation to showcase the Children’s Garden
1 p.m.–Niagara Falls Public Library: Frederick Law Olmstead, a one-man play, Gerry Wright.
3 p.m.–Oakwood Cemetery: The Power of Garden Tourism by Sally Cunningham, local gardening expert
“It’s different,” said Ames. “It’s not the usual garden walk.”
Ames is a member of the board of directors at Oakwood Cemetery and co-chair of the Grand Gardens of the Niagara Portage. The other co-chairs are Trudy Christman, an Oakwood Cemetery board member, and Marge Gillies, Master Gardener and co-chair of the landscape committee at Oakwood.
“Niagara Falls is probably one of the poorest Zip Codes in the United States,” Ames said. Tourists go the falls, but “we have a hard time getting people to come to see the rest of the city because of its reputation.”
But the City of Niagara Falls does have its bright spots, such as Schoellkopf Park. Built in the early 1900s, it suffered years of neglect, but a restoration project that began in 2006 restored this gem. In 2011, Preservation Buffalo Niagara presented its Landscape Preservation Award to the design by Joy Kuebler.
Now people walk, ride bikes and enjoy the park, Ames said.
In addition to its outdoor spaces, Oakwood Cemetery is fascinating because of the stories of the people buried there, such as Annie Edison Taylor, who survived a trip over the falls in a barrel. Then there was Homan Walsh, who at age 16, flew a kite over the Niagara River, the first step in building the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge. Once the kite was across, the string was tied to a heavier line that was pulled across, then successively heavier lines were pulled across until a cable could be strung across the gorge.
By focusing on these public spaces, organizers hope to not only bring people into the city, but to inspire residents.
“We want people to come into the city and see the bright areas,” Ames said. “Hopefully, the blight will turn to bright.”
This is an event of Garden Walk Buffalo Niagara, formerly known as the National Garden Festival.
Other garden walks this weekend include:
Lancaster Garden Walk
8:45 p.m – 11 p.m. Friday
10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Saturday & Sunday
Ken-Ton Garden Tour
8:30 p.m. – 11 p.m. Friday & Saturday Night Lights
10 a.m. – 4p.m. Saturday & Sunday
Village of Williamsville Garden Walk,
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
West Seneca Garden & Home Tour,
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
South Buffalo Alive
9 a.m. to 3 p.m