The Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens in South Park is one of the area's most visible environmental and historical sites. It received a stamp of approval last week when garden writers from across the country visited during their annual meeting here. However, the cultural center is facing serious long-term sustainability challenges.
Erie County bought the complex from the City of Buffalo in 1981, when years of neglect and city financial problems left it in danger of being demolished. Botanical Gardens President and CEO David Swarts said the facility is now on sound footing. But looking ahead, he said, "The collection itself, while it's fantastic and improving all the time, is not sufficient to bring in significant numbers of people to maintain the financial sustainability of this structure into the future. So we have to take a look at: What can we do better? We've looked at other botanical gardens around the country and they were faced with similar kinds of challenges and we're moving forward."
The county just put almost $4 million into renovation of two of the glass houses to allow for new exhibits. One now houses aquatic gardens, while the other houses an Asian rainforest. However, Swarts said more needs to be done.
"Working very closely with the County of Erie, of course, houses two and three were completed and opened to the public in January and now we put together some money through grants and so on and so forth, through the county," Swarts said. "We're looking to do some major maintenance, particularly on the Palm Dome, the entrance to the Palm Dome. Some of the glass and other areas need to be addressed."
He said inside exhibits reflect the botanical gardens' future.
"It's a two-path system," Swarts said. "It gives us a lot of flexibility. So if you go in there, you will see plantings that our docents can use to educate the public, children that we bring in here on our educational programs and there's also a pleasure, sensory kind of experience."
Swarts said the South Buffalo landmark needs to figure out its place within the horticultural field and what specialties will attract visitors over the long haul. He compares the challenge to other major botanical gardens, such as in Pittsburgh. Its centerpiece is ecology and sustainability, like recapturing all of the water on its grounds for re-use, reminding people that plants and their growth keep us all going.