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Pittsburgh Botanic Garden One of Area’s Newest Cultural Assets

Jun 01, 2017 02:26PM ● Published by Hilary Daninhirsch

photo credit Kevin Fernando of Pittsburgh Botanic Garden

Gallery: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden One of Area’s Newest Cultural Assets [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is a hidden gem in the Oakdale section of Pittsburgh. The picturesque grounds are a peaceful way to spend a spring or summer day, and it is gaining popularity as an event venue for weddings and other functions. We spoke with Executive Director Keith Kaiser about the organization and what makes it unique.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): How long has the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden been open?

Keith Kaiser (Kaiser): We officially opened two years ago this spring. The original concept began in 1988 when a group of individuals wanted to construct an outdoor display garden and created the Horticultural Society of Western Pennsylvania. In 1991, it became an official nonprofit organization, and a search began to find a site. In 1998, that search led us to leasing land from Allegheny County—land that was once part of Settler's Cabin Park. This is a great location, as it is both removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, and still just 10 miles west of downtown Pittsburgh, minutes from Robinson Town Centre.

NHM: What is its mission?

Kaiser: Our mission is inspire people to value plants, garden design and the natural world by cultivating plant collections of the Allegheny Plateau and temperate regions, creating display gardens, conducting educational programs, and conserving the environment.

NHM: How many acres does it cover?

Kaiser: We operate 460 acres, but we currently have 60 of those acres open for the public to enjoy; we have a master plan to develop and open more of the site to the public in the years to come.

NHM: Have you faced any difficulties in the development of this project?

Kaiser: We have been working to transform 460 acres of abandoned mine land into a public garden, and the underground network of mines that run beneath the garden present numerous challenges. That said, we have seen so much support from the public, local foundations, and the national government to turn this land into a living museum for plants. In doing so, we’ve also been able to plant hundreds of trees, clean the local watershed of acid mine drainage, and restore life to a once dying area.

NHM: What would someone see if they decided to take a trip to the botanic garden? 

Kaiser: First, visitors entering the site through our Heritage Homestead would see an area with elements that date back to the late 1700s. There, they would note the namesake of Settler’s Cabin Park, the Walker-Ewing-Glass Log House. This building once played a role in the Whiskey Rebellion, but today the log house is mostly used for school programs--immersive experiences where children can feel like they’re pioneers on the land. From the log house, visitors walk past heritage chickens and through an apple orchard that grows some of the same cultivars once enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson. Visitors often sit and have lunch in the nearby White Pine Grove before or after a visit. Across the road, a wonderful 1870s barn that houses weddings and corporate events greets visitors to the garden.

In the Welcome Center, visitors check in at guest services and grab a map on their way to explore three miles of trails, stopping by the award-winning green oasis of the lotus pond in the Japanese Garden, as well as Storybook Village and the Margaret Lawrence Simon Dogwood Meadow. Play-and-discover stations appear along the trails for all to enjoy.

We are also constructing the Garden of the Five Senses. Designed for those with disabilities, this hands-on garden will allow people to interact with plants in a variety of ways, captivating each of the five senses.

NHM: What types of plants and trees are showcased?

Kaiser: Our largest collection of plants is in our Dogwood Meadow. We also have rotating display gardens around our Welcome Center called the Celebration Garden, and we plant spring bulbs and summer annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs and trees. The meadow in late summer is really a great time to visit the garden. Every day is different.

NHM: What are some programs that you offer?

Kaiser: We offer regular workshops and lectures for adults interested in learning more about horticulture and interacting with the world through nature. These classes range from bulb forcing and wreath making to photography and nature writing. We also offer children’s programming encouraging nature play to develop the next generation of environmentalists!

Additionally, we offer outdoor yoga and tai chi in the spring and summer, and indoor wellness classes during the colder months.

We’ve also begun a new garden lecture series. Our spring garden lecture was a huge success with “Epic Tomatoes from Your Gardens,” and we’re gearing up for our fall garden lecture, “Fallscaping,” coming this September.

NHM: Can people rent out the space for private events?

Kaiser: Rentals at our Davidson Event Center are a major component of the garden. We have 70 events scheduled this season and are really stepping up our game. Weddings and corporate events are very popular here.

NHM: One of your major fundraising events is your annual Town and Country Tour, which will be held this year on Sunday, June 25. Can you tell us about that?

Kaiser: There are 14 residential gardens in the Squirrel Hill, Regent Square, Edgewood and Churchill areas. The public can see these in two ways—by buying a ticket and going on our self-guided tour, or paying a little extra and joining us for a bus tour of the gardens. Those on the bus tour will also receive a delicious lunch at Edgewood Country Club. You can find more information about the Town and Country Tour on www.PittsburghBotanicGarden.org.

NHM: Anything you’d like to add?

Kaiser: The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is southwestern Pennsylvania’s newest cultural asset. With 60 acres of gardens to explore and new workshops and classes for adults and children, the garden has quite a bit to offer! Those interested in staying in the loop can like us on Facebook, and sign up for our monthly newsletter on our website, www.PittsburghBotanicGarden.org.

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