Urban Gardens Matter


What we do with our personal gardens, what we plant and how we maintain them, really matters. What if over 400 people of one community greatly mattered?

I illustrated when one person and her expansive gardens matter on the last post. It demonstrated how our own gardens are special as well. So special, that many put in a lot of work for others to see the gardens.


Since spring is coming early in many places, it is time to leave that arm-chair and get out into the garden. Here we still have snow and what soil is showing is water-logged. In our area, gardens need to get a jump on the season though because cities, towns and villages have private gardens opened to the public, some as early as June. So…

It is never too early for some garden chores, but when the warm weather arrives, chores can quickly become overwhelming. Unfortunately, many things will need to be raked, trimmed, pruned, dug up, and weeded that a feeling of dread can overcome. How does it all get done? Especially when getting gardens ready for public showings, the time comes quickly upon gardeners.

So why do urban gardens matter? What do you see common in all these images? What don’t you see since the photos are all about the gardens themselves?


Gardening matters for all the early bees that will visit, it matters for all the insects hatching in the yard debris. It matters for all those birds looking to nest. It matters because for all this, I rationalized a reason to ignore certain chores. Living in a city, gardening matters for these creatures. Gardening also matters for people too.

Urban gardening is a somewhat recent development in that now more lawns are disappearing and being replaced with plants, plants and more plants. Cities are making the switch from green lawns to green spaces blooming with color. Every bit of soil is planted.

In the Buffalo area, this style of gardening has had a nationwide impact. I have never been anywhere where gardens mattered to a city this much. The gardeners tell visitors that they are making Buffalo a better place.

Even though the over 400 private, opened gardens may have developed for the reason of showing them yearly in the annual Garden Walk Buffalo, each and every one of them makes for a greener city, a greater biodiversity, and a better environment. That is some of what most don’t see. Instead they feel that happening around them. It is why these gardens matter.

It is neighbors inspiring neighbors to plant small gardens in big cities everywhere, fill balconies with containers, produce food in inner cities, and come together as a community to plant vacant city lots. The movement can make the city greener through rooftop gardens, the planting and care of corner parks, maintaining sidewalk planters and protecting street trees. People mostly notice these things when a place is neglected. They don’t realize that a community is often behind the beauty they experience. It is why these over 400 gardeners matter. They show the world what can be done and why it matters to where they live. They show it can be done in other cities as well.


It grows and grows with the planting of alleyways, abandoned spaces, and even privately owned places that have long been forgotten.

Gardening matters because planting helps improve the air quality, cool the air, lower the city noise and mitigate runoff. Gardens in big cities help the way people feel about their city, wanting to care for it in ways they never expected. Each garden, private or public, helps turn cities into places people want to be. And it all starts with the garden you have and the city gardens you love to visit.

Next in my series on Gardens Matter… Public Gardens Matter.  Not to get too urban planning on you or dip too deep into my professional life, I have a bit of garden history for you.


About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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50 Responses to Urban Gardens Matter

  1. People in the suburbs as well as in the city have told me that when they fixed up their front yard, a few years later the people across the street did the same. Then the people next door. And the folks three doors down. Gardening matters because neighborhoods that had begun a downward slide started to stabilize. Gardening benefits society in so many ways!

    • It is true that it helps stabilize neighborhoods. It was one of the first things we learned in urban planning classes. People need a reason to care and seeing others doing cleanup, renovation, and the simple gesture of putting out flowers helps neighborhoods turn around. It dominoes with making a place inviting to business. Even though there is no consensus on what comes first, the chicken (better housing) or the egg (jobs, retail and office space) it is known when one area makes headway, others follow. Cities get involved in improving infrastructure. When studying successful cities, it is plain to see how the city progresses through all these things making a place more livable.

  2. What a wonderful post!.

    Front gardens tell the world we care about it. Front gardens tell the people who walk and drive by that we want them to enjoy their moment with us. Front gardens invite people to come closer and to engage in the conversation about the natural world. Front gardens are a living art that is performed in the open space. There are no walls needed and no administrators to manage things. This is a great gift to anyone with a front garden.

    • Very true from the perspective of each home and homeowner. Making a garden as a welcome to the home is a great gesture to those that visit or pass by. As a designer, there are things that either make it passively private, semi-public, or an openly public space. What one has to understand is that fully making a garden flush with plants many times puts that garden into a passive private category. This can happen by negating the entry, or having too high a plant display obstructing the home. When a garden is public space, it welcomes with clear circulation, works out conflicts (like where does the car go, where is the entry door, and especially how those hell strip gardens impede on pedestrian travel or visibility to the street) and in turn circulation helps determine the organization of space. Way to much to get into here though.

      My post addressed more the potential greening up a city has to a better way of life and the economic impact that results to the homeowners and the city. Community efforts make great results. Buffalo had televised town hall meetings a while back to help the city move in a better direction. I was on that committee that spear headed the event. I was assistant to the architect that was behind the mayor’s initiative.

  3. catmint says:

    Hi Donna, very inspiring post, and pics of wonderful and varied gardens. Our local council has a project that I’m joining to encourage people to plant gardens and to think about biodiversity and the needs of wildlife. These trends across the world are very encouraging. (let’s focus on the glass half full for a change)

    • Thank you for visiting. I have been reading about communities such as you have mentioned. It really has become a worthwhile drive to encourage homeowners to make the switch and consider our place respectfully on this planet. I have also read where many gardens are disappearing as well. Some due to drought conditions in places with restrictive water use, and others because young professionals want no work at home and more parking for vehicles. There are other reasons for this backward trend, but again too much to put in a comment.

      As for the glass half full, the problem with that approach is always there is the negative consequence of human action tenfold. There are far more people not being environmentally sensitive, and there is no changing what people have grown accustomed or have as personal responsibility. That is reality. Reality is news and what is most reported. The fluff stuff is always reported by those new and inexperienced reporters. While I believe each voice matters (or I would not be posting to my audience in the first place) I fully am cognizant of the fact bloggers are not taking quite as seriously. That is why I keep my profession out of blogging. Writing academic papers is considered on a higher plane. Plus it becomes a bit preachy coming from someone in a specific field.

  4. Pingback: Urban Gardens Matter | myhomelifeblog

  5. M@Home says:

    Loved your post! It is so true, we could also see friends starting container gardens on their porches also staying in flats. It makes such a big difference and it makes one proud. I reposted your post on my blog if you don’t mind. https://myhomelifeblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/urban-gardens-matter/

    • You mentioned something very important – staying in their flats. That counteracts the notion of always being transient and renting rather than owning. Planners find that if people stay put, the neighborhoods become more stabilized. It is better for the place and for the people that live there. Kids attend one school throughout their educational years and more families (more than those renting) stay whole and together with home ownership. I don’t know the current statistics, but I believe they probably hold true today. And yes, having an attractive space or working to make one so makes homeowners (and even renters) proud.

  6. These posts are wonderful Donna and really show an appreciation for what gardening is all about. I garden on Long Island and it really pleases me to see that every time we visit the city that the number of planters and gardens seems to increase through the efforts of many. It has made the city a much more inviting and welcoming place and a lot of hard work has gone into it to make the city a better place for everyone. We seem to be getting more community gardens on the Island as well…the more the better!

    • Gardens improve neighborhoods, but they must have the community support behind them. In a few cities, gardens were built and within a few years were neglected. It is very sad to lose pocket parks that made an abandoned space a viable place of gathering. When they get overgrown, the city then just gets rid of them because they present a security or safety issue. I am glad you are seeing much improvement. NYC has much beauty and also the money to make the improvements. Our part of the same state cannot say the same thing.

  7. Great photos to illustrate your post. In the UK there is great concern about the number of front gardens that have been concreted over to make hard standing for cars. Legislation is in place but I think what you really picked up on is the word community. Its vital. As are gardens

    • Ha, I was just reading on what is happening in the UK and commented above on the backwards trend happening some places. I think community pressure will reverse this once again, especially since in the UK they really are concerned on loss of bees and birds. I saw the special on the Queen’s gardens and never knew she had such a beautiful place for wildlife. I know Charles was always very involved in environmental issues, but did not realize she had a penchant as well. I know cars need a place to park, but marring property fronts makes bad urban sense. It decreases property values on the whole neighborhood too. One on my street cause a huge uproar, but it still remains with three cars parked where there should have been greenspace.

      • Emily Scott says:

        Another problem with all this concreting over of front gardens happening in the UK is that it encourages damp to develop in houses and contributes to flooding in some areas. I found your post very inspiring.

  8. Loretta says:

    What a wonderful post and gorgeous photos too. I agree, urban gardening has been new to us since we downsized from the suburbs to the city here in Wilmington, DE. I absolutely love walking around here and seeing all the splashes of color in pots, rooftops and sidewalks. WE once had an acre plus, now we have flowerbeds in the back and front, but no grass to mow….yippppeeeee! I volunteer in gardens around the area especially since I have more time and less land now.

    • I find it very wonderful you are volunteering. It is a great way to make a difference and meet like-minded individuals. My garden is also planted excessively, but is the only one on my block. Our neighbors like their grass!

  9. Debra says:

    Agree with everything you have said. Beauty is never optional. I have a neighbour with a heavily planted yard. Some might think it is a bit excessive (I don’t) but his property is a good 10 degrees cooler than surrounding properties in the summer. Gardens help mitigate the urban heat effect. The lush greenery also saves him a little money on air conditioning costs. By using less electricity he adds less carbon pollution into the air and actually sequesters a lot of carbon in all that lush greenery. Good for him and good for all of us.

    • Does he have big trees? Trees lower the temperature at the amounts you noted. My garden is fully planted and does have two ornamental trees, but I never had that decrease in temperature. When the two huge maples were out front, I had little sun and it made a huge difference. The city cut them down because they were diseased. Many trees on our street disappeared. Every neighbor that had no air-condition now has it. The street is less attractive too without the consistency of a fully tree-lined street. When perennial gardens help reduce urban heat, they do it by predominately replacing reflective and absorptive (radiates heat at night) hard surfaces. Shade is needed to reduce heat at levels noted and all the perennials help by transpiration, and nowhere near to the level of trees. You are right, we do need less electrical power used, less use of cars, and all the other associated carbon generators, but getting people on board with conserving has been a fifty year battle.

      • Debra says:

        He does have some trees but I’d have to take a photo to really show what he has done. It is like every single of inch of space has been planted from ground level up to canopy. It is very much like a jungle. The tall trees do provide shade but he thinks there is more to the picture. He thinks it is because of the extreme vegetation. I agree. Ever notice how water is always cooler than sand? It takes a lot of energy to heat water. A lot of water is trapped in the leaves of a dense planting and there is also water produced as each one of those plants respire. I want to follow his lead this year and record the temperatures on my property. I live in very dense shade. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference the shade makes.

        • Plants up to the canopy, that makes all the difference. To lower temperature in the home, the windows need not to allow in heat and sun. Blocked by plants would do that. Walking in a densely planted sunny field is not lowering the temperature much without shade though. The shaded ground or soil temperature, yes, but not the air and ambient temperature only slightly. Tree canopies make a microclimate like in a forest and keep the area cooler.

          Water has density – like in a body of water, I would doubt leaves added up make a density like that. Shallow water like a puddle or birdbath heats up quickly in bright sun. In fact oceans store heat and have the ability to change weather due to this. Sure the water releases heat more slowly since it takes longer to heat up, but it retains it longer too. In your case living in dense shade already, your property has a better ability to lower ambient temperature. You will have forest like conditions. Cooler temps from the shade and trees will help to not evaporate the moisture put out by the plants. Also, the plants will transpire less and be much healthier.

  10. Reblogged this on Happiness Cards and commented:
    Here’s some inspiration for you gardeners out there. Be sure to scroll down to the cool photo of a hovering honey bee. Happy spring!

  11. lucindalines says:

    It is all so lovely and so cozy looking!

  12. Gardens provide and oasis from all the traffic of life. Beautiful photos. We live in a temperate climate so we don’t have to worry about snow and the ground so much but my heart always appreciate how the colours of a garden will lift my spirits

  13. Yes, they do matter, don’t they? Good post, Donna! These are great examples of how gardeners and gardens can make a big difference–not just to improve the view, but to support wildlife and pollinators and to improve the mental and physical health of the people in a community. 🙂

  14. One of my favorite things each year are your photographic garden tours for those of us who read your blog; they are the true treasures on the internet. I go back and look at each photo multiple times for the design ideas, the inspirations, the wonderful artistic surprises, and the pleasure of the colors, shapes, and wonderful contrasts.

  15. Annie says:

    I’m in awe of these folks who throw open their garden gates and invite in the public. It’s a huge undertaking getting ready for the big day. Pocket garden tours are popular in cities around me and I take advantage of them whenever possible. Lovely gardens make a difference to a neighborhood, a city, and to the biodiversity of the natural world.

  16. Carolyn says:

    Always a treat to visit you Donna. It’s been a very long time. A short break from blogging turned into a very long one. I’m giving it a go again. I enjoy reading your reply to comments as much as your post. You are always the teacher… love that in you. From my perspective, Urban gardens are magical, they draw you in visually and if you are fortunate enough to enter, they lift your soul. Wherever I travel in this world, I always include some type of garden walk for that very reason.

    • Thank you Carolyn, nice of you to visit. Travel can include many special gardens. My next post on Public Gardens is one that usually includes travel somewhere, but can be one’s hometown.

  17. rose says:

    I’ve really enjoyed these two posts about why gardens matter, Donna. When I started gardening, I realized all the benefits I received–the joy, the stress relief, the satisfaction–but later I realized, too, how important they were to the creatures who inhabit them and the ecological impact. But I also see the impact our gardens have on others, and I agree that this is contagious. I read somewhere that seeing gardens, even if only briefly, lifts our spirits and creates a more positive mood. If so, Buffalo must be a very happy place!

    • Thank you very much, Rose. I think many garden for the joy and relaxation they get from gardens, but with that seeing much wildlife joining them in the garden. I too am always amazed to see something new. It is true, there is a psychological effect and I mention it in passing next post.

  18. Lula says:

    Yes, garden matters and urban gardens are even more important since cities are more and more populated, urban inhabitants need vegetation, orchards, green surroundings to survive a city life, urban gardeners play a very crucial role in helping nature to succeed in cities and it’s really great to know that your area is doing its best to cooperate with nature!

    • Many cities are designed around public gardens. Next post see the reasoning. My area did not start with nature first and foremost, but it is a very fortunate benefit. In my own neighborhood, at first heavily planting my yard did get some resistance from neighbors. Many still like the grassed frontyards they see all the way down the block.

  19. It is amazing how there are fewer and fewer lawns there now. I love this. And yes our gardens matter so much to the life and environment around us. Here I still have no open ground except around the gazebo where there is stone. And it is still cold. I don’t expect to lose this last foot for at least another week as they are calling for more cold weather and snow here. But today the red winged blackbirds returned….

    • Each of these properties never had much lawn to begin with if you look closely at the size of these gardens. The gardens became heavily planted as more and more folks started participating in GWB, and friendly competition between the gardeners became the norm. So many try to outdo the others and become a destination for the most visitors. I still have a foot of snow here too even after our warm spell. Piles on the street are five to six feet high.

  20. I really wish there were a big concentration of avid gardeners in my immediate neighborhood. It’s nice to see that it exists in some places. I’d be interested if anyone has ever conducted an organized project to create this sort of gardening community.

    • You can always start a garden walk in your neighborhood. It started with one man in Buffalo. Door to door or a neighborhood meeting is how to begin. Get people interested, then get them active, plan and promote.

      Do you mean like designated garden communities? We have one that was built not necessarily for gardens, but it became that. I featured it once on GWGT. Many houses in one development went all out and the houses surrounded a man made lake.

  21. Denise says:

    Beautiful gardens, wonderful post. I couldn’t agree more.

  22. Indie says:

    This is the right type of peer pressure! It’s great when people start seeing the beauty of gardens and start gardening themselves. What a great thing that has happened in Buffalo! I hope it spreads to other places as well!

  23. All excellent points, Donna! And great photos of the reasons why.

  24. Of Gardens says:

    I spend a lot of time in London and am often astonished at the gardens created in tiny spaces and how very important these tiny gardens are to the character and quality of London life. Closer to home in Boston the urban gardens of Beacon Hill, Back Bay and the South End are cherished and celebrated every year with very popular garden tours. The outsized popularity of The High Line in NYC is more evidence of how much urbanites crave gardens. Here’s to The Importance of Urban Gardening.

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