As Buffalo becomes better known for its gardening scene — Garden Walk Buffalo is the biggest in the country — more people are getting into the act. Their reasons, motivations and results vary: Some do it for joy of nurturing life, some to get closer with family. Most seem to enjoy the reward of seeing others appreciate what they’ve created. Here’s an introduction to a few men working the earth, each in their own way.
Putt-ering around the grounds
Jose Palma’s home is literally his castle — his 1930s home was designed to look like one, echoing the mid-1800s castle-inspired carriage house next door. He and his neighbor bill themselves as “Dueling Castles” during Garden Walk and have nursed a friendly gardening rivalry for 20 years.
Across from Front Park, at one of Buffalo’s westernmost locations, Palma comes at gardening with multiple goals: he saves money on gym and landscaping fees with the physical work of shoveling, planting, and hauling; and adds value and curb appeal to his property (he’s a real estate professional). He’s also built up a critical mass of gardeners and begun to draw more people to the somewhat-out-of-the-way neighborhood, particularly during the garden walk.
Early inspiration came from his parents, who also worked in real estate, and the fact that he grew up on 20 acres in Grand Island.
“I was used to spending a lot of time outdoors,” said Palma. “I’d cut down big fields on the tractor, going about four miles per hour.”
Today, his sloped yard is planted with perennials and annuals, and also features a putting green, tiered beds and a gazebo. One of the tasks he relishes is mowing the green with a specialty golf-course mower.
“It’s my Zen time,” he said.
Dave Whittemore’s garden in Hamburg is his haven; a place where, after he retired from a long career as a field service engineer, he turned his creative energy.
Whittemore and his wife wanted something that they could do together. They ended up building one of the big draws of Buzz Around Hamburg, the town’s annual garden walk.
He calls it “soil therapy.”
Dubbed “Whit’s End,” their garden features multiple tiered beds, hundreds of species of hostas and other plants, a waterfall and three functioning model train setups, complete with vignettes and miniature plants all to scale with the trains. One of the scenes features a figurine of a young man in a sailor’s uniform, representing one of the Whittemore’s sons returning to his parents from the Navy.
Whittemore is also very active in the regional gardening community, including as a board member of the Western New York Hosta Society.
Channeling personal history
Heron Simmonds-Price gardens the backyard of his property in Buffalo’s Allentown neighborhood, where he grows food for his small family. His interest began early; originally from Jamaica, visits to family there introduced him to the fact that his grandfather grew all the fruits and veggies they ate, including pineapple, coconut and ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica and island staple.
Multiple passions now drive Simmonds-Price, including addressing ecological problems and fighting against urban “food deserts.” Through the African Heritage Food Co-op’s Each One Teach One program, he runs community classes covering the stages of growing herbs and vegetables. He has a four-foot tall composter in his backyard, and proudly relates that his family produces very little waste and garbage.
“God is in the garden,” said Simmonds-Price about what drives him. “Also, there’s nothing like eating food you’ve just harvested…people who eat fresh come to know that it’s just an order of magnitude better. The herbs that I grow and dry have expanded my palate and my conception of food.”
Gardening for community good
For Joe Kurtz, the memory of his parents gardening — helping his mother weed, and seeing his dad watering outside until midnight — planted the seeds that have now blossomed into a commitment to community work, green spaces and even working on policy issues around urban farms and market gardens.
The former pharmaceutical designer left his corporate career for an AmeriCorps VISTA position on Buffalo’s East Side. He quickly gained experience in urban community work and loved it. He is currently an apprentice Master Gardener through the Cornell Cooperative Extension and volunteers with Buffalo in Bloom, a grassroots group promoting Buffalo gardening and beautification.
He’s managed the Tyler Street Community Garden in the University Heights neighborhood for the past five years. Projects have included “ReTree the District,” through which over a thousand trees have been planted in three years. He works with all ages, from teaching neighborhood kids about native plants and beekeeping, to collaborating with UB engineering students; they’re creating a modular, affordable, replicable automated watering system.
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