Treemendous Autumn Leaves

If you’re like all of us here at the Parks Conservancy, you cannot get enough of autumn leaves. Right now we’re all wrapped up in the sights, smells and sounds of the season, the bursts of autumn awesome before we settle in for the winter.

What does fall in parks look like to you? We’re asking folks to share their best foliage photos here on our website and on the social platform of their choice with the hashtags #unbeLEAFable #pittsburghparks. Share your best shot and check out ones that have been shared so far:

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Photo by Scott Roller, Arsenal Park

Photo by Bonnie West

Photo by Michelle Weaber

Photo by Stephen Harvan

Highland Park HTL leafy path golden orange yellow leaves tree trunk Fall Autumn sunny shadow (Melissa McMasters)

Photo by Melissa McMasters, Highland Park

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Photo by Rosie Wise, Frick Park

What are you waiting for? Get out and get snapping before fall makes like a tree and, well, you know…

Submit your fall photos here!

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What’s in Bloom — April 2015

Our regular “What’s in Bloom” feature typically highlights the exuberance of park gardens, blooming seasonally with all of the colors of the rainbow.

For this “What’s in Bloom,” however, we’re taking it to the trails, where wildflowers and native plants of all shapes and sizes are quietly blooming in living color.

Recently, we were delighted to see wildflowers flourishing along Falls Ravine and Nature Trail in Frick Park. If you’ll remember, many of this crop of ephemeral flowers and ferns were transplanted in preparation for the construction of the new Frick Environmental Center. We’re happy to report that they’re doing well in their new home!

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Twinleaf a-bloom.

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A transplanted fern unfurling on Falls Ravine Trail.

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Toadshade, or trillium sessile

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Dutchman’s breeches look like tiny little knickers on a line.

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A hillside covered with itty bitty spring beauties

Elsewhere in the parks, wildflowers are popping. Keep an eye out for all of the differently colored blooms.

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Jack-in-the-Pulpit

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Bluebells start off pink, then turn blue when they open.

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Trout lily in Schenley Park

Want to brush up on your native plant know-how? Join us at these two upcoming events:

Bird and Nature Walk with “Outside My Window’s” Kate St. John
Sunday, April 26th
8:30 – 10:30am
Meet at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center

Wildflower Walk and Campfire with the Urban EcoStewards
Thursday, May 7th
6:00 – 8:00pm
Frick Park
Register here!

Spring Happiness in the Neighborhood

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.

Please won’t you be my neighbor?

-Mister Rogers

Neighbor, could you use some happy in your life? Today is the most delightful junction of three mood-lifting occasions: The first day of Spring, Mister Rogers’ birthday, and the International Day of Happiness! To celebrate, here are some parks photos that are sure to put a smile on your face:

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The Pirate Parrot goes for a ride on the Blue Slide in Frick Park during a volunteer day. Photo: John Altdorfer.

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Spring buds finally surfacing. Photo: Melissa McMasters.

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Spring crocuses burst through the leaves with style. Photo: Chandler Sims via Instagram.

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Professional puddle jumper in Frick Park. Photo: @Autumn928 via Instagram.

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One of our all-time favorite photos, a happy little turtle out for a walk with his pet balloon in Schenley Plaza. Photo: Scott Roller.

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Cloudy grin. Photo: Teri Clark via our 2014 photo contest.

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Paper flowers spring up outside of Carnegie Library — South Side. Photo: Lauryn Stalter. 

Spread the happiness! Share your smile-inducing photos on our Facebook and Twitter pages, or email them to media@pittsburghparks.org. And keep the happy going by signing up here to be a great neighbor as a parks volunteer.

Here’s hoping that your Spring is as happy as a crayfish high five!

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Crayfish high five! Photo: Renee Rosensteel.

Photo Contest and Art in the Parks

Photo Contest and Art in the Parks

In so many ways, the parks are art. 

Whether you’re looking at them through a wide-angle perspective or zoomed in close, the parks inspire us in countless ways. Take, for example, the fact that the parks are designed spaces. Everything from the winding paths to the gardens, the overlooks and the habitat types have been created for park visitors to experience and enjoy.

Zoom in a little closer. The public art sprinkled throughout the parks make these greenspaces seem like interactive, open-air museums. Many works have been crafted by some of the nation’s best: The Westinghouse Memorial “Spirit of American Youth” statue was created by Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the seated Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. and the Frick Park gatehouses were designed by the Jefferson Memorial’s John Russell Pope.

Mixing urban design, public art, nature, and performances, Schenley Plaza is a museum gallery unto itself. Here’s what’s on display:

The Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain

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Greeting Schenley visitors on their way into the park, this iconic landmark features a fantastical scene of the nymph Sweet Harmony serenading Pan the earth god. Dedicated to Mary Schenley in 1918, the memorial was sculpted by Victor David Brenner, designer of the Lincoln penny.

The Porch at Schenley’s glass entrance piece

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Photo credit: Pittsburgh Glass Center

Suspended in the sunny entrance of the Plaza’s full-service restaurant is a one-of-a-kind chandelier from the creative minds at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. Diners looking skyward see 24 glass globes reaching down to them from a metal leaf-like base.

Plaza performances

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Artists of the musical variety flock to the Plaza when the weather is warm. Free WYEP concerts are a crowd favorite and draw national and local talents. This week, catch the final Final Fridays concert in Schenley Plaza with talents the Nox Boys (local) and Saintseneca (national).

Award winning gardens

6-e1411585219800The multicolored flora on display at Schenley Plaza gardens blooms in a rainbow of colors all season long. And this isn’t accidental. The varieties of plants growing there are All American Selection breeds, varieties that are especially colorful (as well as drought- and pest-resistant). This year, Schenley Plaza has been selected to take part in the All American Selection Display Garden. Visit this nationally ranked garden before we tuck in the beds for winter!

Art in the parks photo contest

Feeling inspired? From now through next Thursday, October 2nd, we’re putting park art in focus for the PittsburghGives Arts Day of Giving. You’re invited to help us celebrate by taking part in our art in the parks photo contest! Submit a winning picture of statues, nature, performances, anything that sparks your creativity for a chance to win a $50 Porch at Schenley gift card! Click here for submission and contest details.

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11 Things You Didn’t Know About Mellon Square: Part 1

Walking into Downtown Pittsburgh’s “elegant outdoor living room,” as Mellon Square was called by architectural historian James van Trump, it’s easy to see why it’s such a well-loved greenspace. Sixty years after it’s original opening, Pittsburghers are just as excited for the grand reopening next week.

Beyond the welcoming feel of this vibrant park, Mellon Square has an exceptionally unique history. Did you know that the Square is located over a prehistoric stream? That it’s a Mad Men masterpiece? That sea lions were a part of some of the early plans?

As we count down the days to the Square’s grand rededication, join us in digging into historic Mellon Square. (Many thanks to Parks Curator Susan Rademacher for providing the information below!)

1. Mellon Square was radical green infrastructure

Image from www.lifeprint.com.

Pittsburghers, sorry to tell you, but the American Sign Language sign for our city was decided during some of our filthiest years. The sign for Pittsburgh is the gesture for dusting dirt off of your shoulder — and we don’t mean in the Jay-Z kind of way. Presumably, in the way that steel workers, city workers, and just about everyone dusted themselves off after a day in the sooty air.

In addition to the dismal air quality, Pittsburgh had the kind of traffic that would turn the Golden Triangle into a nightmare on the daily. A comprehensive traffic study identified the block that now houses Mellon Square as an ideal location for a parking garage. Thinking big, Richard K. Mellon had a better idea — put those unsightly parking spaces underground, and give the people of Pittsburgh greenery, space, and a place to enjoy their city. With Mellon’s decision, the first modern garden plaza on a parking garage was born.

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Existing buildings and parking had to be removed for the construction of Mellon Square. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections, circa 1951.

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An aerial shot of the completed Mellon Square. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections, circa 1955.

2. Strong women shaped the Square

Like so much of Pitttsburgh’s park history, wise women played an influential role in shaping Mellon Square. Two in particular — Sarah Mellon Scaife and Constance Mellon — had a direct pipeline to Richard King Mellon while he was dreaming up Mellon Square.

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Sarah Mellon Scaife (left). Constance and Richard K. Mellon (right).

While staying at the William Penn Hotel on one trip to Pittsburgh, Constance Mellon, Richard’s wife, couldn’t even see the Mellon Bank Building across the street because of the smog. She urged him to do something, or no businessperson (or his wife, for that matter) would want to live in a city that was so heavily polluted.

Sarah Mellon Scaife, Richard’s sister, was not impressed with the initial paving design — a plain rectangular pattern — for the Square. After visiting Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, she returned to challenge the Mellon Square designers to come up with a more intriguing pattern. And thus, the iconic terrazzo pavement that resonated with the nearby ALCOA building (now the Regional Enterprise Tower) came to be.

3. What lurks beneath…

Fundamentally, the six stories of parking was built atop a prehistoric stream bed. The stream bed predicated where all of the support structures were placed and determined where to put the trees and heavy loads on the plaza. Looking at the Square from a birds-eye vantage, you can get a rough sense of where the stream was by where the trees are planted.

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Construction of the garage and Square. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections, circa 1954.

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The Square at the time of restoration groundbreaking. Photo by John Altdorfer, 2011.

4. Nine-of-a-kind basins

Have you ever taken a good hard look at the nine gorgeous bronze basins in the Square? These 3,500-pound behemoths are reportedly the largest basins cast as one single piece. It’s common in bronze casting to create pieces in multiple casts before welding them all together. The basins in the Square were made up of one cast, which by today’s safety standards would not be allowed. And so, these are reportedly the largest single bronze basins ever cast.

Refurbishing these basins during the Square’s restoration was no small feat. Moved with great care to Matthews International where they were cast, all nine basins are back to their original splendor. Read more about that here.

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Finishing the surface of one of the nine bronze basins for Mellon Square. Image courtesy Matthews International.

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Positioning the last basin after its repair and refinishing by Matthews International.

5. Classy and sophisticated

When opened, Mellon Square had a quintessential Mad Men style. A promenade for men in flat-brimmed fedoras and ladies in white gloves, Mellon Square provided the perfect backdrop for classy Downtown gentlepeople. Designed by the distinguished firms Mitchell & Ritchey and Simonds & Simonds, Mellon Square has been named one of America’s Ten Great Public Spaces.

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Mellon Square after opening. Photo courtesy Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections.

With the rededication of the Square next week, we’re looking forward to this restored image of classic glamour, Downtown’s emerald oasis. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating this gem being polished back to its dazzling splendor!

For more information about the rededication, visit our website and check back here next week as we finish off the list of Mellon Square things to know!

Content for this blog was adapted from a presentation by Parks Curator Susan Rademacher.

What’s in Bloom — May 2014

What’s in bloom in Pittsburgh’s parks this month? Everything! The garden beds seem just as relieved as we are that the unpredictable winter cold is over, and they’re really putting on a show.

Highland Park is vibrant all day throughout the gardens, but visit at sundown for an extra special splash of color.

Highland Park is vibrant all day throughout the gardens, but visit at sundown for an extra special splash of color.

In anticipation of Saturday’s 16th Annual PNC Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Spring Hat Luncheon, our horticulturist Angela Yuele and gardener Jaci Bruschi have really put their green thumbs to the many beds in the Highland Park Entry Garden — and the results are absolutely gorgeous.

“If you have not  been to the Park recently, you are in for a real treat. Sometimes we forget to appreciate the beauty in our own back yard,” wrote one Highland Park neighbor of the stunning blooms.

The Highland Park Entry Garden will be getting extra special attention not only this Saturday at the Hat Luncheon, but also next Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday kicks off the first Weeding Wednesday, the bimonthly gathering of volunteers that help to keep the immense garden looking grand. Friday is National Public Gardens Day, a celebration of public gardens usually marked by free admission to botanical gardens and arboreta across the country. We can all feel extra appreciation for the Entry Garden on this day, because we Pittsburghers get in for free every day!

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Daffodil ‘Bravoure’ blooming in abundance

Iris Pumila, Dwarf Iris ‘Manhattan Blues’

Iris ‘Manhattan Blue’

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Bright-eyed daffodil ‘Pheasant Eye’

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Iris Pumila, Dwarf Iris ‘Baby Blessed’

 

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Ultra fragrant hyacinth ‘Pink Pearl’

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Iris species

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Water lily tulips peeping through the leaves

Colors are popping up throughout the garden beds

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White daffodil ‘Mt Hood’

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A standoffish daffodil ‘White Lion’

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Vibrant grape hyacinth

Stop and really smell the flowers next week — become a regular volunteer at Weeding Wednesdays! We recommend it as a way to relax, get to know your neighbors, fit in some nature time, and maybe even take out some stress on the weeds. Sign up to get started here.

Know Your Native: What’s in Bloom Edition

Believe it or not, staff at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy do not hibernate during the winter.

Angela, Jaci, and Jake taking care of a tree in Highland Park

While some of us cozy up in the office with woolly sweaters and Big Gulp-sized mugs of coffee and tea, there are those of us that are out in the parks in any weather. Two such dauntlessly awesome staffers are our horticulturist Angela and our gardener Jaci. Regularly spotted outside in ultra heavy duty winter wear, they visited the office last weak clad in all-weather work boots carrying a box of treasures — seeds and buds and clippings from plants around the parks. These finds, hidden in the drab colors of winter, were an unusual learning experience and a fun way to study the parks in winter.

If you’re a regular reader of our blog/social media, you might have caught our Know Your Native or What’s In Bloom segments. During the growing seasons, Angela compiles pictures of blossoms and buds from the park gardens for her monthly What’s in Bloom series. Our more sporadic Know Your Native highlights local plants that staffers find and photograph around the parks.

This week, we’re meshing the two. And adding a fun mnemonic twist. We’re also bending the rules; technically, none of these finds are currently in bloom. And a couple of them aren’t natives, but we’re throwing them in, too. Let’s get started! (Note: Information about these plants came from the great Missouri Botanical Garden.)

Tulip (Liriodendron tulipifera)

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A large deciduous tree native of eastern North America, the tulip tree, otherwise known as the yellow poplar, is easily identified by its tulip-shaped flowers seen here. The flowers can be tough to spot in spring since they bloom after the tree’s leaves pop open. Its genus name comes from Greek leirion (lily) and dendron (tree). Tulipifera means tulip bearing.

Fun fact: Native Americans made dugout canoes from tuliptree trunks. Source.

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

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Tripping over the large spiked fruits that we think look like boot spurs is an easy way to identify the invasive horse chestnut, or conker tree. When the skin of the fruit breaks, you can find one or two dark brown horsechestnuts, a relative of the buckeye (but not the chestnut), inside. Check back with these trees in the spring when they show off white, red and yellow flowers.

Fun fact: The alternate name for this tree, conker tree, comes from a British-Irish children’s game that dates back to the 1800s. For this “game,” children would tie strings to the spiked fruits and bop each other over the head until the fruit broke. We’re not sure if you win when the fruit breaks…? Don’t try that at home.

Goldenrain (Tree Sapindaceae)

In the winter, you can identify the invasive goldenrain tree by the papery seed capsules that are a bit reminiscent of Chinese lanterns. The tree blossoms in early summer with flowers of varying shades of yellow, which make a golden yellow carpet under the tree. This tree is air pollution resistant, helping it thrive in urban areas.

Eastern beech (Fagus sylvatica)

The European beech has been a popular ornamental tree in the United States since the mid-1700s. The trunk has a distinctive smooth, gray texture that seems to fold and melt around branches. Leaves of the beech tree aren’t abscissed in fall, meaning they hold on to their leaves all winter. Female flowers give way to two triangular nuts held in spiny capsules, seen here:

Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

A native to eastern North america, no doubt you’ve noticed the sweet gum’s signature ‘gumballs’ spread out at the base of these trees. These spiky globular fruiting clusters are the product of female flower. The name of this tree comes from the sweet-smelling ‘gum’ that the tree exudes when cut.

Fun fact: The tree’s gum has indeed been used for chewing gum. It’s also been used to make incense, perfumes, folk medicines and flavorings.

Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina)

Identifying this native tree is a bit of a gimme. Shown here are the nut-like fruits that cluster like bells. Watch in April when the trees flowers start to bloom in even more obvious bell shapes. Like a bell rung for dinner, these gorgeous flowers seem to bring in warmer weather.

Like to learn more about what makes up our park flora? Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to catch our Know Your Native features, or subscribe to our blog at the bottom right corner. And if you haven’t picked up a copy of our gorgeous Invasive Plants of Pittsburgh guidebook, order one today! 

Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

We just have to throw in one more, because we can’t resist. We’ll leave you with Staphylea trifolia, otherwise known as bladdernut. While not the most attractive name, this native does show some pretty flowers in spring!

Did we mention Invasive Plants of Pittsburgh? Order today!