In the Dirt PARKS ON THE GO

THE GARDENS Explore the gardens of Pittsburgh's park system!

From August Wilson Park to the Frick Environmental Center, there are so many gardens to explore in Pittsburgh's park system. 

Begin exploring!

Notes From Your Gardeners Take a behind the scenes look inside Pittsburgh's parks from the view of our Horticulture and Forestry team!

Learn the ins and outs of Pittsburgh's parks by exploring the resources below!

Robin Eng, Restoration Gardener
While we enjoy gardens for their beautiful blooms, attractive foliage, and fragrant blossoms, a variety of other animals enjoy these spaces too! When out working in the parks it’s not uncommon for us to come across wildlife that have made their home in the lush greenery of the gardens.  
 
The variety of perennial plants that grow in the gardens provide a myriad of species with both food and shelter during the summer months. We see many different pollinators attracted to the nectar and pollen of blooming flowers, caterpillars munching away on leaves, and even birds that like to feed on seeds of the flower that have finished blooming.  
 
If you worry that attracting insects might be a problem – have no fear! A lush garden also attracts predators of these insects, things like praying mantis, lady bugs, friendly spiders, birds, and small mammals which all help to keep the garden ecosystem in balance. 
 
The dense foliage of perennial plants also provides great habitat where different critters can hide from predators, take refuge from the hot summer sun, and even raise their babies!  
 
It was a delightful surprise last summer when I came across this bird’s nest in a peony in the Highland Park Entry Garden! I was careful not to disturb the nest once I knew it was there, but I was able to check on it periodically to see that the eggs hatched and within a few short weeks the baby sparrows had all successfully fledged from the nest. Maybe they’ll come back to start families of their own this year! 
 
Your Gardener,
Robin Eng
Angela Yuele, Horticulturist
"So you do a lot of planting?" 
 
This is a question I receive often when people realize I'm a professional park gardener.
 
Fun fact – we spend most of our time pulling weeds! 
 
Yes, we plant trees, bulbs, and annual flowers, but this is a small fraction of what we spend our time doing within Pittsburgh's parks. The types of vegetation we plant in the parks have very specific windows in which they can be planted. 
 
Planting trees takes approximately five days in the spring and five days in the fall. We also spend approximately two days in the fall planting bulbs and spend four-to-six days in May planting annuals. However, we spend days - actually, weeks - pullings weeds!
 
The flower beds in the parks are planted with perennial plants that bloom year after year, so they don’t require planting, but they do require regular weeding. We even pull weeds during the winter months.
 
In the park woodlands, pulling vines from trees and removing woody invasive shrubs is a form of weeding and this is how we spend our winter months in the parks. We don’t use herbicides to control weeds, so it’s up to our team of park gardeners and volunteers to remove them. 
 
Your Gardener,
Angela Yuele 

Did you know...? Team Selections - Summer Flowering Bulbs

Plant these underground structures in the spring and enjoy colorful blooms through the summer! Learn about some of our favorite plants below.

Jaci Bruschi
This cultivar is a ‘South Pacific Scarlet.' It’s a great cultivar of Canna from the South Pacific series; it will grow to about four-to-five feet it can be planted in a container and in a garden bed. Though it is not hardy to our zone, you can dig the bulbs up at the end of the season and save for next year’s planting.
 
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Angela Yuele

Gladiolus are an old-time favorite. I fondly remember my grandpa being very proud of his Gladiolus!  These are a tender summer bulb, which means they need to be dug up, or purchased, every year and replanted. The bloom time is brief on theses beauties. To prolong the bloom time you can stagger plantings in two-week intervals. This is a popular plant for flower arrangements as well! 

Robin Eng
Grape-leaf or Japanese anemone produce great mounding heaps of lush dark green foliage year-round. Then as the major blooms of summer appear to be dying back, they put out great cloud-like plumes of blossoms, raised above to foliage on graceful flower stalks. Although not native to the United States, these great perennials are well worth a spot in any sunny garden. Colors vary from white to shades of pink, and blooms can last for weeks on mature plants. If you’re looking for a perennial addition to prolong the flowering season of your garden, this one comes highly recommended! 
 
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Maggie Herrick
A member of the iris family, Montebretia (Crocosmia spp.) is a late summer bloomer that will give your garden interest into the fall. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and birds will be especially happy with the flowers and the seedpods that follow and provide a food source. The strappy, sword-like foliage demonstrates the relation to irises and provide a texture contrast to other plants. These flowering corms come in a range of heights up to five feet and a variety of striking colors. They are salt and drought tolerant, prefer full sun, but can tolerate some shade and make great cut flowers. Mulch these plants heavily or bring them inside during the winter to help them survive. 
 
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Did you know...? Team Selections - Favorite Shrubs

Let's focus on our favorite shrubs, which we classify as 'woody plants'. They are typically smaller than trees and usually have multiple trunks.

Jaci Bruschi
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) – This shrub is a great native for predominately wet areas; it actually doesn’t mind having wet feet. It typically grows up to 12 feet in height and opened-rounded shape. This native shrub is known for being a host plant for the larval stage of different types of moths, the glossy dark green leaves are in pairs or threes, have a smooth margin, pointed tip and a rounded to tapered base. The seed pods are a food source for different types of waterfowl, which typically persist into winter. Though this shrub can become leggy it can tolerate pruning to control the size.
 
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Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica)- If you want fall color, look no further, ranging from orange, red, yellow, and purple. But don’t confuse these leaves of three with poison ivy, the central leaflet does not have a stem, and the lateral leaves lack a petiole or are sessile, while poison ivy’s central leaflet has a stem. These trifoliate leaves and twigs emit a fragrance when crushed. This shrub suckers, which creates dense thickets with numerous stems. This shrub can be pruned to the ground in the early spring to control the height. The flowers which bloom in the spring attract bees and small flies, the hairy red drupes are used as a secondary food source for birds.
 
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Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) – This ornamental shrub provides four seasons of interest. In the spring, dark green leaves emerge and grow between four-to-12 inches long and wide. The clusters of elongated white cone-shaped flowers consist of both showy sterile and the inconspicuous fertile that mature to pink. The flower buds grow on the previous year’s growth, so wait until the bloom time is finished before you begin pruning for the season. Dried flowers can be used in floral arrangements. In the fall, these leaves transition with beautiful colors of red, reddish-purple, and orange. In the winter, the exfoliating cinnamon-brown bark captures the eye. There is a cultivar out there for every garden, especially some of the dwarf varieties that mature at four feet.
Angela Yuele
Lilac ‘Bloomerang’ - This is a cultivar that re-blooms! Lilacs are a celebrated spring flower—the fragrance is incomparable! This plant makes it possible to have that same wonderful fragrance later in the season too! The Lilac 'Boomerang' is a leaf type of lilac, which means it has smaller leaves and flowers than the common lilac that most people are familiar with. It’s also less susceptible to powdery mildew than common lilac. It’s best to hand prune this shrub rather than shear it, so flower buds do not get cut off. To keep it from getting too large, it's best to remove some of the larger branches during the winter months after its lost its leaves.
 
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Ilex verticillata (Winterberry) - This shrub is not a standout in the summer landscape, but come winter it sure does shine! Unlike most plants, the most ornamental time for this plant is winter. Most people think of holly bushes as evergreens, but there are a few that lose their leaves for the winter and this is one of them. During the summer, it has light green leaves and gets very small unnoticeable white flowers - bees love these flowers! Small green berries also form along the stems during late summer. When it loses its leaves in the fall, the branches and twigs covered with bright red berries are revealed! The berries persist through winter providing food for birds and remarkable winter beauty! As with most hollies, there are male and female plants. The females produce the berries, but a few males are needed to pollinate the female plants. There are many cultivars on the market that allow one to choose characteristics such as berry color and plant size.
Robin Eng
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) – This hardy shrub is native to our Pennsylvania forests and one of my favorites to come across both in the woodlands and cultivated landscapes. It can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub or shaped to resemble a short tree, and tops out at an elegant 10-20 feet, making it a great choice to add some vertical interest to your yard. Witch hazel has handsome oval-shaped leaves that take on an array of vibrant and beautiful colors in the fall. Best yet, witch hazel blooms from October to December, when much of the color has left the landscape – making their delicate yellow flowers stand out! Witch hazel thrives when given at least four hours of sunlight a day, and when grown in well-draining moist soil. Generally free of pests, producers of fruit and seeds for wildlife, and available in a wide range of cultivars, this shrub is a real winner for year-round interest and ecological value!
 
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Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) – A great shade-tolerant native shrub that blooms almost forever with nice, deep burgundy blossoms and a wonderful fragrance. This adaptable shrub (also known as Virginia sweetshrub) grows between six-to-nine inches tall with a rounded shape. Like many understory plants, Carolina Allspice will stay shorter and denser if grown in full sun, but will also thrive in a taller, leggier form if placed in part shade. It’s fragrant, burgundy flowers arrive with zeal in April and May, and continue to appear sporadically throughout the summer months, providing continued interest. In the fall, the deep green leaves experience a two-tone transition. The first taking on a bright yellow color and then shifts to a rusty bronze before falling for the winter. Carolina Allspice is native to our region, is a great pollinator shrub, and has a dense branching structure and seed pods that persist through the winter, making it a great choice to support wildlife species. These shrubs prefer well-draining soil, but are generally adaptable to a wide range of conditions including moderately windy sites. A variety of blossom colors and sizes can be found in the cultivars of Carolina Allspice, and root suckers that appear on healthy shrubs can easily be removed and transplanted. If you’re looking for some woody interest for your garden, this one is a great choice to impress all the senses!
 
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Maggie Herrick

Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) - This native has a heavenly scent emanating from its prolific blooms, living up to its common names - 'summersweet' and 'sweet pepperbush'. The flowers attract a variety of pollinators and the seed pods that follow provide winter interest and a food source for birds. This plant prefers part shade, but can tolerate full sun if the soil does not dry out. The foliage adds fall interest as it changes from green to bright yellow and orange. It's perfect for wet areas and can even tolerate salt exposure. It will spread by suckers so give it room to naturalize or prune these off to keep it contained. There are many cultivars out there, but my favorite is the eye-catching pink of ‘Ruby Spice.’

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Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) - The obvious appeal of blueberry plants is their tasty fruits. If you can beat the birds to them that is. Netting can be used around them to prevent birds from stealing these treats, or if you are like me you can just enjoy all your new bird friends while appreciating everything else this shrub has to offer. The flowers that precede the fruit are cute and really pop against the blue-green leaves and reddish twigs. Bright red fall foliage, attractive twig color, and growth habit all add interest for all four seasons. There are many species and cultivars to fit site conditions, whether it’s a large woodland area or a pot on a patio. They are adaptable from the sun to shade but will yield more fruit with more sun exposure. Their most demanding requirement is acidic soil, so plant them near your other acid lovers like azaleas and hydrangea that want the same type of soil.

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W ARE ALL IN. ARE YOU?

Parks do not exist without people. We restore parks for your joy and well-being. Pittsburghers need spaces where fathers can play catch with their sons, couples reconnect, family’s picnic. Parks, in return, do more than we realize. They clean the air, filter stormwater, lower stress…provide a natural sanctuary in forests of steel and glass surrounded by rivers of asphalt. Like anything alive, if neglected a park will suffer. And ultimately perish.

We believe in the power of parks. We are all in. Are you?