Native Plants and Transplants: Meet Our New Zone Gardener

Native Plants and Transplants: Meet Our New Zone Gardener

When I told my family I was moving to Pittsburgh after college, they could not understand why I would want to live in such a dirty city.

It was noisy, dreary, crowded and depressing. Green, open spaces — besides where the Pirates or Steelers played — were not what came to mind when they thought about Pittsburgh.

Rosie, embracing her new home in Frick Woods.


After all, I enjoyed the simplicities of a rural upbringing; a world without cable. Play time included exploring the woods, creeks and meadows — my backyard. Traffic involved not being able to pass an Amish horse and buggy or farm tractor on a country road.

Invasive grapevine choking a tree.

I admit moving to an urban area was an adjustment — especially before I knew what the “Pittsburgh left” meant. But folks here are friendly and happy to share their favorite spots in and around the city. I found great comfort and relief in discovering the many nearby parks and exploring them. A short drive or long walk and I could be in the middle of the woods.

Before coming to the Parks Conservancy, I established the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden in Bellevue, an urban garden that provides fresh produce to two food pantries. I was also a grower at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and the Watershed Coordinator/ Environmental Educator at the Snyder County Conservation District. I hold a BS in biology from Lycoming College.

Sedum groundcover growing on shaded slope.

I am excited to be a part of the Parks Conservancy team, serving as the Zone Gardener for the Frick Woods Nature Reserve. My focus will be identifying and regenerating native plants and developing sustainable, multi-purpose gardens while tackling the removal of invasive species in the Reserve.

The winter months are ideal for familiarizing oneself with the park. I will be spending time journaling my observations and prioritizing restorations sites. I will also be in charge of the gardens surrounding the new Frick Environmental Center. These gardens will showcase native plant species of western Pennsylvania, allowing park visitors to see them in their native habitat throughout the Nature Reserve.

Orange bark of invasive Norway maple.

Managing over a hundred acres is not an easy task and I’ll need your help, Pittsburgh. I look forward to working with Urban EcoStewards and volunteers. Conquering invasive plants and restoring native habitats will be a rewarding experience that we can reach together.

Rosie Wise, Zone Gardener with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Fun with Stats: What You Accomplished This Year

Fun with Stats: What You Accomplished This Year

It’s tough telling the world all that you mighty parks volunteers accomplish.

We love posting photos of smiling volunteers. But pictures don’t show the torrential downpours, blizzards, and mucky hillsides that you have weathered.

We love sharing stats from volunteer days. But those stats can’t tell the story of every tree planted or privet hedge pulled.

When looking back at the stats from this year’s volunteer events (over 100!), even we have a hard time wrapping our heads around the numbers, all of the work that you have done. This year, we’ve translated this data into something a little easier to visualize. Look and be amazed at what you incredible volunteers have accomplished:

Volunteers could have filled Carnegie Music Hall


All in all, 1,800 volunteers spent time improving the parks this year. With that number of people, you could have filled Carnegie Music Hall almost to its 1,950-seat capacity. (Of course, we would have asked for everyone to take off their muddy boots first.)

Volunteers planted a tree a day


You planted trees of all sizes and species this year throughout the parks. The 365 trees planted could have been spread out, one for every day in 2014.

Volunteers worked on a length of trails equal to the height of the US Steel Tower


Standing at 841 feet is the tallest building in Pittsburgh, the US Steel Tower. You cleared and built 835 feet of trails, making them safer, more accessible, or just making them, period.

Volunteers cleared nine years’ worth of trash


Assuming that the average person is responsible for putting out one bag of garbage every week on trash day, and that there 52 weeks a year, you took out nearly nine years’ worth of one person’s trash. You hauled over 450 bags of trash bags full of glass, plastic, and objects that ranged from the everyday to the peculiar on playgrounds, hillsides, and through the parks.

Volunteers worked as long as a 331 Harry Potter movie marathons


You clocked more than 6,500 hours of work in the parks this year. This amount of time was a lot more productive than watching every one of the Harry Potter movies 331 times.

Volunteers pulled enough garlic mustard to feed every Pittsburgher some pesto


OK, so we may not have the numbers backing this one up, but we do know that you pulled truckloads of garlic mustard this year (270 garbage bags, to be exact). Enough, we think, to make a tremendous amount of garlic mustard pesto.

If all of that wasn’t impressive enough, you also planted 8,000 bulbs, 10,138 annuals, removed many more bags of invasive plants, and worked on more specific projects in the parks. You also worked as data volunteers and tabling volunteers, helping us make the parks better and better with whatever skills you could share.

THANK YOU, you fabulous volunteers, you! Your parks are in great hands… yours! We can’t wait to work with you in the parks again in 2015.

The Giving Tree: Commemorative Plantings

The Giving Tree: Commemorative Plantings

The greatest joy of the work I do is planting trees.

If you’re reading this blog, I doubt that I need to sell you on the ecological importance of trees. I don’t need to list all the ways that they make our lives and our planet better, you know that.

Over the past four years I have been honored to oversee the Parks Conservancy’s Commemorative Tree Planting Program in partnership with my colleague Phil Gruszka. I’ve planted trees to celebrate lives well lived and too early lost. I’ve been there for graduation ceremonies and for the exchange of vows. And what I have felt deeply from those experiences is the emotional significance trees can play in our lives — the spiritual, mythological and folkloric meaning they carry.

And most importantly, the way they make us feel.

Veda's tree_Schenley 11.15.14

Family gathers in Schenley Park to celebrate the life of their loved one, Veda.


While the meanings and interpretations of a tree or tree planting are as varied as we are, they provoke a collective feeling of warmth.

Andrew and his tree_Highland Park 11.15.14

Andrew with his tree planted in Highland Park to celebrate his college graduation.

Usually when I meet a donor in the park to plant a tree we have never met face to face, but by the time we part I often get a hug. We are there to do good work and we are connected by the emotional significance of the moment and the change it will create.

In the Jewish faith it is said that trees were the first living things put on earth. Buddha attained enlightenment while seated beneath a tree. We dedicate non-religious holidays to trees all over the world. In the US you may stop to plant a tree on Arbor Day, or Dia Da Árvore in Brazil, Nationale Bloomplantdag in the Netherlands, Tag de Baumes in Germany, or Van Mahotsava in India.

We are globally united with acceptance of the significance a tree planting carries, no matter what life perspective we bring to it.

Veda's tree 4_Schenley 11.15.14

Family mulching a tree in Schenley Park to celebrate Veda.

I am often asked what the “ceremony” in the Commemorative Tree Planting Program entails. I can tell you that every single one is different. I am always there, along with Phil (our resident arborist and Parks Management and Maintenance Director) or one of our ecologists. We plant a fairly large tree (approximately 2” caliper) that has been transplanted from a local tree farm or nursery. The type of tree and exact planting location is arranged in advance based on the donor’s wishes. Sometimes large groups come to be a part of it (I’ve seen as many as 30) and other times it is just the donor. There have been groups who want to get in and get their hands dirty and others where they stand back and enjoy the tree once it is planted. Songs have been sung, prayers read, and violins played. It really can be anything you want it to be.

tree planting day 11 15 14

Kathleen and Phil with their work boots ready at a planting day.

I have watched grief-stricken families approach us along a slope in Schenley Park, their faces worn with loss and exhaustion. Once the tree is in the ground they all leave a little lighter. They will see this tree again and watch it live and grow. We celebrate the endeavors of life too. I have seen a sapling transform into a monument to accomplishments large and small as the last bit of dirt is thrown. People change before our eyes – filled with new gratitude, or comfort and resilience. It is one of the greatest honors of my life to be a part of that.

Any reason to celebrate is a reason to plant a tree. I visit the trees I have helped plant and believe firmly that each tree lives in the spirit in which it was planted. They are living totems to the struggles and joys of our lives. And as if that were not gift enough, they will continue to serve our community for generations to come.

Kathleen Gaines, Manager of Individual Giving

Learn more about planting a tree for a special person or occasion in your life by clicking here. You can also contact Kathleen by email ( or by phone (412-682-7275) to talk about commemorative tree plantings.

Jurassic Park in Frick Park: Finding Fossils


This week, we’re zipping up our winter coats and rocking out with fossils in the parks. Below, read our latest bi-monthly “Let’s Talk About Parks” series, featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The “Let’s Talk About Parks” series is designed to encourage our younger park users to explore and discover Pittsburgh’s urban parks.

Fossils 2Because much of Pittsburgh’s geology is made up of sedimentary rocks — shale, sandstone, limestone and coal that formed when sediment and dead and decaying materials were deposited in layers and compacted — it’s a great place to go fossil hunting. And with less foliage, fall is the perfect season for a fossil walk.

Pittsburgh’s sedimentary rocks were formed during what is called the Pennsylvanian Period, which lasted from roughly 323 million to 298 million years ago. During part of that time, what we now know as Pittsburgh was covered by an inland sea. Aquatic plants and animals that died were trapped in the sediment at the sea bottom, eventually became part of the rocks that formed, and were later uncovered when the sea waters receded.

When huge hunks of rock are cut or dug out to build roads or for other construction projects, fossils can often be found embedded in what is unearthed. This is also true of areas where streams or rivers have carved away at the landscape, such as in Frick Park, near the Falls Ravine Trail picnic shelter.

Fossils 1

Lunar landscape or fossil marks?


Frick and Schenley parks are great locations for fossil hunting. Bring a small brush and a squirt bottle to clear dirt from the rock. Look for rock outcroppings that appear to have layers of color. If you are lucky you might see small horn-shaped shells known as horn-corals, or round or cylindrical fossils that may be crinoids, an extinct sea creature.

Take care to leave the fossils in place for others to enjoy. For a printable guide to fossils in Frick Park, be sure to visit our website. Keep an eye out for our next “Let’s Talk About Parks” feature!

Leading and Learning with the Young Naturalists

Leading and Learning with the Young Naturalists

We could tell stories for days about the incredible crew of high school students — our first batch of Young Naturalists — that we worked with this year.

Such as when they surveyed salamanders, mastered tree identification, or worked as a team to raise a trail out of the mud.

Or when the Young Naturalists led a gaggle of under-ten-year-olds on an educational nature hike through Frick Park, becoming instant role models.

Or when one of the naturalists said she has started looking for colleges that excel in environmental studies rather than fashion.

Instead, we’ll let them tell their own stories. Already stand-outs from our High School Urban EcoStewards program, Allana, Michael, Kate, Michael, and Geneva  pioneered and excelled in our five-week Young Naturalist program. Below are their stories:




These young adults, and Parks Conservancy staff who worked with them along the way, will be presenting to hundreds of learners young and old at next week’s Learning Pathways Summit. Come and check them out!

DIY: Autumn Cornucopias

DIY: Autumn Cornucopias

This week, we’re revisiting one of our more popular craft posts to get in the Thanksgiving state of mind. Enjoy! 

I’ve always been jealous of my crafty friends who treat the holiday season like one festive art project. It seems that I lack this genome. The good news is that at the Parks Conservancy, we have horticulturist Angela Yuele. When she showed up in the office one afternoon carrying a cornucopia basket filled with masterfully arranged autumn flowers, we implored her to teach us. You’ll be the one to impress the crowd this Thanksgiving with this absolutely stunning centerpiece that will leave you’re guests asking for the name of your florist. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.

What You’ll Need

  1. A cornucopia basket
  2. Scissors
  3. Clear floral tape
  4. Wire
  5. An oasis cube (the green spongy thing that holds the flowers together). Soak it in water for 5 minutes and then place it in the plastic tray that comes with it in the bottom of the basket.
  6. Ribbon in your favorite autumn color.
  7. Greens – we used Baker Fern and leaves we cut off the flowers.
  8. Filler – we used Princess Lily, Goldenrod, and St. Johns Wort seed pods.
  9. Accent flowers – we used two colors of mums.

You can get these items at a craft store. For the flowers, you can go to a florist or even purchase an autumn flower arrangement at your grocery store and use those. Angela suggests standing while you arrange the flowers to give you a better perspective.

Secure the Oasis

Use the clear floral tape to secure the oasis to the basket. Go ahead and wrap the tape all the way around the outside of the basket – once all the flowers are in you won’t see it. When wrapping the tape around, make sure to create space between the strips of tape on the oasis so that you won’t have an area where you can’t insert flowers.

Cut Down Your Greens 

Use your scissors to cut the green leaves into smaller pieces. You want a variety of shapes and sizes. It can help to pull away some of the lower leaves so that you have a nice stem to put into the oasis.

Start on the Sides

Start by working the greens along the side of the oasis, allowing them to spill over the edges of the basket.

Cover the Mechanics 

Place the fern leaves in various sizes in the oasis cube so that you cover the cube and tape completely. Put the majority of them into the oasis at a horizontal angle so that you get good coverage. Angela recommends putting one large fern piece straight out of the front to balance the length of the cornucopia basket. The arrangement will look best if it appears horizontal because of the shape of the basket. Use a couple smaller ferns at the top sticking straight up so that the greens will appear to surround the flowers once they are placed.

Put in the Filler

For the Goldenrod, Angela suggests using two larger pieces – one at the front of the arrangement and one at the top – and then breaking the Goldenrod down into smaller pieces to be put in along the sides. As you add the more colorful elements it is important to maintain balance. “Don’t just work the top of the arrangement,” says Angela, “work the sides as well.”

I started to get intimidated when it came time to put in actual flowers. Angela assured me that while there are approaches that tend to be more appealing to the eye, there’s not a wrong way. “The nice thing about flower arranging is that it is open to interpretation,” she says. She suggests beginning by placing a few flowers near the center of the arrangement and then moving out to the sides. “Allow the flowers to spill over the edge,” she encourages. Cut the leaves off the stems before you put them in. I found that the flower stems were less rigid than the ferns, so it works best to hold the flower stem at the very bottom against the oasis to give it support and use your other hand to push from just under the petals to insert it.

I loved the use of the St. Johns Wort seed pods with their friendly pink hue, but berries would give you a very similar effect. Make sure to cut away all the leaves and break the plants down into smaller pieces before you start placing them.

Accent Flowers

Your accent flowers should be a hearty, bright flower. We used two different colors of Mums. Remove all the leaves and break the flowers down into small groupings before you place them. Angela suggests creating a central cluster of three or so at the front of the arrangement and then using the rest of them to balance the arrangement. Don’t forget the sides! Remember that if you place this on a table, your guests will see it at all angles.

The Final Touch

There are a million ways to tie or shape your ribbon. For this one we looped the ribbon three times (trying to vary the size of the loops a little) and held the loops together at the base.

Use a piece of wire to wrap around the base of the ribbon loops and secure.

For a nice detail, you can make what Angela calls “fancy tails” at the ends of your ribbon by cutting little triangles into the ends. When you’re done, place the wire into the oasis at a place in the arrangement that could use a little something extra.

Congratulations – You’re Done!

Congratulations you flower arranging genius you. Now you have a beautiful arrangement to serve as a Thanksgiving centerpiece or gift. And when your very crafty friends ask where you got it you can say, “I made it, no big deal.”

The arrangement should stay fresh looking for about a week. You can water it every couple of days, though it is best to do it over the sink since it will leak through the basket for a little while.

Kathleen Gaines is Senior Manager of Individual giving at the Parks Conservancy. Now if she could just learn how to cook!

Feeling thankful? Give back to the parks that you love by supporting the Park Tree Fund. Click here to get started.