North Tonawanda Botanical Garden shares tips on standing water & more

Lobelia, a native flower that attracts hummingbirds, is growing in the rain garden at the North Tonawanda Botanical Garden. The black plastic at left in the foreground is where a new garden bed will be. Photo courtesy North Tonawanda Botanical Garden Organization

by Connie Oswald Stofko

How can you deal with standing water in your yard? What can you plant to attract birds and butterflies? The North Tonawanda Botanical Garden Organization wants to share what they know about these topics and more.

“Our ultimate focus is community education,” said Laura Pecoraro, secretary.

The group, which became a nonprofit in July 2018, is in its fourth year of rehabilitating a long-neglected park. It’s located at 1825 Sweeney St., North Tonawanda, along the Tonawanda Creek portion of the Erie Canal.

A rain garden and butterfly garden have been installed, and more plantings are planned.

“This is a botanical garden in development,” Pecoraro said. “We’re just getting started.”

You can find more information on their web page and Facebook site.

Features of North Tonawanda Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden is situated in a 10-acre park owned by the City of North Tonawanda. It includes boat and kayak launches (take your own boat). There’s also a lovely gazebo. The park is open for free from dawn to dusk.

The Botanical Garden was started in the 1960s, and the greenhouse was built in the 1960s or ’70s, Pecoraro said.

Unfortunately, budget cuts in the late 1990s eliminated the staff at the Botanical Garden. Maintenance was limited to mowing the grass. A lot of the garden beds disappeared or were in disrepair.

The group is working to bring back the gardens, but in a new way, she said. The gardens were designed in the 1960s and included many plants that needed a lot of care. Now the aim is to be more sustainable and use native perennials that require less coddling.

The organization is using the greenhouse to start plants from seed. The members collected seed from the Botanical Garden beds in the fall, and used seed from other sources, too.

greenhouse of North Tonawanda Botanical Association
The North Tonawanda Botanical Garden Organization has started plants from seed in their greenhouse. The seedlings will be transplanted outside during workdays. Volunteers are needed. Photo courtesy North Tonawanda Botanical Garden Organization

In addition to restoring garden beds, the Botanical Garden Organization wants to develop learning programs for all ages. It aims to share information about sustainable gardening, native plants and pollinators, water-wise practices and environmental stewardship.

The outreach includes small things, such as labeling the native plants in the garden beds.

“We hope people get ideas on what to use in their own gardens,” Pecoraro said.

The organization is also trying to rebuild relationships with North Tonawanda High School and Niagara County Community College.

“We have cooperation from the City (of North Tonawanda), and that’s extremely helpful,” she said.

Standing water in low spots & butterfly garden

The site of the Botanical Garden was used as a dump from the 1930s to the 1950s, Pecoraro said. When everything settled, the ground was uneven. In April and May, there are low spots with standing water.

With help from Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, the group created a rain garden, choosing plants that really like those wet spots.

All of the plants used in the rain garden are natives. They include:

  • Red lobelia
  • Blue flag iris
  • Joe-Pye weed
  • Native hibiscus

The plants have really deep roots, she explained. After the plants take in the water, the water is naturally released from the plant into the water cycle through transpiration.

Because the Botanical Garden is right on the water, keeping our waterways clean is a high priority for the organization. Another project to address that goal is to replace the run-down asphalt parking lot. Rain water that hits hard surfaces such as asphalt can run into our waterways, taking pollutants with it.

The group wants to re-do the parking lot using semi-permeable materials. That allows some of the rain that falls on the parking lot to seep into the soil.

“Anything that mitigates storm water runoff directly into the canal is helpful,” she said.

butterfly garden at North Tonawanda Botanical Garden
The butterfly garden at the North Tonawanda Botanical Garden includes the orange and pink portulaca in the foreground. In the back from left are the blue bachelor buttons, white and magenta globe amaranth, and yellow coreopsis. Photo courtesy North Tonawanda Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden Association also wants to help pollinators, including birds, bees, butterflies and dragonflies. While insects are attracted to the flowers, the finches enjoyed the seeds of the bachelor buttons, she noted.

The butterfly garden is stocked with plants to help pollinators, including:

  • Columbine
  • Salvia
  • Penstemon (beardtongue)
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Sage
  • Phlox
  • Dianthus
  • Cone flower
  • Blanket flower
  • Mexican sunflower
  • Dahlias
  • Bachelor buttons
Volunteers from North Tonawanda High School helped out at the most recent workday of the North Tonawanda Botanical Garden Organization. At left is Eric Zadzilka, president of the North Tonawanda City Council, who started the organization. The volunteers laid down plastic to kill the grass and weeds without using any herbicides. The plastic will remain in place for a year, then the area will be used to enlarge the rain garden. Photo courtesy North Tonawanda Botanical Garden Organization

Volunteers needed

“We are a small group of experienced gardeners,” Pecoraro said, “and we accomplish most of our rehabilitating tasks through community workdays, where the public is invited to come and help.”

The workdays are scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays. The next workday will take place June 1, and volunteers on that day will do mostly planting.

Other tasks that volunteers might do include weeding, raking and mulching.

The dates are June 22, July 20, Aug. 17, Sept. 14, Oct. 5 and Oct. 19.

Volunteers should dress appropriately for the weather and the work, and take their own gloves and water bottle if possible.

Many people volunteer because they want to make the park lovely again. Others need community service hours for various reasons, and the organization can sign off on that.

“We can always use more volunteers,” Pecoraro said.

You can also join and become a voting member of the North Tonawanda Botanical Garden Organization.

For more information, contact

3 Comments on “North Tonawanda Botanical Garden shares tips on standing water & more

  1. I didn’t know there were native hibiscus in NY.

    Are they the giant ones that are hardy?

  2. I live in mt for about6 years and did not know about this I’ll have to check it out.

  3. What a great undertaking!
    Wish I lived closer I would gladly help.
    I’m a master gardener and love learning about rain gardens.
    Chautauqua Institutionalization have put in many new rain management
    Gardens also trying to ovoid run off into the Lake.
    Thanks for sharing what you are doing.

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