When I travel, I inevitably find myself imagining what it would be like to live in the place I am visiting. I tend to walk in residential neighborhoods, rather than just frequenting museums and tourist destinations. "If I were to live on this pretty street, I could walk to this park and stop for coffee at that shop. I would bring my drycleaning there and pick up produce at that green grocer. Those children might be my neighbors."

What I really long to do, of course, is walk into backyards, talk with neighbors. But that's generally a good way to get shot, or at least arrested. 

Not in Buffalo, especially not during the last weekend in July. This is when we get to see what lies behind the façade of the streets we drive down all the time. During Garden Walk Buffalo, it's not just legal to walk into literally hundreds of backyards, it's actually encouraged. The homeowners may even be there to greet you, sometimes with cold water or iced tea. And when you see what your neighbors have done with these private spaces, you will be amazed.

Even if you can't tell the difference between a peonie and a pansy, if you're the least bit voyeuristic, if you're at all curious about the private spaces that you can't see from the street, you should be enjoying Garden Season in Buffalo. More than 1,000 gardens on 20 garden tours are part of Gardens Buffalo Niagara this year. There are night tours, market places, historic homes, plant sales, bus tours, author events, and more. Nearly all the walks and tours are free.

But this is THE peak weekend to peek into backyards and soak in unique, Buffalo-style gardens. Garden Walk Buffalo stretches from the gorgeous Test Gardens at Erie Basin Marina to the soothing Japanese Garden in the shadow of the History Museum in Delaware Park, and from thriving nurseries on Grant Street all the way over to Main Street. You would have to go to 14.6 gardens per minute on both Saturday and Sunday between 10:00am and 4:00pm to see all 400+ participating gardens (download the free map, or pick one up at any of the headquarters or sponsors), so wise gardenwalkers will choose a few of the dozen neighborhoods that are flourishing with the help of this property-value and civic pride-enhancing event, and hop on the free trolleys to cover more ground.

Plan your route on Saturday to end up on Symphony Circle for the Tower Garden Party at First Presbyterian Church. There you will find Dixieland, swing and jazz, as well light summer fare and a special Tower Garden Pilsner brewed especially for this event. All proceeds benefit One Symphony Circle and the restoration of this important, E.B. Green-designed building.

As you trek from garden to garden, there are some special extra-curriculars to watch for. For instance, there will be a free "Garden Paint-Out" in the community garden at the corner of Vermont and 17th Street, hosted by the Buffalo Society of Artists. If you're of a mind to learn more about how these gardens came about, about who lives in these remarkable houses and has spent the time and made the effort to create such amazing spaces, look for those funny, squiggly QR codes on Garden Walk Buffalo signs as you walk, and click to read Garden Walk: Building Stories, a collaboration between the Buffalo Architecture Foundation and Garden Walk Buffalo

You will be inspired. And, if you peek into enough backyard oases with koi ponds and waterfalls and miniature golf courses, with roof gardens and lily ponds, you will be tired. But it will have been worthwhile to see so many fabulous gardens hiding in plain sight, right under your nose. 

And yes, there really is a nationally recognized "Buffalo-style" of gardening. Buffalo gardeners are known for using small urban spaces cleverly, and tucking art and found objects among the blooms and blossoms. Buffalo has become a garden tourism destination, bringing tens of thousands of visitors into our fair city and generating scads of great press.

What started as a handful of avid gardners beautifying the city's struggling West Side will attract as many as 65,000 visitors from across the nation and around the world to Buffalo this weekend. It will pump millions of dollars into our local economy, and can be legitimally credited with being an integral part of Buffalo's resurgence, beating back the year-round snow mythology with brilliant blooms.
And you and I can smell the roses which others have tended all summer long. For free.