What can Cleveland learn about gardens from its Rust Belt neighbor Buffalo? In June 2010, Jan Kious read an article in The Plain Dealer about Garden Walk Buffalo and decided to check it out.
“I’d never been there, but I had this horrible impression of Buffalo,” says Kious. “They had 350 gardens on the tour, and they were transforming whole streets. I was realizing people had a bad impression of Cleveland, too. I thought, if this could change people’s impressions of Buffalo, it could change people’s impressions of Cleveland.”
Unbeknownst to Kious, her friend Bobbi Reichtell had also been at Garden Walk Buffalo. After comparing notes, they called a meeting about starting a similar event in Cleveland. Sixty people showed up.
That was the genesis of the free, all-volunteer event, which launched in 2011 with four neighborhoods. There are five this year: Old Brooklyn, Slavic Village, Larchmere, Detroit-Shoreway, and West Park, a first-time participant.
This year, GardenWalk features more than 200 private and community gardens, urban farms, vineyards, and orchards, double the number it had four years ago. Mansfield Frazier’s Hough Vineyards has been a special feature every year; this year, Ronald McDonald House’s gardens will be included for the first time.
GardenWalk participation depends on people who live and work in each neighborhood. Neighbors step up to be gardenfinders, identifying potential gardens to include, and inviting their owners to participate.
“We offer it up to neighborhoods and if they have a garden finder, we’ll have them on,” says Kious. “Neighborhoods that are on year after year, they develop community. Neighbors ask neighbors to come on and it spreads.”
Slavic Village, which joined in 2012, started with 20 gardens and now has 40. Elevate Gallery is acting as the neighborhood headquarters, where there’ll be a competition for flower photography.
“Garden Walk is a way they have built community,” says Kious. “We get people meeting each other.
Slavic Village resident and former director of Slavic Village Development Marie Kittredge agrees. “For us, the engagement of neighbors is at least as important, if not more important, than the visitors who attend,” she says. “After each GardenWalk, we can see a renewed sense of pride that comes from our neighbors receiving praise from new visitors to Slavic Village.”
GardenWalk Cleveland 2015 takes place July 11 and 12. The twoday tour is self-guided, with maps available at each neighborhood’s headquarters, or they can be downloaded from GardenWalk’s website. Visit GardenWalkCleveland.org for more information.