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The Dirt / The writers are coming

By August 1, 2017August 2nd, 2017No Comments


The visitors are members of the Garden Communicators Association (GWA,, which is holding its sixty-ninth annual conference and expo here. The conference will fill the Hyatt, convention center, area restaurants, and tourism sites with enthusiastic garden talk.

GWA meetings are (mostly) limited to professional writers, but they’re great opportunities for anyone interested in gardening; there are more than thirty classes on horticulture and writing/social media skills, a plants and garden products trade show, daily garden and cultural tours, roundtables, meetings, and a final banquet.

Who is invited?

The conference is designed for professional garden communicators. While that used to mean mainly book authors, garden speakers, and magazine or newspaper writers, the definition has expanded to those who tweet or blog, use Instagram, do podcasts, give gardening talks, and work in the horticulture field. Although regular registration ended July 15, late registration may still be available for single days or the entire conference; check

One free event for the public

Garden writers or bloggers are nothing without the gardeners who read their work, and, with that thought in mind, the GWA board added a new event designed to connect the writers and their books with gardeners and readers from our region.  Meet the Authors, on Friday August 4, 2–4 p.m. at the Convention Center, features GWA authors with their books (both old and new). The public is able  to meet and talk with the authors, buy books, and have their books signed. Possible authors include Allen Armitage, Ellen Zachos, Stephanie Cohen, C. L. Fornari, Doug Oster, and local garden expert Mike Shadrack.

Showing off WNY’s best

Unlike many other conferences where attendees spend full days indoors at seminars, the GWA splits its programming into seminars and garden touring. At least six full motor coaches will be traveling around Buffalo, Boston, Hamburg, and Orchard Park, with options for Ontario. Tour guides include local gardening experts, such as Jim Charlier, Mike and Kathy Shadrack, [Spree editor] Elizabeth Licata, Sharon Weber, Nellie Gardner, David Clark, Craig Coyne, Gordon Ballard, Connie Stofko, and others.

On Saturday, August 5, offerings include an early morning photo opportunity at intimate Cottage District gardens. An hour later, five more buses tour about twenty gardens in that area and on Sixteenth, Lancaster, Bird, and Delavan. On Sunday, August 6, the Olmsted, Wright, Forest Lawn, and Botanical Gardens tour includes the architects and landscape architects who designed Buffalo’s homes, parks, and boulevards. It includes Hoyt Lake and the Delaware Park Rose Garden, the Japanese garden in Delaware Park, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House Complex, and Forest Lawn Cemetery. Writers may spot 200-year-old trees and the graves of presidents and inventors (some of whom pop up from the graves in full costumes). Finally, guests will attend a reception at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, with its historic Lord & Burnham glass conservatory, plant collections from around the world, and an attached Olmsted arboretum.

The final day of the conference offers participants a choice between a trip to Draves Arboretum in Darien, the newest certified arboretum in the United States, and a tour of private gardens and other sites in the Southtowns, including the Shadrack and Sully gardens, Lasting Dreams Daylilies, and a Hamburg parking lot owned by pediatric dentist Barbara Moore. The lot is designed by Dave Majewski as an ecosensitive example of native planting and storm water management on a commercial site.

Extra tours include a excursion to Southern Ontario featuring the Niagara Parks and Niagara on the Lake, and a Green Innovations tour that features the Wilson Street Farm, Overdorf Park, Wilkeson Pointe, and highlights around silo city.

Other local angles

Conference seminars generally feature horticultural content—new plants and products, science updates, gardening ideas—and skills for garden communicators, including photography, social media tips, marketing, and getting published. Three WNY Toastmasters, including landscape professional Phil Colaruso (Luminated Landscapes), are presenting Tips from the Toastmasters, while  local advocate/activist Kevin Gaughan has a major role as a keynote speaker. Gaughan will speak on Olmsted.

For months, conference planners have been helping Buffalo and its gardens look their best for the visiting experts. Flower producers Proven Winners and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs have sent boxes of annuals, perennials, and lily bulbs to individual gardens that will be on the tours. The FNGLA (Florida Nursery, Garden Center, and Landscape Association) has shipped a couple thousand dollars-worth of tropical plants that are featured in giant planters at the Hyatt and convention center.

What’s in it for Buffalo?

It’s easy to see that visits by thousands of Garden Walk tourists—and now, hundreds of garden writers—can help with the stale image of a cold and snowy city going economically downhill. The green industry of the region—Plant WNY, Plantasia organization, and professional growers—has embraced  and sponsored the event as a showcase for all they produce and foster. Realtors and neighborhood associations can celebrate the positive energy and increased housing value that gardening brings to neighborhoods. Plant societies, master gardeners, and garden clubs can feel that years of work have been vindicated. The tourism industry gets a conference with vast outreach potential, in addition to filling hotels and restaurants in the short terms.

Welcome, garden communicators!

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, speaker, consultant, and tour director (AAA/GreatGardenTravel). She is Local Activities Chair for this conference, and took on the planning and choice of tours and venues, working with Visit Buffalo Niagara, Garden Walk Buffalo (Gardens Buffalo Niagara), the WNY Hosta Society, Master Gardeners, and landscape professionals from PlantWNY.