Small but Mighty-The (not so) Private Gardens of Buffalo

I’ve been very fortunate to have seen many private gardens in my life especially during my time as WA Chairman and later West Australian Co-ordinator of Australia’s Open Garden Scheme.

I just returned back home from the USA feeling very grateful indeed after 3 whole weeks of garden visiting-let’s call it, my American garden immersion-more on that later.

There is something very special about the people who open their private garden spaces so that others may share first hand the very personal interpretations and manipulation of nature particularly in an urban setting. There are so many reasons to lock ourselves away these days after hours spent behind desks in stressful jobs so many people travel back home after enduring a long commute, drive in the garage, pull down the roller door and flop into the sanctuary of home, locking the outside world out. Gardeners who share their gardens are the complete opposite, they throw open that garage door and say to the world “come on in and see what I have done”

As part of the recent Garden Writers conference, in Buffalo NY, my garden bestie AZ Plantlady and 350 or so other wonderful garden communicators, many of whom I feel so honoured to now call my friends, spent days exploring about 20 gardens which had opened the previous weekend for Buffalo Garden Walk at which more than 400 (!!) gardens were open in the Buffalo area.

The gardens we visited were mostly within walking distance of each other and ranged from tiny cottages in which the driveways had been converted to container garden spaces to larger homes with areas of lawn and garden borders.

Gardening in this part of the world is a short seasonal thing-while we garden all year round in Perth, these guys go hard at it for only about 4 months of the year due to the frosts and heavy layers of snow-white stuff that falls from the sky and covers the ground-you know what I mean, like the movie Frozen, yes that’s the stuff.

Jim Charlier is one of the members of GWA who also opens his Buffalo garden and I asked him about the gardening season in Buffalo and he has provided some insight into gardening in that part of the world, here’s what Jim had to say “We start in earnest about the second week of May. Our average last frost date is mid-May. Though we’re admiring our tulips and flowering shrubs in April. Adventurous gardeners start earlier. Crazy ones start from seed in the winter months. We garden pretty much through September and some of October – with seasonal mums, tulip bulb planting, and last call for planting trees and shrubs. Depends on weather, obviously. We don’t get a significant snowfall until December usually. Seems like that isn’t happening as much anymore and we don’t get significant snow until January. The plants need the snow cover, and it doesn’t seem as though the past few years that that has even been consistent. November through March is spent thinking about April through October.”

Here’s Jim’s garden… which I must confess is one of my all time favourite small gardens, such wonderful attention to detail and a vignette worth photographing at every turn

So, sit back and take a short walk through some of the other beautiful gardens in the cottage district of Buffalo. Do these inspire you to make some changes in your garden?

even the dog has a cute garden house

check out this bottle tree

when in Buffalo…you need a garden buffalo


Love this

Don’t you just want to cozy up in here with a cup of tea and a book?

Breathing new life into Buffalo, one petunia at a time!

Buffalo? you say-why would you want to go to Buffalo? Isn’t it covered in snow and not much else? Wrong….There’s something in the water in Buffalo and I suspect it may be the gardening bug.


Stunning Cone flowers

This once mighty and by all accounts wealthy city has in recent years fallen upon difficult times but is currently undergoing major urban renewal and it’s being lead by many in the community who are just crazy about gardens and gardening and all things green and that got my attention. So, I packed my suitcase again, labelled it  ‘USA or Bust’ and headed 11,333 miles or 18238 km which included three plane changes and an 8-hour train ride!

Lovely buildings on every corner

Buffalo Theatre district

Even the office building are into plants

Great spot for a meal-we ate here twice!

I attended the 2017 Garden Writers Association annual symposium which was held at The Buffalo Convention Centre at the beginning of August and the news is all good.

My friend from Arizona, Horticulturist, Arborist, and Blogger, AZ plant lady and I spent a couple of wonderful days exploring (walking, lots of walking) the city together before the conference. We ate twice at the same place-it was so good and we also snuck in some doughnut holes at Tim Hortons.

Like many cities, Buffalo has great bones, clean wide streets and really beautiful architecture, an interesting and diverse food culture, lovely lake views, theatres, good soil (important for us gardeners) and another magical, essential ingredient passionate people- willing to beautify their city and showcase it to the world in order to re-build it and give it a new identity.

A Farmers Market in the main street was in full swing during one of our morning walks. The blueberries were the biggest I have ever seen and they tasted so juicy and sweet.

Don’t these look delicious?

Farmers market baskets

Eat your greens

Juiciest blueberries I have ever tasted

I can’t un-smell these beauties

We stumbled across a small but very worthwhile community education garden at Canalside and under a freeway overpass where edibles and perennials for beneficial insects were thriving in raised beds. Each bed contained decorative garden ephemera as well as practical information to show adults and children, how easy it can be to grow veggies in their homes in small spaces.

Canalside is also home to test gardens and magical views of the eastern end of Lake Erie.

Lake Erie and the test gardens

Rebuilding Buffalo one petunia at a time























Our conference took place the week after Garden Walk Buffalo, which is an annual event with more than 400 (!!!!) gardens open to the public on one weekend. More than 350 garden communicators gathered to visit the best of these gardens and more.

Buffalo is on the precipice of something great, I’m looking forward to seeing how this hidden gem of a city emerges from its cocoon like the butterflies that are being encouraged by its gardeners.

If you are visiting Niagara Falls then why not jump over the US border and check out Buffalo in August-the gardens are just lovely.


Special Thanks to the local GWA organising committee and for all the gardeners who shared their gardens with us for #GWA17



Peeking over, under and through fences in Atlanta

OK Friends, I must confess, I get very excited when I know that I’m going to see other people’s gardens. It’s no wonder really, after all I was the Co-ordinator of the Open Garden Scheme here in WA and Chairman of the Management Committee for years before that, so I guess I think of myself as a bit of an old timer when it comes to checking out other people’s spaces. I have seen the best of the best in this country that’s for sure.

I just love visiting gardens, not in a creepy sort of voyeuristic,  peeping in people’s windows sort of way…. I just love seeing how other people interpret their private outdoor rooms, how they choose to connect with their land.  I love to see which art pieces they buy or create, which plants they choose, which trees they plant. Breathe, Andrea, Breathe…..Hyperventilating…..So can you imagine how hard it was to contain myself at the prospect of seeing nine private gardens in three days during my recent trip to Atlanta to attend #GWA16 The Annual Garden Writers Association conference. I was just like a kid in a lolly shop on the inside (I’m not ashamed to admit) while maintaining my uber cool self on the outside -sure sure-who am I kidding? I could not wipe the smile off my face, my pointer figure had clicking fatigue from all the camera action taking place and my face was sore from smiling and making an “O” shape with my mouth, it’s a wonder one of those giant bumblebees didn’t fly right in….and yet this is my work?!

Garden communicators are a very happy lot-why wouldn’t we be? Let’s be real, getting to wander through stunning gardens surrounded by like-minded plant mad, garden crazy souls. I just loved getting back on the bus after each garden, listening to the chatter, even though on one of the days we were drenched by 2.5 inches of rain, we didn’t care one bit…the post viewing excitement was palpable, “did you see that?”, “how was the art?”, “what about those birdhouses” and “OMG did you see those pots?”

The gardens selected for this years’ conference were, well let’s just say a BIG WOW at every stop.

A hearty congratulations to the Selectors of this years’ private gardens they were really outstanding and this little Aussie did not mind one bit traveling 25 hours in a flying tube to spend precious time with my new found friends and reuniting with some dear older ones from my first conference last year.

Today, I am going to share just one of the incredibly lush beautifully presented gardens we saw…there’s more pics and more stories to follow…Thank you so much Candy Johnson for sharing this garden with us

OK you want to have a look too, don’t know you want too…well here you are…..just a peek mind you…

A stunning front door-Halloween ready

A stunning front door-Halloween ready

My personal favourite vignette

My personal favourite vignette

Stunning display, when sometimes foliage is enough

Stunning display, when sometimes just wonderful foliage is enough

What a wonderful pop of colour

What a dramatic pop of colour


I want to sit right here

A very impressive entrance

A very impressive entrance

Loch Nessie in Atlanta

Loch Nessie in Atlanta

A Buxus Folly-why not?

A Buxus Folly-with seating, why not?



Phoenix in Bloom for an Aussie on Tour


A warm Fall/Autumn morning spent wandering through the incredible Desert Botanical Garden located in Papago Park in Phoenix, Central Arizona revealed 140 acres of stunning desert plantings, during my recent visit to the USA, catching up with my dear friend, Phoenix local and fellow blogger AZPlantLady, was such a delightful and unexpected surprise. Superb gardens packed full of inspiring landscape design ideas and beautiful desert plants.

Cactus in flower

Cactus in flower

This place is a treasure trove filled with wonderful ideas for those of us gardening in dry climates all over the world.

While some of the plants might not be available for us to use (and here’s where my botanical envy really kicks in) the concepts and the way plants are grouped and the use of water features and careful placement of seating and art in the garden is something we can definitely learn from.

Design concepts such as water features and hard elements such as rock placements are not really new however the ways in which they can be applied in a modern way is and here’s where we can learn and share ideas. Glass elements from Chuhuly provide additional awe at the entrance to the gardens.

I would desperately love to be able to grow the stunning Palo Verde tree which loses its’ leaves and then has the ability to photosynthesize through its’ green trunk and stems. This is a wondrous medium sized shade tree that I first noticed in California last year but it’s here that this beauty calls home. It is used very effectively as a shade tree on street verges, car parks and as specimen trees in home gardens.img_1597

Gravel mulch is used extensively in Phoenix and unusually plants are planted quite sparsely in home gardens and also in public parks and gardens. This allows each plant to have its own space and grow into that space. There’s a certain joy in the spaces in between of a garden and resisting overplanting to “fill a gap” which provides the mind an opportunity to pause. The spaces in a garden are as important as the densely planted. In Phoenix, they really understand this concept.

Cacti and Succulent lovers will ooh and ahh at every turn here. I particularly loved the Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) pronounced SWARO for us Aussies, is one of the most spectacular plants in these gardens. These are huge, ancient, tree-like cacti that develop head and arm-like branches as they mature. They are very slow growing and costly to purchase for the home garden.  The “arms”  bend upward as if to worship the hot Arizona sun. These plants interestingly are covered with spines and bare white flowers in the late spring, and red fruit in summer. They also provide habitat for birds and reptiles. The birds drill holes into the Saguaro and pop in and out to escape the heat.img_1601Saguaro with a very rare “head” and three “arms” who needs man made art?!

In the gardens, one can experience first hand the lifestyle of the Native Americans, there are round huts which are surprisingly larger on the inside than they appear on the outside but of most interest was the use of Living fences constructed out of Ocotillo Cactus (Fouquieria splendens)  these were fascinating and provided a great deterrent to any critter thinking of sneaking into the vegetable patch for a nibble. The stems can look dead at certain times of the year but as soon as the rain comes they spring into leaf again.Living Fences


Large rocky outcrops in a particular shade of brown, one only sees in these parts is reminiscent of an old cowboy movie set but the thing is……. this is real.

img_1576img_1618The undergrowth is alive with squirrels and reptiles and at eye level butterflies, bees and colourful caterpillars were of great fascination to me. There were lots of late summer flowering perennials deliberately planted to provide habitat for butterflies.

This garden is a treat if you garden in a dry climate, if you’re seeking inspirational landscaping concepts or if you just want to go and drool at some very special plants that can’t be grown in your hometown and learn something about other parts of the world.

Swathes of grass provide colour and movement

Swathes of grass provide colour and movement

gentle water providing a sense of cool to a bench seat

Gentle water providing a sense of cool to a bench seat

The Money and my friend the Saguaro

The Money Shot…me and a Saguaro pronounced Swaro


Palo Verde tree-an absolute favourite of mine

Chihuly glass

Chihuly glass a dramatic statement at the entrance