Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Exploring Asia at the Botanical Gardens

by janem on March 22, 2017

story and photos by Katie DeTar

Buddha displays mundra

Buddha displays mundra

Great landscape design transcends simple greenery and creates sacred space. It provides a place for contemplation and education, and transports visitors into an artful, beautiful world. The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens achieves such a feat with this year’s opening of two new exhibits, the Aquatic Garden and Asian Rainforest.

The new spaces opened on January 14, following renovations that began in in 2015. Located in Buffalo’s historic South Park, The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens are about six miles south of downtown Buffalo. The magnificent structure—built for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition—is one of only two remaining tri-domed glass conservatories in the world. The gardens house more than 4500 plant species, including cacti, palms, orchids, and medicinal plants.

Water lily

Water lily

The new exhibits expand on this collection, and introduce even more new species, focusing on plants native to Southeast Asia and Australia—two of the most diverse and botanically significant regions in the world.

“This space gives us an opportunity to introduce varieties of plants not in the collection,” says Executive Director David Swarts. “It also provides us an opportunity to talk about culture and educate our visitors.”

Wide pathways wind through exotic gardens complete with more than ten varieties of bamboo, tropical pitcher plants, white palms, and fruit trees. Regular garden visitors will also notice the bonsai collection has been moved and incorporated into the new spaces.

The Aquatic Garden and Asian Rainforest exhibits also include sculpture and cultural elements that align with the overall theme. Visitors step through a moon gate as they pass along the walkway. Circular architectural elements are common in Chinese gardens. A traditional teahouse perches in the far corner of the space, while a large Buddha statue displays a mudra—a symbolic hand gesture—communicating discussion, intellectual argument, and the flow of energy and information.

The moon gate, walkway curbs, and waterfall (the North Dome’s stunning centerpiece) were all hand-carved and hand-painted. Close examination of the realistic looking rock reveals an incredible level of detail, textures, and colors.

The Aquatic Garden features not only plants, but also water itself as a landscape element. A large fountain sits at the entrance, swirling water into figure eights as it gently flows through large leaf-shaped bowls. Dozens of koi, donated by a local organic gardener, swim under a footbridge in a large pond.

Fountain

Fountain

“[The aquatic elements] stress the importance of water in our lives, and its serenity and peacefulness. Water is healing. It’s a sensory experience to visit the garden,” says Swarts.

The plants and garden also present opportunities for conservation education. The expanded collection helps to ensure the survival of rare plant species threatened by deforestation and climate change in their native lands; pest and fungal control for the entire collection are now managed with the help of purposefully placed beneficial insects, rather than entirely through pesticides. It’s part of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens’ policy of preserving plants for future generations, and to be stewards for education.

For the home gardener, the beautiful and exotic new spaces spark inspiration. Luckily, in many ways, the same look and feel can be recreated at upstate backyards. Here many of the same varieties of tropical plants will flourish outdoors in the warmer months as potted plants that can be moved indoors in winter. Many varieties of bamboo grow well outdoors, but should be reserved for containers too because they can be very invasive. Ponds, sculpture, and fountains can also create an Asian theme at home.

The new Aquatic Garden and Asian Rainforest exhibits offer a peaceful and vibrant place for relaxation. Go there to meditate, experience a new culture, and to find inspiration for your sanctuary.

Moon Gate

Moon Gate

Waterfall

Waterfall

 

Katie DeTar is the host and producer of the television travel series, Fringe Benefits – airing now on Public Television Stations. Learn more at www.katiedetar.com.

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