By Jim Charlier
Mary Vanvorst, a Gardens Buffalo Niagara (GBN) volunteer, Master Gardener of the Cornell Cooperative Erie County Program, and all around mensch (inside joke) helped East Side gardeners through the process of starting a tour —setting dates, soliciting gardens, coordinating poster, map, and lawn sign printing, finding donations or sponsors, and much more. If you've ever volunteered to help run a garden tour, you know the myriad tasks that have to get done.
Mary came to the group after having developed and planned GBN's Buffalo Beyond Flowers Sustainability in Action and the East Side Momentum bus tours. Both tours featured unique gardens and projects on Buffalo's East side, and Westside, that demonstrate urban farming, community gardening, land reclamation through native species plantings, composting facilities, water reclamation projects, and much more. These tours take place in August and are now run by Explore Buffalo.
The East Side gardeners embraced to idea and ran with it, quickly garnering 40+ gardens. An impressive start for a first-time tour. Gardens Buffalo Niagara was secured as a 501(c)3 pass-through, and for promotional support, as well as a web presence on its (this) site. The group also received a generous donation from an anonymous donor, helping to defray expenses.
Buffalo's newest garden tour was born!
The group had me (I'm a graphic designer) design their logo, flyers, lawn signs and map. I could not be happier that I had even the smallest part in helping make it happen.
I did get the “warm fluffies” when I saw so many people out in gardens, appreciating the efforts of the gardeners and getting to know one another. Who’d have thought white folks with maps walking through the Fruitbelt could bring tears to one's eyes?
One unique thing I noticed is that the gardeners were so very proud of their gardens that they were more likely to personally show visitors around their gardens and point things out, rather than on most other tours where gardeners are still friendly and approachable, but generally give visitors space and time to wander about. On this tour, it seemed as though most gardeners wanted to grab you by the hand and walk you through their gardens and show you what they see! I loved that.
Whether it's in East Aurora, or on the East Side, it's always great to see people bond over a common interest in gardening.
Like any other garden tours that have no lofty garden criteria, no judging, no site visits, and no fees to enter, there were some gardens that shone brighter than others. That's part of the exciting part though—over time gardeners "up their game", some gardeners encourage neighbors and friends to participate, and that makes a great tour greater. We've seen it over and over again in garden tours across the region.
Mary and the East Side volunteer group should feel tremendously satisfied to have been the spark (and the glue) to make it happen.
We're all hoping it becomes its own thing with its own leader(s) and volunteers—and funding sources. That’s the only way it’ll become sustainable. And I think it has a good shot now that Mary's efforts made the first one happen. There is an audience and appetite for it.
This was no small undertaking. The GBN board is grateful to Mary and the gardeners of the East Side (and in awe). I, having been involved in garden tours and tourism for more than 20 years, could not be more proud of anything that the dozens and dozens of volunteers have done over the decades, than I am of these gardener's efforts with this tour.
This new tour, in my mind, helps fulfill Garden Walk Buffalo founder Marvin Lunenfeld’s vision of a democratic, egalitarian approach to a community effort through gardening. That vision seems more “whole”, now that more of Buffalo is a part of it, and it will only grow. Especially a part of Buffalo that’s been not been appreciated as it should be over the years.
East Side Garden Walk gardeners—I am your biggest fan.
It's no too late to register for the specialty bus tours: