In 1993, Marvin Lunenfeld and Gail McCarthy attended an urban garden tour in Chicago and decided it was a concept that could work equally well in Buffalo.
They presented the idea to the members of the Norwood/West Utica Neighborhood Association, which represented their West Side community, and by the summer of 1995 a group of volunteers from that organization had set up the basic structure for the first Buffalo Garden Walk, held on July 15 and 16, 1995.
Twenty-nine gardens were entered, most of them in the area enclosed by West Ferry, Richmond, Summer, and Elmwood Avenues. The front porch of Lunenfeld and McCarthy’s home at 231 Norwood was the headquarters for the event, as it was to be for five years.
The event was open to anyone in the area who wanted to participate, with no prior judging.
The main goals were to encourage neighborhood beautification and to promote community pride. No admission was charged for the first Garden Walk and no admission is charged today, but in every other way, Garden Walk has grown well beyond its original size and scope. The number of gardens participating in the Garden Walk has increased every year, growing to 372 in 2011, making the event one of the largest of its kind in the United States.
The boundaries now extend nearly five miles.
Garden Walk extends from the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Delaware Park to downtown Buffalo, in the shadow of Buffalo’s beautiful art deco City Hall. Most of the participating gardens are, of course, private ones, but from the beginning, an increasing number of community spaces, corporate gardens, and church gardens have taken part.
The work of organizing and managing the Walk has always been done by volunteers, while financial support comes primarily from contributions from participants and visitors, with corporate sponsorships. A sizable database containing names and addresses of interested visitors has been built up over the years, and maps are mailed to the individuals on the list before each year’s Garden Walk in return for a contribution.
Beautifying our neighborhoods
Starting in 2002, this voluntary contribution strategy has been so successful that Garden Walk has been able to provide modest grants for community gardening projects within the Garden Walk area – more than $30,000 has been awarded for more than 70 garden projects in the last few years.
Garden Walk has become a part of summer in Buffalo. It is a signature event that proves to visitors from suburban Western New York and beyond that Buffalo’s natural scenery can rival its architectural splendor.
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