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PHOTOS: 24th Annual GardenWalk blooms

Many Buffalo neighborhoods are quieter Monday and their gardeners relaxing, after thousands of people toured yards during this weekend's 24th Annual GardenWalk Buffalo.

Credit Mike desmond / WBFO News

Homeowners show off front yards, side yards or backyards. One property even had a bird house mimicing the house it stood behind, right down to the Navajo symbols on both.

This is the 24th GardenWalk, an event that started in a small corner of the Elmwood Village and now has spread across much of the city.

Yolanda Fields was manager in the Evergreen Health Center headquarters for the event, even though her East Side neighborhood was not part of the event. The first East Side Garden Walk was held last week and Fields was excited.

"For an inaugural year, 46 gardens, that was fantastic. When GardenWalk Buffalo started on the West Side of Buffalo 24 years ago, their number of gardens was 29. We've grown," Fields said. "People like gardening and they like sharing their space with people - and that's the best thing about Buffalo. They do it with nothing else expected, except to say, 'Come look at what I do.'"

People were coming from all over for the event, like the 26 people on a chartered bus from Cambridge, ON who had just stopped to get maps from Fields before stalking the hydrangea and the phlox and the alyssum.

Being in the GardenWalk can require lots of time to prepare and can also require years of effort. Ed Northwood says there is gardening and there is GardenWalk gardening.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"We started with grape vine. That was the first thing we planted 30 years ago," Northwood said. "So over the 30 years, every year we would do some improvement, improving the land, the soil. But we got serious about six or seven years ago, when Dawn says, 'Okay, it's time to be in the GardenWalk.'"

One owner said she had a nice yard, but it wasn't until she retired that there was enough time to get her yard the way the wanted it for display. Eileen said it all takes time to get yards ready to show off.

"It didn't start out this big. It started a little section at a time and gradually worked my way around," she said. "Because, clearly when I started it, I was working. Now, I spend most of my time weeding and watering."

Almost all of the yards visited showed how much water gardeners had put into them in the weeks of steamy heat, which has covered this area recently. One gardener commented that after reading the meter, it could have paid for a new summer home.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Eileen said visitors want to know what can grow and she says some plants just do not work.

"The worst mistake is planting things that aren't happy and they let you know pretty soon," she said. "I've never had any luck with hydrangeas, which other people seem to grow with great proficiency. That's about it."

Eileen said hostas are her fallback, because they just seem to grow.

Many of the yards are major projects. Jim Ecker did not start with much. A concrete slab in his backyard is now covered with raised beds.

"Heat and the lack of water has been a problem, but because it's a little bit smaller, I'm kind of lucky because it doesn't take that much watering to keep things going," Ecker said. "I mean, it would be nice if it would rain, but if it doesn't, I can put the sprinkler out. It's just annoying some times after three or four weeks of that, it's like: I don't feel like putting the sprinkler out any more."

One Allentown resident had one of those hand-held counters and by late Sunday had counted 1,000 visitors to his very small yard.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

It has been a tough year for plants with this year's winter, lots or rain and then the recent day-after-day of steamy heat. Marilyn Rodgers said it can also be hard on swimming creatures.

"Was not a good year for the fish that I had in the pond, because of the freeze/thaw that kept on happening all during the winter, all of them died, Rodgers said, "but as far as the plants themselves, it's almost Jurassic with them, they're growing and thriving like crazy."

Rodgers is not the only gardener on the tour with a water feature. Some yards have more than one, others now small flowing water features hanging on the side of the house, with that calming sound of flowing water.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.