Open Garden

story and photos by Duane Pancoast

The graying of America has been taking place for decades. According to Scientific American magazine, the ratio of workers to retirees was 4:6 in 2014 and projected to be only 1:9 by 2100. These figures, called the Potential Support Ratio, were calculated by dividing the number of people 20 to 64 years old by those 65 and older.

One definition of retirement is being able to do what you want instead of what you have to. For many, that means spending more time in the garden. For a growing number, however, the ravages of old age catch up with them before they have a chance to fulfill that dream. Knees, hips, and backs give out. Arthritis limits finger movement. Cardio-pulmonary and respiratory problems limit the amount of time you can spend in the garden. Eyes fade and our memories may not be as sharp as they were. 

Although this may sound pretty grim, it’s not all that bad. Gardening is one pastime in which people can adapt and continue well into their later years. In fact, the process by which seniors modify their gardens and gardening techniques to continue gardening is called “Adaptive Gardening.” Bad knees forced me to begin adapting more than ten years ago, which is why I have taken such an interest in the subject and write a blog entitled the Geriatric Gardener. 

Recently, I was introduced to two gardeners whose beautiful gardens are tucked into Rochester’s Nineteenth Ward, about two blocks from each other. Both gardens are as unique as the gardeners. 

The raised fish pond in the back corner of Marian Boutet’s garden. When she has the brick path replaced with a wider, smoother surface, the steps will probably be replaced with a ramp.

Marian Boutet’s backyard garden is approximately 60 by 60 feet. Although plagued by knee pain, the 73-year-old has spent lots of time working in the garden since retiring from Kodak 20 years ago. She has been living in the same location for 30 years and the garden has been evolving for 25 years.  

Before “Embrace Imperfection” was an adaptive gardening mantra, it was the theme of Boutet’s garden. The layout is very informal. Edibles are mixed in with shrubs and the hardscape is quite rustic. Walkways are made of brick and fieldstone, which Boutet’s husband John installed. There is even a fish pond in the back corner.

An overview of Marian Boutet’s garden from the deck.
The brick and fieldstone paths in Marian Boutet’s garden will be replaced with a smoother material to accommodate a walker or wheelchair.

Boutet uses a folding bench/kneeler when gardening. When placed in one position, it is a bench. Turn it over and it is a kneeling pad. The legs of the bench become railings that help her get up from a kneeling position. These can be purchased online or from garden supply catalogs.

Boutet uses adaptive tools like the trowel pictured that will work well in the raised beds that are in her future. She is also planning to make the paths wider and smoother to accommodate a walker or wheelchair.

This trowel is one of Marian Boutet’s adaptive tools.
Foliage plants like these in Marian Boutet’s garden require far less care than flowering plants.

Slowly, Boutet, who likes unstructured gardens, is eliminating lawn in the front yard and replacing it with beds of shrubs. John mows the remaining lawn and does much of the other heavy work, with some chores being turned over to neighborhood teens.

— • —

Although she is working to simplify her garden, Marcy Klein hasn’t really embraced imperfection in the same way as Marian Boutet. Klein’s garden is long and narrow, stretching from a street in front all the way to a street in back. The width of the house covers about half the property and the gardens fill the other half.  

The ten individual gardens contain nearly 200 plant varieties. Klein’s husband Rick Schaffer, a painter by trade, separated all the gardens with exquisite stonework. This resulted in waist high raised beds, which are easier for Marcy to work. Schaeffer also built paved pathways that have few steps and are wide enough to accommodate a walker. 

In the back, the gardens are shielded from the street by six-foot Japanese style fencing and beautiful Japanese gates to the street and driveway. Behind the fence and street gate is a Japanese garden. 

Some of the few steps in Marcy Klein’s garden are beside the boxwood garden.
The waist-high stone walls define the meandering pathways as well as holding raised beds in Marcy Klein’s garden.

Klein is a retired graphic artist who taught classes on easy gardening at the Rochester Civic Garden Center. She also took a class on designing healing gardens. Both have equipped her well to adapt to age-related limitations.

Over the years, Klein has planted more shrubs and fewer perennials and annuals because shrubs require less care. They don’t have to be deadheaded or divided like perennials or changed out seasonally like annuals. This has resulted in more foliage plants, a conscious decision since foliage plants are easier than bloomers. She has also taken great care to make sure there are no invasive plants in her garden.

Klein has grouped together plants with similar water needs. This is good for the environment as well as the gardener’s workload. Ideally, plants that require the least water should be at the higher elevations and those that need the most water at the lower elevations, where they can often do well from the runoff from the higher plants.

Marcy Klein and Rick Schaeffer’s front yard. Note the pine straw mulch.
Some of Rick Schaeffer’s stone work in front and surrounded by boxwood, this garden shows off repurposed statuary and a column in Marcy Klein’s garden.

Klein has seven coniferous trees and shrubs, which produce a goodly amount of needle drop every year. She leaves those needles right where they drop to mulch under the plants. Again, this is a tremendous saving of labor, and it’s good for the tree/shrubs and the environment. Down south, people use a lot of pine straw mulch, which means they actually pay for the same mulch Marcy Klein gets free. Then they have to cart it home and spread it.

The whole garden is in shade because of the mature trees overhead. With benches and seats placed strategically throughout the garden, there is no shortage of places to take cool, refreshing breaks. Alternate working and resting in the shade with a cool drink of water is one of the most important things aging gardeners can do. However, many don’t take frequent breaks if it’s too far to walk back to a resting place.

Although most beds are raised, there is still a certain amount of low work to be done. So, Klein also has a lightweight, padded kneeler with arms.

— • —

Klein and Schaeffer open their garden to many garden tours, so Klein has applied her graphic art experience to design and reproduce a map with all the gardens diagramed and all the plants cataloged. She didn’t say whether the copy she gave me was done for my visit in particular, but it does have a section at the bottom titled “Help for Geriatric Gardeners.”

Victor resident Duane Pancoast writes a blog on adaptive gardening at He is also founder and CEO of the Pancoast Concern, Ltd., a 33-year-old marketing communications firm serving green industry clients.


story by Sally Cunningham; photos by Jim Charlier

It’s official: Buffalo now has the largest gardening tour in the country, and it’s caught on across Erie County and beyond. Now, in July, about 1000 gardens open to the public for tours or walks or as open gardens. This proliferation didn’t happen overnight, but grew steadily, spurred forward by the Buffalo tourism momentum, twenty-five years in the making. Happy 25th Birthday and Many Happy Returns to Garden Walk Buffalo!

Jim Charlier’s garden shed.

Something else happened that defined this regional garden tourism event: Garden bloggers had a meet-up, and Garden Writers (Gardens.Comm) had a national conference in Buffalo, and they all began to tell our story far and wide. We became famous for being … different. And somebody coined a term: “There is a Buffalo-style garden! Just like there are Italian gardens and Japanese gardens … Buffalo has a style!

Buffalo-Style Gardens book cover.

Meanwhile, a couple of years back, while squirming in an airplane seat en route to Atlanta, I had a brainstorm. Jim Charlier, longtime president of Garden Walk Buffalo, and I were attending a conference for garden communicators. Sitting in row 23, I scratched out an outline, and sent it back to Jim in Row 33: “Hey Jim… Do you think there’s a book here?” The concept grew. We sent out fully fleshed-out book proposals and were rejected. We kept visiting gardens, dragging our spouses and friends. Jim kept photographing; I kept writing. And finally great news: The publishers from St. Lynn’s Press of Pittsburgh, known for classy garden books, said yes!Thirty-one months later, we have this book.

What is a Buffalo-Style Garden?
(The Elevator Speech)

If you have attended Garden Walk Buffalo (last weekend in July) you could take a crack at the description: People see intense, urban gardens with lots of art and super containers. They see creative hardscape—pergolas, arches, trellises, and walls. They see solutions to difficult landscape problems: huge trees and trees roots, imposing neighbors’ garage walls, and limited or compacted soil. But it’s more than concentrated urban gardening: Visitors exclaim about the personal, uninhibited self-expression and the over-the-top enthusiasm and friendliness of the individual gardeners. Words like “unexpected,” “offbeat,” “funky,” and “wow!” often pop up. 

So the publisher, Jim, and I agreed on the book’s subtitle: “Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs.” And in the elevator or airport or party, when someone new asks, “What is … ?” we say, “Buffalo Style is about extremely intense, original, art-filled gardens created by home gardeners, often in urban spaces.” You may find them from Lake Erie to Rochester—about seventy-five individual gardens from Western New York are seen in the book—but you’ll know them when you see them!

The train garden, complete with a garden shed decked out as a ticket station, in the garden of Barbara and Dave Whittemore, Hamburg
A secluded space between two garages in the garden of M.J. Szydlowski and the late Frank Sheuttle, in Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood
The Asian-style entryway to the garden of Don McCall and Jeff Lach on Buffalo’s Lancaster Avenue

Design and Good Horticulture Rule
With all this unleashed exuberance, can a professional or experienced gardener learn from these gardens? Certainly! First, many gardeners, such as the Sully, Shadrack, and Whittemore couples of Hamburg and Eden are deeply knowledgeable plant collectors and teach as you visit. Others, such as Irey/Locke, Coyne/diNezza, and the Blyths, of Buffalo and North Tonawanda, display rare annuals or less-known perennials. And the walk can be a garden design primer: See how the gardeners envisioned the lines and materials for paths and walls, placement of focal points, and use of their spaces. The book takes on serious design principles, plant selections and combinations as well. Perhaps the best lesson of all: these gardens are not pocket-book gardens, unattainable, or impossible to copy. You can borrow and re-interpret all that you see. You too can have a Buffalo-style garden!

Sally Cunningham is a garden speaker and co-author with Jim Charlier of Buffalo-Style Gardens (February 2019, St. Lynn’s Press). She wrote Great Garden Companions (1998, Rodale Books), and writes for the Buffalo News and Buffalo Spree magazine. She is a CNLP (certified nursery and landscape professional), and currently leads Great Garden Travel for AAA of Central and Western New York.


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.



“[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




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