The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is Designated as One of Six Elite Proven Winners Signature Gardens in the Country

Posted on April 20, 2015 by Erin Grajek | 0 Comments

The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is Designated as One of Six Elite Proven Winners Signature Gardens in the Country

The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is proud to announce that their outdoor front entrance gardens have been designated as one of six elite Proven Winners Signature Gardens in the country.  These gardens are designated by Proven Winners® and represent an elite group of properties that showcase exceptional garden presentations across the county.

This garden will include a transformation of the outdoor front entrance gardens that will highlight amazing plant and color combinations that will enhance the first impression of the Botanical Gardens. The partnership will allow the Botanical Gardens to provide seasonal interest in the outdoor gardens and set a framework to display plants in a way that has never been seen before at the Botanical Gardens.  In order to build a solid foundation, the Botanical Gardens will also install an outdoor automated irrigation system for the first time.  This will ensure the best plant offerings from the number one plant brand in the world are full, vibrant, happy and healthy.  Over the next several months, the Botanical Gardens will be working closely with Proven Winners® and installation will begin soon. 

“It is a great honor to work with such a quality brand as Proven Winners® and to be selected as a Proven Winners Signature Garden.  This partnership will bring our front entrance gardens up to a standard that our visitors have grown to anticipate.  The Proven Winner’s® professional staff and national resources will expose our guests to exciting new plants in a creative and colorful way!  Thank you Proven Winners®,” said David Swarts, President/CEO.

With this prestigious Proven Winners® designation, the outdoor front entrance gardens at the Botanical Gardens will serve as a regional showcase and the collaboration with Proven Winners® is a long term partnership that will grow and evolve. The goal of Proven Winners® from the beginning has been to introduce the best, most unique, high performing plants under the highest quality standards and to give the home gardener and professional a brand name they can depend on and trust.

“We are honored to offer our Proven Winners Signature Garden designation to the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens - now one of only six designated properties around the country. We couldn’t be more pleased to be involved in this historical garden treasure and look forward to being included as part of their exceptional gardens,”  said Tom Ewing of Proven Winners®.

What separates Proven Winners® from all other plant lines is their pre-introduction testing processes.  No other plant line goes through the same rigorous selection process, which takes 2 to 3 years and occurs at facilities in the U.S. and Canada, as well as at trial stations in Europe, South Africa, and Japan.   Of the thousands of cultivars tested each year, very few ever earn the Proven Winners® brand name.

The Proven Winners Signature Garden designation was created to provide gardens showcasing many of these varieties. It has emerged as a prestigious certification representing a collaboration between Proven Winners® and exclusive properties across the country. The goal is to develop a showcase garden that complements the property and provides visitors the opportunity to view the latest new plant varieties and plant introductions from Proven Winners®, now a global brand found in many countries throughout the world.

To achieve this designation, properties must demonstrate a strict set of criteria, including horticultural expertise, horticultural commitment, and a commitment to a quality landscape presentation.

In addition to the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, five other properties are proudly designated as Proven Winners Signature Gardens: Hotel Iroquois on Mackinac Island, Grand Tradition Estate & Gardens in Fallbrook, CA, the Governor's Mansions in Kentucky and Illinois, and Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester, MI. And, the first Proven Winners Botanical Trail was installed last year at Rockcastle River Trading Company in Livingston, KY.  

For more information visit the Botanical Gardens’ website at and/or Proven Winners® at

The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens Society, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing appreciation for knowledge of plant life and its connection to people and cultures through its documented living plant collection, historic conservatory, education, research and exhibits.

Botanical Gardens will be Filled with Fairies and Gnomes this Spring

Posted on April 09, 2015 by Erin Grajek | 0 Comments

Buffalo, NY – Spring has sprung at the Botanical Gardens!  Come and celebrate National Public Gardens Day on May 8, have some family fun at the Fairy and Gnome Festival on May 9 from 10am-3pm!  Enter the Fairy and Gnome House Contest which will be displayed May 9 – May 17 and attend the Kids Spring Fairy Garden Workshop May 9. The Pollinator Festival on June 14 will round up the fun!
National Public Gardens Day is a national day of celebration to raise awareness of America’s public gardens and their important role in environmental stewardship and awareness, plant and water conservation and education in communities nationwide.  Join the Gardens May 8 from 10am-5pm with discounted prices of $1 for non-members and free admission for members and kids 2 and under.
Celebrate spring with fairies and garden gnome friends!  Join the Gardens on May 9 at the Fairy and Gnome Festival for fun programs, including fairy activities, a special scavenger hunt, fairy house building, story time and nature walks.  You can also view our Fairy and Gnome House contest entries and vote for your favorite!  The festival is from 10am-3pm and is included with Garden admission (Adults $9, Seniors $8, Students 13+ $8, Children 3-12 $5, Children under 2 and Garden Members are free).  Wear your costume for $1 off admission!
Attention scouts, classrooms, families and other groups!  Build a fairy house and enter it into the Gardens’ Fairy and Gnome House Contest.  The contest is free to enter.  Intent to participate is due April 15 and submissions are due by April 29.  Entries will be on display inside the Gardens May 9- May 17 and winners will be chosen and prizes will be given at the Fairy and Gnome Festival.  Go to or call 827.1584 ext. 291 for more information and for an entry form.
The Kids Spring Fairy Garden Workshop is taking place May 9 at 9am and 3pm. Kids ages 4-12 can make their own container miniature garden for fairies or gnomes!  They will be using found and natural materials to make the perfect hideaway.  Acorn dishes, leaf fences and seed mailboxes – what will their imagination create?  Containers, soil and plants are included and add on pre-made twig furniture for $5 per two pieces.  Pre-registration is required as space is limited!  The workshop is $15 for Garden Members and $20 for non-members and the general public.
Join the Gardens as they party with pollinators at the Pollinator Festival on June 14.  Native gardening, butterfly, honey bee and pollinator activities are all part of the family fun.  Visit with vendors and get information on how you can help local pollinators at demonstrations or talks with our panel of experts.  Speakers include Sally Cunningham, Dave O’Donnell and other experts in the field!  Make friends with a butterfly and walk through an enclosure set up inside the Gardens with the folks from the Eastern Monarch Butterfly Farm in Clarence, NY.  Refreshments will be available.  The festival takes place from 10am-3pm and price is included with Garden Admission (Adults $9, Seniors $8, Students 13+ $8, Children 3-12 $5, Children under 2 and Garden Members are free).
For more information on all of these events visit us at  The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens Society, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing appreciation for and knowledge of plant life and its connection to people and cultures through its documented living plant collection, historic conservatory, education, research and exhibits.

Spotlight on Obviously Avi Catering

Posted on April 03, 2015 by Erin Grajek | 0 Comments

“Catering is a passion of mine and a labor of love. It’s so rewarding.” Says Avi of Obviously Avi catering. 16 years ago, Avi got his first job as a dishwasher in a kitchen where he eventually earned the title of Executive Chef. Since then, he has transformed his love of cooking into his own successful catering company. “I create menus around the client. No events are ever the same. I create each event uniquely, blending cuisines. I always try to use local, organic produce” says Avi.  

Recently, Avi catered the Botanical Gardens’  Victorian Tea, which was a huge success thanks to his exquisite menu. Guests were able to enjoy water chestnut mousse with soy glazed bacon, a tea sandwich of Chinese barbecue eggplant, and coconut panna cotta as well as an assortment of many other dishes. Rather than heading straight to Pinterest boards for inspiration, Avi thoughtfully researched the Silk Road and meals traditionally prepared during this time period. His food undoubtedly complimented the theme and ambiance of the event, and we received great feedback from our guests.

Obviously Avi Catering has been an exclusive caterer at the Gardens for over 6 years, and he has contributed his impressive talents to a wide variety of events from luncheons to wedding receptions. Avi kindly says “Working with the Gardens is consistently fantastic no matter who is working or volunteering. There is always a great atmosphere”, and we feel the same way about him!

To learn more, visit
To book your next event at the Gardens, contact us at 716.827.1584 ext. 219 or

Photo: Evan Robertson, Chef Avi Altman, Pat McCarthy

Volunteer Newsletter - March 2015

Posted on March 04, 2015 by Erin Grajek | 0 Comments

Click here to see our March 2015 Volunteer Newsletter

Even an epic snowstorm couldn’t keep horticulturist Jeff Thompson from his job

Posted on February 23, 2015 by Erin Grajek | 0 Comments

The Buffalo News
By Teresa Sharp
Niagara correspondent
on February 22, 2015 - 12:01 AM

Jeff Thompson was sitting in his home on Coomer Road in Newfane in late November, fretting over the weather reports forecasting several feet of snow at his workplace 45 minutes away in South Buffalo – the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Thompson, the facility’s director of horticulture, knew a power outage could spell big trouble for the roughly 3,000 plants nestled inside the largely glass-topped buildings. But it was the fragility of those glass roofs atop the historic 1900 buildings that troubled him even more as the heavy snow continued to fall.

So, Thompson left the warmth of the 1850 Greek Revival farmhouse he shares with his wife, Kristin, and their three young children, packed a survival kit and pointed his Ford Focus toward the storm.

He got within a mile and a half before road conditions forced him to start walking and, with true Yankee ingenuity, this Massachusetts native used snowshoes to make it in the rest of the way. He camped out for three days, repeatedly shoveling snow off of the glass roofs’ snow shields to keep them from collapsing under the weight.

But how did he reach the roofs in a snowstorm?

“There was so much snow, I could walk up to the roofs (on snowshoes) and shovel them off,” he recalled. “We had 15 feet of snow is some places.”

He was joined by co-worker Kristy Blakely, who used cross-country skis to get to work, along with her fiancée, Travis Schmitt, for a portion of the time, as well as his boss, David Swarts, the facility’s president and chief executive officer. Swarts said he could not make it in for the entire weather event from his snowbound East Aurora home.

“We had a real crisis here, and this demonstrates Jeff’s commitment to and concern about the conservancy and collection of plants,” Swarts said. “He is a really bright, interesting and dedicated guy.”

Swarts said the facility lost around 160 panes of glass under the weight of the snow, as well as 170 to 180 plants in the 32,000-square-foot conservatory.
But the damage would have been much more devastating if Thompson hadn’t persevered in reaching the Gardens and in removing as much of the snow – and weight – from the roofs as he could.

“I just did what I needed to do,” he said.

Thompson said he has been fascinated with horticulture and gardening since he was a child and that sometimes he thinks “chlorophyll runs in my veins.” He and his family have 65 acres in the Newfane countryside, filled with gardens, orchards and even horses, goats and chickens. He grows everything from vegetables and fruit and nuts to hops – and it’s all organic.

He has been at the Botanical Gardens just two years and ran his own successful design/build business for 25 years before starting his new career. He recently took some time from his busy schedule to chat about his job.

Please explain exactly what a “botanical garden” is.
A botanical garden is a living collection of plants. Much like a zoo, we have a collection of interesting plants from all over the world, instead of animals. And there are so many valuable things related to this, not just the visual. We have a lot to do with the preservation of the species, for example, and (perpetuating) the collection with species that may be endangered. This (facility) allows people to see the co-dependency of plants and humans.

What led to your job as director of horticulture?
I studied landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. After I graduated, I started my own design/build businesses and had that for 17 years in Massachusetts.
Then I met my wife, Kristin, who was from Newfane. When we were going to have our first child, we decided we wanted our kids to grow up in a more rural atmosphere and moved to Newfane. I re-established my business here and ran it for 10 years. Then, I went to a dinner party and someone mentioned they had seen an ad for director of horticulture at the Botanical Gardens. I applied, they offered me the job, and I took it.
What does the job entail?
I am the caretaker, or steward, of the entire collection. I have two full-timers and a part-timer helping me, and we really rely on our volunteers – they are a great group.
How many volunteers do you have?
We have more than 400 volunteers. Some come in religiously and some just for special events. Some work in the gift shop, while some help with the maintenance and upkeep of the facility. We also have super-passionate docents and interns. Without our volunteers, we probably couldn’t function.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
It all takes careful planning, usually six months in advance. People come here to see our plants, and the plants have their innate beauty, but they’re not really animated, so we have to try and create animation. And we have to constantly update or change the collection because that provides interest. We rotate them from season to season with different shows throughout the year and bring new species into the collection.
What do you do with the plants that aren’t on display?
We have to keep them healthy and growing. We have two greenhouses behind the conservatory and a new one attached to the administration building.
How do you acquire the plants?
We generally purchase the tropical plants from brokers in Florida. We also get plants donated by people who have collections and can no longer keep them. For our shows and displays, we try and use local growers from here in Western New York. Our collection is now quite full.
How do you keep track of all of these plants and know how to care for them?
It’s an ongoing learning curve, but it’s exciting and interesting, because of my passion for plants and plant materials. The plant kingdom, itself, fascinates me because of its historical and cultural significance to the entire planet.
We are currently creating a database for the entire collection of plants, inside and outside, and we think there are over 3,000 different plants here. Jeanette Williams, a longtime, dedicated volunteer, has put in countless hours of time cataloguing the collection. UB came in and created a database for us.
Your hometown is Marshfield, Mass. – not too far from Boston. Does Boston have a similar facility?
Boston is a great city, but it doesn’t have a botanical garden. This is a jewel. This building has been here 115 years and was designed by the Lord and Burnham Co. (modeled after the Crystal Palace in the Kew Gardens in England) and the park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted – who is kind of one of my heroes. It was the third-largest public greenhouse in the country at the time. And the fact that we have this here is truly an incredible thing.
Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email

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