Gardening Along the Erie Canal

The Erie Canalway Trail is quite colorful during the summertime. There are of course the people and their smiling faces but also, murals, storefronts, and a sunny day’s sky. A part of the corridor’s lively hues and shades is all the plants in bloom along the corridor. The Erie Canal has a long history of being home to an array of flora.

Naturally, the Erie Canal corridor is home to an array of plants. Despite the forests and woodlands that were cleared to construct the original canal and its towpath, nature has continued to evolve. Even the most common onlooker can appreciate the scenery and landscapes found along the trail. The Northern Hardwood Forest, characterized by maple, hemlock, and pine trees, can be seen throughout the corridor. In the Finger Lakes area, the Oak-Hickory Forest can be found, flourishing with oak and white ash. In the Floodplain Forests by the streams of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, expect to be in awe of the towering sycamore and willow trees. As time has passed, more species have been introduced by individuals and communities. 

Annuals at the Locktender’s Garden | Photo courtesy of the Erie Canal Museum

Flowers and vegetation have welcomed visitors to the canal for centuries. Taverns and general stores maintained gardens at lock sites. These gardens provided fresh vegetables for patrons but also, for passing boaters stopping by. The Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse has memorialized this through their replication of a locktender’s garden. Flower gardens along locks were also popular for immigrants who brought species with them as a reminder of their homes. Flowers such as dandelions, which were used for decorative purposes as well as a herbal remedy, were brought on the Erie Canal by different European immigrants. 

The canal’s plant past is continued today by volunteers. The Trail Keepers in Pendleton and Lockport, led by Sandy Guzzetti, do impressive work gardening at trailheads. The idea originated when Sandy and her husband were inspired to leave trailheads better than they found it. “One thing that is extremely important to me is that the trail is a good neighbor,” Sandy says. “Anytime we can make things better, help people with any issue that pops up … we make sure that is a priority.” The trailheads in their community had become untended and overgrown due to a lack of maintenance. After some weeding and mulching, the duo were pleased to see instant improvement. The Guzzettis’ chose the flowers carefully, considering resistance to drought and animal consumption, water demand, bloom length, and, of course, how colorful they are. Besides for being beautiful, the flowers serve another purpose: they help guide visitors to the trail. Just follow the flowerbeds at the trailheads to find your way to the next section. 

A honor garden | Photo courtesy of the Trail Keepers – Our Erie Canalway Trail Gardens Facebook

A new thing the Trail Keepers are working on is their Family Gardens, as requested by trail users. Garden tenders will be working on their recent Honor Gardens as well, celebrating and commemorating remarkable individuals. The distinguished people include late community members and healthcare workers. Keep an eye out for canal artifacts and meaningful touches at the trailheads. You can keep up with the great work the Trail Keepers are doing on Facebook. On your next visit to the trail, you can also contact and find them by picking up one of their business cards. 

Whether you’re into maple trees or marigolds, the canalway trail is the perfect place to see plants. New York’s unique history, past and present, of vegetation and blossoms is largely linked to the Erie Canal. Every garden has a special story. Remember to always admire plants you may encounter on the trail with your eyes only.

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