Standing at the junction of four neighborhoods is one man who scares the thistles off of invasive plants.
“That over there is Garlic Mustard Heaven… at least, it was,” points out John Olmsted, Shadyside neighbor and volunteer extraordinaire, triumphantly. He’s taking three Parks Conservancy staffers on a personal tour of Mellon Park, showing us the spots he knows like his own backyard and telling us about how he came to have such an impact on the park.
“John is definitely the keeper of this park.”
Angela, Parks Conservancy horticulturist, has pulled weeds alongside John for years. After moving around post graduate school, John and his wife returned to Pittsburgh to be closer to children and grandchildren. And he has since become a quiet but significant change-maker in this historic community park.
Mellon Park, situated at the junction of Regent Square, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze has never been adopted entirely by one group over the years. This setup has made for some interesting development throughout the grounds: The Parks Conservancy restored the serene Walled Garden as a Capitol Project; Phipps houses a greenhouse and has experimental show gardens around the grounds; groups like the Herb Society handle particular plots, such as the Shakespeare Garden; and a number of community members take other small plots in their own garden-gloved hands when they have the time.
That’s where John comes in. After moving to the perfect house just across the street from Mellon, John made his way over to the park during his free time, pulling some invasive plants here and there until, five years later, he’s tackling whole beds. “So far, none of the maintenance people have complained that I’m taking work away from them,” he jokes. With only a bit of previous gardening experience (John’s father grew a victory garden during WWII, his mother had a garden of her own), John first tackled whole sections of garlic mustard and Canada thistle from established daffodil and daylily gardens — and then kept them cleared.
We especially appreciate John’s story of dedication to Mellon Park because 17 years ago, that same drive inspired the creation of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Faced with the deteriorating conditions of the parks, a cadre of concerned Pittsburghers decided to start an organization to work towards maintenance and restoration of the parks. John, too, has stepped up to fill a need to keep the greenspaces he appreciates in really fantastic condition.
Daffodils peeking through the soil in the beds John tends
As we stroll through the park with John, we give him all the kudos we can for his work in Mellon Park. He’ll be out there again this spring, whacking away at the weeds that creep up in the daffodil beds. He has a standing offer to anyone that wants to join him on his crusade to bust burdock.
Lauryn Stalter for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Wondering about the name? John is indeed connected to the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. “Four generations back and four steps over,” as he says.
Daffodils like those pictured above will be welcoming Spring soon. Support our efforts to keep these gardens growing by contributing to the Daffodil Project.