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

The Peace Garden Trail

by janem on March 24, 2014

Flags of countries with International Peace Gardens at the Batavia 1812 garden dedication.

Flags of countries with International Peace Gardens at the Batavia 1812 garden dedication.

Story and images by Mary Ruth Smith

For most of us in Upstate New York, the War of 1812 is a forgotten war, even though many of its battles were fought in our back yard. This year marks the 200th anniversary of that war, which was started in 1812 and concluded, in a draw, most historians agree, in 1814. It is remembered most for the battle at Fort Henry, fought in Baltimore, that produced our National Anthem, for the burning of Washington DC, and for the Battle of New Orleans, made famous in song, that was actually fought after the peace treaty had been signed. It is often referred to as the Second War of Independence.

The War of 1812 led to a lasting peace between the US and Britain and the record-setting 200 years of peace along the longest undefended border in the world, the one between the US and Canada.

So what does this history lesson have to do with gardens? To answer that question, I have to go back to WW II. Canada gave shelter to the Dutch royal family during that war, and in gratitude, the Dutch sent thousands, perhaps millions, of tulip bulbs to the Canadian people. The annual Tulip Festival in Ottawa is the result, and well worth the trip if you have never seen it. In 1990, a Batavia native, Paula Savage, was working in Washington, promoting the interests of the Canadian government. She had the idea to pass on that gift of gardens from Canada to the US and worked to get approval to build the first Peace Garden on the grounds of the Washington Monument. It was so well received that people encouraged her to carry on the idea.

Thus began the International Peace Garden Movement. When Poland became the first country to break away from The Soviet Union, Paula, by now the President of the International Peace Garden Foundation, orchestrated the gift of a garden from the people of the US to the people of Poland. As other countries became free and democratic, or promoted peace in some way, the gift was passed on until now there are twenty-two International Peace Gardens, linking countries around the world in peace. The most recent garden was dedicated in Istanbul, Turkey in 2010.  And all of this was organized in and directed from Batavia, NY!

A few years ago, the Arts Council of Buffalo was looking for ways to commemorate the War of 1812 and consulted with Paula about the possibility of creating Peace Gardens in the Buffalo area at important sites of battles during the war. She realized that battles had also been fought all along the US/Canadian border, and the idea was born to have a trail of Bicentennial Peace Gardens along the border at sites associated with the war. Municipalities looking for ways to increase tourism jumped on board, volunteers were recruited, and sites were chosen to either build a new garden or repurpose an existing garden.

This year, all of these sites, nineteen in the US and three in Canada, will be dedicated as Bicentennial Peace Gardens. The first to be dedicated was, appropriately, in Batavia on May 6. The garden was a labor of love by the Friends of Batavia Peace Garden and volunteers from the community. It’s located on Main Street next to the Holland Purchase Museum in Paolo Busti Park, which honors the principal agent of the Holland Land Company.

Barb Toal, the Chair of the Batavia group, told me that it took two and a half years to get all the permits, funding, design and labor. The garden itself is still a work in progress with many more plantings and hardscape planned. She hopes it will put Batavia on the map. More than just a tourism attraction, the site will serve as a venue for performances of art and music by young people. Some of those young people performed at the dedication ceremony, flags of all the International Peace Garden countries were raised, a 21-gun salute was fired by veterans and militia enactors, and the enthusiasm of the entire community was evident in the large numbers of people attending.

Honorary International Peace Garden at Lewiston, NY.

Honorary International Peace Garden at Lewiston, NY.

In addition to the Batavia garden, the Rochester area has two other Peace Gardens, one at the Charlotte Genesee Lighthouse off Lake Avenue, and the other at the Lake Ontario Winery and Vineyards in Hamlin. The Buffalo area has the largest concentration of gardens, ten in all, including such gems as the Japanese Garden at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society and a garden in Lewiston. Wayne County has two gardens, and Oswego has the closest garden to the Syracuse area. They are all free and open to the public. The Bicentennial Peace Garden Trail won the Garden Tourism Initiative of the Year from the Ontario Garden Tourism Coalition in 2011, and in 2012, the Peace Garden Trail map won the award for Overall General Excellence at the NYS Tourism conference.

Japanese Garden at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

Japanese Garden at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

Information and photos of the gardens are available on the Peace Garden website, 1812.ipgf.org. Trip planning aids that include suggested itineraries, special events, nearby attractions, accommodations, driving directions and more can be obtained by calling 1-800-622-2686 ext.23 (M-F 8am-4pm EST). Free audio tours are available on your phone by calling 585-201-5079 and dialing the extension for each garden listed on the map. A map of the entire trail is available from the Genesee Chamber of Commerce at the 800 number above. The map is also available through the county tourism offices in Niagara, Erie, Genesee, Monroe, Wayne, and Oswego counties. A digital version of the map is available on the website of visitgeneseeny.com

This is a great way to learn more about the history of the area as it related to this forgotten war and to see beautiful gardens and other sites of interest in a series of day trips. If you have a chance to attend the dedication ceremony in one of the gardens near you, the dates of which are listed on the website, I urge you to do so. It will warm your heart.

Evan Cummings, age 8, is the youngest volunteer at the Bicentennial Peace Garden in Batavia.

Evan Cummings, age 8, is the youngest volunteer at the Bicentennial Peace Garden in Batavia.

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