Garden Photo of the Day

A Buffalo-Style Garden

A wildly creative garden in a garden-obsessed city

Today we’re visiting Jim Charlier’s garden.

I garden in Buffalo, New York, which is in Zone 6 along the temperature-moderating Lake Erie. I’ve been gardening at this house for 20 years now. We get our garden project inspiration from visiting gardens on our trips around the United States and abroad.

Biggest failure? I built the raised bed potager to grow vegetables. The same year, I planted a river birch east of it, across the driveway. Three years later, the potager doesn’t get enough sun to grow vegetables, so I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to find something that will grow there with less light. After trying annuals (too expensive, not enough sun for flowers), shade-happy vegetables (don’t like summer heat), and sedums (look too scraggly) I went last year with bugleweed (Ajuga reptans, Zones 3–9). We’ll see how that works out in its second year.

Successes? Many, but I’m most proud of having designed and built the potting shed to replace a timber jungle gym that was in the spot when we bought the house in 2001. It took two summers to build, but we now have a respectable place to store our garden gear and can now, once again, fit a car in our garage in the wintertime.

If I had to choose my favorite “thing,” I would have to choose the three espaliers we have.

The first is a diamond-shaped espalier of four dwarf pear trees along a garage wall. It makes a beautiful backdrop for the dining area on our deck. It’s hard to explain to people that it’s trained along cables. Even after I explain it, and even show them pears growing, some people have left muttering that they’ve never seen a pear vine before.

The second espalier is two knee-high dwarf apple trees on either side of the raised bed potager garden. It killed me to top off the trees at about 2½ feet, but they have been there for eight years and seem happy. Last year I even got an apple. Yes, just one. We saw a similarly espaliered apple tree at Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France, and stole the idea.

The last espalier really isn’t an espalier. I call it a “poor man’s espalier.” It’s blackberry canes trained (strapped) to wire rope in a diamond pattern across our back fence. It’s large and dynamic and surprises visitors, who have never seen blackberries in anything but annoying brambles. It fills in much faster than trees and needs much wrangling.

Favorite plant? Heuchera (coral bells). They come in so many colors—and textures, sizes, and sheens. I collect them when I can in one particular bed. They look impressive together. I built a copper fountain that looks like a 3½-foot-tall heuchera in the middle of the heuchera bed.

We’re on Garden Walk Buffalo each year. It’s the largest garden tour in North America, with more than 400 gardens. More than 65,000 guests from around the United States, nearby Canada, and beyond visit each year. We get about 3,500 people just in our garden alone each year. It’s nice to garden with passion, and it’s nice to enjoy it on our own, but we also like to share it with others.

All photos are mine.

A hosta in a tall planter in the foreground. At the top right, Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla, Zones 4–8) and a clematis climb an arbor. I made the bench from my mother-in-law’s childhood headboard. On tables and the pedestal are various annuals.

garden shedGrass and paver checkerboard garden in front of the potting shed I designed and built myself. Window boxes are made from repurposed bifold closet doors. Windows and doors were original to the 1897 Dutch Colonial house. I made the terra-cotta pot lights with solar lights, as well as the recirculating terra-cotta pot rain chain. On the left of the potting shed is a “Harry Potter Garden” of odd-looking annuals and perennials we’ve labeled with the names of plants from the Harry Potter books with each plant’s magical properties.

Foreground: raised bed pottage garden with boxwoods and bugleweed, surrounded by a knee-high dwarf apple tree espalier. Background against fence: blackberry canes along a diamond-shaped wire rope. On right: houseplants and annuals enjoying their summer outdoors, avocado tree, elephant ears, and more.

Grass and paver checkerboard. Along the fence are hostas and ferns, the raised bed pottage and knee-high dwarf apple tree espalier, sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora, Zones 4–9) climbs a copper trellis. On the left, the small terra-cotta pots are a rain chain connected to a circulating pump with hidden basin.

A collection of heucheras (coral bells) in a variety of colors surround a handmade copper heuchera fountain.

A hanging 5-foot by 3-foot vertical garden of hens and chicks and sedums. Young lantana, hosta and begonias in pots.

Arbor of climbing vinesArbor of climbing vines (left to right): Dutchman’s pipe, honeysuckle (Lonicera), clematis, five-leaf chocolate akebia (Akebia quinata, Zones 5–9). A marble and granite scrap carpet is inset into the brick patio. In the center is a hosta, at each side are tomato plants in green pots.

A diamond-shaped dwarf pear tree espalier against a garage wall next to the deck.

columnar apple treeA columnar apple tree in the front yard garden, which contains liatris (Liatris spicata, Zones 3–9), hardy Hibiscus, hostas, ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia (Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Zones 6–9), Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra, Zones 5–9), and dozens of other perennials and shrubs. In the hanging baskets and window box are mostly coleus, sweet potato, and variegated creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea, Zones 4–9).

Japanese forest grassBlackberry canes growing along wire cable fronted by a row of Japanese forest grass and a collection of glass flowers.

The inside of the potting shed has roof panels of clear plastic, so it’s nice and bright. The walls are picket, stained and painted with leftover house paints, from an old picket fence that surrounded the house. The window is original to the 1897 house. The floor is made of the same pavers that make up the checkerboard garden in front of the shed.


Have a garden you’d like to share?

Have photos to share? We’d love to see your garden, a particular collection of plants you love, or a wonderful garden you had the chance to visit!

To submit, send 5-10 photos to [email protected] along with some information about the plants in the pictures and where you took the photos. We’d love to hear where you are located, how long you’ve been gardening, successes you are proud of, failures you learned from, hopes for the future, favorite plants, or funny stories from your garden.

If you want to send photos in separate emails to the GPOD email box that is just fine.

Have a mobile phone? Tag your photos on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with #FineGardening!

You don’t have to be a professional garden photographer – check out our garden photography tips!

Do you receive the GPOD by email yet? Sign up here.

View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 04/21/2020

    Oh, my gracious!!!!!! Everything is absolutely smashing. And that apple tree is to die for!

  2. fromvirginia 04/21/2020

    Oh my. What a treat to wake up to. I really enjoyed “touring” this garden that is packed with unusual delights. I love the creativity. That shed — charming! The heuchara bed with the copper heuchara fountain is wonderful. The arbor, the espalier and I have total Japanese forest grass envy! I had a smile as i went through the pictures. Well done! Have always wanted to go to Buffalo during your garden days...maybe one day.

  3. mainer59 04/21/2020

    Your creativity and your skill blow me away! You can build sheds, you create "paintings" in wall frames, you succeed at espaliers, and on and on. Everything has amazing attention to detail. You are forging new frontiers. Thank you for "raising the bar" by posting these amazing pictures.

  4. pam_clemmons 04/21/2020

    Oh how delightful! The entire posting made me smile and want to see more. Love, love, love the way you took plants and trees and made them interesting and fun to be with. Enjoy!

  5. nwphillygardener 04/21/2020

    Such exuberance and playfulness! Plants are really put to work in the magical theatre that your garden has created. I can imagine lots of delighted visitors if you participate in the Buffalo Garden Walk! Gardens like this make it easy to understand why folks would flock to Buffalo in late July.

  6. User avater
    meander_michaele 04/21/2020

    Oh, my goodness, all your various projects are a triumph of creativity and, a heck of lot of hard work. Your garden shed is whimsy of steroids... in the best possible way. Your three espaliers are works of art and are so impressive. Your garden has to be a year by year favorite and such a kick for visitors to see.

  7. Patchworkgardener 04/21/2020

    I love, love, love your garden. The fountain you built is drop dead gorgeous. There is so much to see, I keep going back through the pictures. Can’t believe you built that shed. It’s precious. The blackberry canes and that pear tree espalier are striking. With all your talents, you are truly a Renaissance man. You must love walking out in your garden every morning with that first cup of coffee. If this virus goes away I’m going to seriously think about attending the Garden Walk Buffalo this year. Kudos to you...I am green with envy

  8. Doxnmomx2 04/21/2020

    It's all been said above but here goes again! Love every single leaf and whimsical touch! This is the perfect combination of order and crazy! I have to visit your garden during the tour!!

    1. Musette1 04/21/2020

      What Doxnmomx2 Said! ;-)

      all stunning!

  9. User avater
    bdowen 04/21/2020

    An creative work of art- the garden design, the shed. You must be smiling every time you walk out the door into your garden. Thank you for sharing this!

  10. Sunshine111 04/21/2020

    Hello! I started smiling as I was reading your description of your garden, because I said to myself I’ve been to this garden! I Live in New Hampshire and several years ago now, drove 500 miles to Buffalo for your garden walk weekend. I spent the whole day Saturday, and part of Sunday seeing as many gardens as I could. I distinctly remember yours because of the Harry Potter theme garden. I even took pictures. How lovely to see it all again. I especially love your creativity with the building and design of your garden shed. What a great job! You are extremely talented. Thank you for sharing your garden again with us all.

  11. Cenepk10 04/21/2020

    Oh . My . Goodness . Where to start ???? Just phenomenal. When I read it took 2 years to build the shed before seeing the pictures- I was thinking 🤔 Must be because summer is a short season there... Then I saw your masterpiece. Unbelievable. Your house is equally incredible. I love espalier & use it to enclose my potager. But HON !!!! I’m totally stealing espaliering the blackberries. And honeysuckle. Can’t kill them to save my life. Might as well torque them into espalier!!!! Just stunning. That coral bells bed & sculpture is fabulous. I could just go on & on. Truly a masterpiece of a property. Bravo !!!!!!

  12. btucker9675 04/21/2020

    Sitting here in stunned silence - what a completely marvelous garden. Your artistry is mind blowing and I want to come, pick your garden shed up and put it into my wooded area, but I know your "watch T.Rex" would probably put a stop to my thievery! Kudos - you are a wonder!

  13. Catasetumkid 04/21/2020

    Bravo! Perhaps the best home garden I've ever seen! I'd love to come to Buffalo to admire it and the others. You do so much for a Zone 6 (my zone, too)!! Kudos!

  14. sheila_schultz 04/21/2020

    I can't stop smiling... maybe because my mind has been blown silly! Your creativity, your outrageous sense of whimsy and your all encompassing artistry with both plants and everything else you can think of and touch is crazy incredible! Dang, you are the real deal, Jim. You truly make magic that makes people happy! You've got to be the best neighbor EVER!!! I am in love with you and your imagination. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  15. Dusanka 04/21/2020

    Chock fun of luv and fun. It's also inspiring. I've been meaning to try the espalier. Wish me luck.

  16. User avater
    pattyeckels 04/21/2020

    I cannot say anything more than what has already been said! Ohhh I soooo want your garden! I love the rain chain idea. Give us the “how-to” instructions please. And of course your “she-shed” is exquisite! Sigh.....

  17. alicefleurkens 04/21/2020

    What a wonderful place of peace and joy you have created. You are obviousy not only a gardener, but artist and creator of all things colourful and beautiful. Wish I lived in your neighbourhood so I could come and look at it.

  18. Maggieat11 04/21/2020

    No doubt, this is the most fascinating garden I've ever seen. Oh, if I could get to the garden walk....think I would be here all day! Fabulous ideas, perfect fruition!

  19. Maggieat11 04/21/2020

    No doubt, this is the most fascinating garden I've ever seen. Oh, if I could get to the garden walk....think I would be here all day! Fabulous ideas, perfect fruition!

  20. darylsavage 04/21/2020

    DA BOMB! Love it. It's a long ride to Buffalo, but I may be coming! Thank you for sharing, very inspiring!

  21. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 04/22/2020

    Truly an original!

  22. user-7525974 04/22/2020

    Jim I follow you on Instagram but I had no idea you personally have such a delightful garden. I can almost hear the sound of water dripping from that spectacular heuchera fountain. I have searched high and low for something similar. You have many talents! Thanks for the virtual tour.

  23. maryannborcherding 04/22/2020

    I echo all of the above comments. Absolutely astounding! I spent 3-4 min on each picture reading the description and looking at the lovely picture. What dedication.

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest