Beth Exton enjoys the best of both worlds as the development director of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
On a daily basis, she applies the marketing and fundraising skills she gained while pursuing her degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Plus, she utilizes her knowledge as a master gardener.
In her job capacity she says that it’s awesome to be able to mix those two together. Besides she adds, “I’m surrounded by beautiful things.”
No matter the season, there is always something charming to see at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
Located in Oakdale, the 460-acre property is dedicated to creating a holistic, accessible environment and furthering the mission of inspiring people to value plants, garden design and the natural world by cultivating collections of the Allegheny Plateau and temperate regions, creating display gardens, conduction educational programs and conserving the environment.
Pittsburgh Botanic Garden was one of the first recipients of funding from U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), allowing reclamation of previously unusable lands because of deep and surface coal mining and subsequent acid mine drainage that polluted local water tributaries. Through conservation and restoration efforts that began in 2005, remaining mining industry hazards were removed, 10,000 saplings were planted to reforest the garden’s 28-acre reclaimed coal mine site and three operational passive filter systems were built to mitigate acid mine drainage, which now cleans 25 million gallons of water before entering the region’s watershed.
“The mission of the garden basically is to inspire people to connect to plants, education of plants and conservation,” Exton said. “We hope that visitors gain a deeper appreciation for the environment and gain a better knowledge of the plants that we interact with. Hopefully they will leave with a sense of how plants contribute to our health and well-being.”
Exton noted for example the wood used to make houses, the cotton used to make clothing, even the plants eaten as food on dining room tables.
The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is open all year except Mondays and on select holidays.
Highlights include: The Garden of the Five Senses, where children are encouraged to touch, hear, smell, taste and see the nature around them; Hillside Pollinator Garden with swaths of cultivars of native perennials; Margaret Lawrence Simon Dogwood Meadow that features many species of native plants, birds and insects; Heritage Homestead where early European settlers’ life is reflected and demonstrates human interaction with the land; Allegheny Plateau Woodland that features trees, shrubs and herbaceous plant species native to the Allegheny Plateau.
The “must see” features depends on the season, Exton says.
During the spring months, more than 200 dogwoods are in bloom around the meadow. Goldenrod punctuates the area in autumn.
Summer offers stunning drifts of color from native wildflowers.
During the fall, the woodlands “shine” adds Exton as their canopies show their colors.
Winter offers a stillness Exton embraces on her daily walks through the Asian Woodland on her way to the Lotus Pond.
“I’m in the minority,” she said. “My favorite is to see the Lotus Pond in the winter. I like it in all seasons but during the winter, there is a different vibe to it. A stillness not found anywhere else.”
Exton noted during the summer, the pond area is “gorgeous” with its lotus and lilies in bloom.
“There is something always there to make you feel in awe with nature,” she added.
To facilitate that wonder, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden also offers a number of activities, many geared for children.
From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturdays, the center offers a craft-making table or a read-a-story hour. Visitors can also learn how to grow a bulb.
“There is always something to do. You can stay all day,” enthused Exton. She recommends allowing at least 90 minutes to tour the grounds “to do it right” but it will take longer with smaller children.
The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden offers additional activities. There is the Pollinator Trail that features the center’s own apiary and where hikers can learn about hives and participate in interactive stations to learn about pollinators and why they are important and how to support them. Along the woodland trails are “Tree Times.” This activity sheet describe the native trees and the history of the country.
Discovery Cart examines interesting artifacts and visitors can learn more about plants and nature. There are family backpacks that offer season activities to help explore the garden at a visitor’s own pace. Additionally there are letter boxing and geocaching where participants follow clues to find letterboxes hidden in the garden or use a hand-held GPS enabled device to find hidden treasures.
Exton anticipates a busy summer for the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. Over the past five years, she said the garden welcomed more than 120,000 or on average 40,000 visitors, but the numbers have increased over the last nine months. In fact, she said, last fall there was a 44% increase in visitation.
“Last year was a bizarre one,” she said, noting the coronavirus pandemic. “There was a growth in gardening and in this garden in particular. People looked to be outside and we offered that.
“Our hope for this seasons is that as more and more people in the community discover the garden, they will come out here to get a sense of well-being. It’s something we still need particularly when things are constantly changing. Nature grounds you in stability.”