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About Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House Complex

A Moment to Recognize Landscape Volunteers

August 07, 2018

Volunteers dig in at the Darwin Martin House

| Published

Novelist Margaret Atwood said, “In the spring, at the end of the day you should smell like dirt.” For those of the soil, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching something you’ve planted grow and thrive.

For those on the garden and landscape volunteer team at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, there’s the added satisfaction of maintaining the passion of the home’s original owners, Darwin D. and Isabelle R. Martin.

“The Martins were avid gardeners,” says Nell Gardner, horticulturist for the Wright-designed estate, located at 125 Jewett Parkway. “The floricycle, which was the centerpiece of the landscape, had more than 20,000 perennials, bulbs and shrubs and was spectacular.”

Today, members of the volunteer team spend several hours every week weeding, mulching, deadheading, pruning and otherwise tending to the gardens on the 1.5-acre site. “Team members give as much time as their schedules allow, and don’t need extensive gardening experience to participate,” says Gardner, who oversees the day-to-day team projects. “Even if you do know gardening, you will learn new protocols for maintaining gardens at a public tourist attraction and historic estate, as gardens were more organic and natural looking back then and less tidy than today’s gardens.

“Our volunteers learn methods they can employ in their own gardens, so it’s educational and fun,” adds Gardner, who assigns tasks according to skill level and interests.

Gardner says volunteers enjoy other perks, such as learning about the Martin House complex and its history and meeting people from all over the world.

To learn more about volunteering, go to

Part of the $50 million restoration of the Darwin D. Martin House estate includes recreating the intricate landscape originally designed by Wright and landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin, who placed immense value on bringing architecture, interior and landscape together as a unified composition.

Working with photos, drawings and letters from Wright’s archives at Columbia University and the UB Archives, the Martin House and Bayer Landscape Architects formulated a plan to restore the landscape to its original design, with only modest changes to accommodate current conditions and use.

Groundbreaking on the $2 million project, which will be completed within the year, began in spring. The landscape includes a floricycle that will carpet the ground in color with a spectacular multi-season cycle of blooms.

“The landscape is essential to telling the story of Wright’s integrated design genius as evidenced in the Martin’s estate, and it’s something we’ve been working on for many years,” said Mary Roberts, Martin House executive director.