Mellon Park update

Panorama thanks to Mary Jane Bent

Panorama thanks to Mary Jane Bent

“We’re peeling back the layers like an onion.”

This is how Phil describes his outside-in approach to the Mellon Park Walled Garden construction project that’s currently in progress.  The work is moving in three stages: from the sidewalk around the garden to the garden wall, then from the wall to the lawn border, and then to the lawn itself.

So far, we’ve been in removal mode, ripping up the lawn and a lot of the plantings, but now the first layer is starting to be replaced.  Electrical conduits have been laid, plumbing is going in, a new water line from the Phipps Garden Center has been put in, and a drinking fountain at the Garden Center is being re-installed.  The lawn will be ripped completely up in about a week or so, at which point we can begin…

Bringing the Stars to Earth

Artists rendering of the starry lawn

Artist's rendering of the starry lawn

One of the aspects of this project that we’re most excited about is the installation of a public art piece at the garden.  Working with the community and with the family of Ann Katharine Seamans (to whom this restoration is dedicated), artist Janet Zweig has conceived of a starscape buried in the lawn that will be illuminated using fiber optics.  Over 100 stars will glow in the evenings in the pattern of the night sky as it appeared over Pittsburgh on the night of Ann Seamans’ birth.  

Hard to believe the next time you see this, it will be glowing!

Hard to believe the next time you see this, it will be glowing!

Making stars glow turns out to be a work-intensive process!  Luckily, we have some great volunteers who are helping us out.  The stars are made using PVC pipe with a hole at the top to insert the fiber optics.  They’re being assembled this week by a crew led by Jake Meyer, who is undertaking the work as his Eagle Scout project.  He wanted to do something beneficial for the parks, and as luck would have it we had a pretty big project waiting for him!

After the lawn is dug out and the foundations for the stars are assembled, the stars will actually be installed.  Then Janet Zweig will come and work with the fiber optics to make sure the effect is just right.  After that, the construction crew will backfill the site with soil and seed the lawn area so that it will be ready for the park’s spring re-opening.

When you come to the park this spring, you’ll be able to search through the grass during the day for the stars, which each have a name and a saying engraved around them.  Many donors have already come forward to sponsor a star for $500; if you’re interested in dedicating a star to someone, give us a call at 412-682-7275.

What happened to the trees?

Japanese stewartia, by autan on Flickr

Japanese stewartia, courtesy of autan on Flickr

The two large American hornbeam trees on either side of the fountain have been removed to make way for other specimens.  “Those trees were fabulous, but they were dying,” Phil explained.  In their place (and in place of cherry trees that were formerly planted around the garden), we’ll be planting Japanese stewartia trees, which Phil describes as “small, exquisite trees–a perfect selection for the space.”  The Japanese stewartia trees grow more slowly and live much longer, and their flowers are beautiful in springtime.

The rest of the planting plan involves bringing back a lot of the historic plant material that was included in the garden’s original plans.  Some different plants, like the stewartia tree, will be added in to enhance the beauty of the space.

What’s Next?

In September, all the perennials and shrubs will be delivered and planted.  New trees will be planted the first week of November, along with daffodil bulbs.  By then everything will be pretty much functional, with the only major remaining job being the planting of shrubs beneath the trees in the springtime.  The garden should be open for everyone’s enjoyment by this spring!

If you’re interested in contributing to the project, we still need to raise funds in order to perform a full restoration.  Among the aspects yet to be funded are the restoration of the iron gates, repointing the brick walls, installing more benches, and repairing the sandstone paving.  You can help out in any amount at by selecting “Mellon Park” from the Designation menu.

A glimpse into the Walled Gardens future

A glimpse into the Walled Garden's future

6 thoughts on “Mellon Park update

  1. Pingback: Go look at the garden restoration « Rethorykal Questions

  2. The work on the park looks great. We’re having a wedding there and at the neighboring Center for the Arts at the end of May 2010. If you have any insight into how the project is progressing and whether you think it will be ready to go by May, I’d greatly appreciate it.



  3. No, the lights won’t interfere with seating. They’re buried underground with just the engraved tops of the stars visible. The artist wanted to create a meaningful installation without disrupting the way the space is used, so it will just be an enhancement.

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