History of the Garden

The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden was founded in 1988 by horticulturists who envisioned a world-class outdoor garden for the Pittsburgh area.  The journey to date has had many unexpected turns, but the community commitment to make the garden a reality has been unwavering.


  • The Garden re-opened on a permanent, year-round basis on April 1.
  • The first couple was married at the Garden.
  • The legendary Alice Waters was the guest of honor at the From Garden to Table annual gala.
  • Development of the new Garden of the Five Senses was begun, including completion of a star-shaped pavilion that will serve as the area’s main gathering point.
  • Restoration of the log cabin was completed.
  • The Eco-Building, donated for $1 by Covestro, was installed at the Garden.
  • Construction of a Hermit Hut was begun in the European Woodlands.
  • Planting of the Peirce Celebration Garden was completed. More than 9,000 spring-flowering bulbs were planted.
  • Sheep and chickens came to live in the Heritage Apple Orchard.
  • The first finished portion of the restoration area was reforested with 1,500 saplings.
  • Representatives of the Bayer MaterialScience Employee Engagement Academy and the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University collaborated with staff to lay the foundation of a children’s education program.
  • A white oak tree that was over 200 years old was brought down in a spring storm. The massive trunk was repurposed into a whimsical thatched-roof tree village.
  • Artist Danya Kaminker installed a wooden sculpture of a bear and other animals from European fairy tales near the large oak in the Bookworm Glen. Miraculously, it received only minor damage when the tree fell in the spring. Danya returned to the Garden in the fall and added a wolf he carved the fallen oak’s wood.
  • The meadows were mowed for the first time in decades, helping to preserve these unique ecosystems.
  • The 25th annual plant sale was held.
  • Outdoor yoga and tai chi classes were offered.
  • The first adult education program was offered.
  • Additional bird species were spotted, bringing the total to 111 species.


  • The first 60 acres of the Garden, the Woodlands, opened on August 1, with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and a host of other dignitaries in attendance. More than 2,000 guests toured the Woodlands in 2014.
  • The Garden received the 2014 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for the Lotus Pond restoration project.
  • The Margaret Lawrence Simon Dogwood Meadow was dedicated.
  • The first From Garden to Table Event at the Barn was held in the Bayer Welcome Center, marking the first event held in the renovated facility.
  • Renovation of the 1870s barn into the Bayer Welcome Center was completed.
  • The farmhouse was transformed into administrative offices.
  • Over 550 volunteers from Dick’s Sporting Goods and Keen’s participated in site improvement activities during the largest single volunteer day in the Garden’s history.
  • The Forest Stories Series delighted children each Friday afternoon during the summer.
  • The Highmark Gazebo was built.
  • The Lotus Pond was stocked with nearly 500 native fish, thanks to a grant from EQT. Lotus and lily plants were also added.
  • Terrain around the Lotus Pond was sculpted in preparation for planting, and stone steps and pathways were constructed.
  • 18,000 spring bulbs were planted below the Margaret Lawrence Simon Dogwood Meadow.
  • Shrubs, trees and perennials were planted in the Celebration and rain gardens outside the Bayer Welcome Center.
  • The stone wedding wall and wooden gate were completed in the Plaza outside the Bayer Welcome Center.
  • The 1784 log cabin’s new roof was installed.
  • The Three Sisters Garden at the Pioneer Farmstead was built.
  • A sheep shed was built in the Heritage Apple Orchard by Eagle Scout candidate Daniel Shemon and other volunteers.
  • Construction of a chicken coop by James Scisciani was begun.


  • Restoration of the Lotus Pond in the Asian Woods was completed.
  • California landscape architect Keiji Uesugi was hired to design the Japanese Garden adjacent to the Lotus Pond in the Asian Woods.
  • Jason Flickman, a Chatham University landscape architecture intern, designed and installed trail signs in the Woodlands.
  • One mile of ADA-accessible trail was built.
  • BNY Mellon volunteers installed a fence around the perimeter of the Heritage Apple Orchard.
  • Apprentices from the Carpenters Training Center built and assembled the Storybook House in the Bookworm Glen section of the Woodlands.
  • The outdoor fireplace and plaza next to the barn were completed.
  • 3,000 Virginia bluebells were planted in the Woodlands.
  • The total number of native plants added to the Garden since 2010 exceeded 5,200.
  • The Garden welcomed more than 3,000 visitors during the year.
  • The “Family Moments” play and discover station, ‘Let’s Get to the Root of the Matter’ was installed at the entrance of the Woodlands.


  • Allegheny County Council approved a six acre addition to the lease. The leased land includes a log house, an 1855 farmhouse, and an 1870’s barn.
  • Mashuda Corporation transferred its permit for reclamation work on the abandoned coalmines to Cherep Excavating. Mashuda Corporation was sold following the death of owner and Garden advocate Ralph Mashuda. Cherep resumed the work in May.
  • Volunteers and staff planted 118 perennials, 136 shrubs and 288 native trees.
  • Historic apple orchard restoration started, using a grant from the Laurel Foundation. Planted 21 saplings with ancient provenance.
  • Fifteen acres of the Woodland Gardens were cleared of invasive plant species.
  • “Family Moments” play and discover stations , early childhood education stations, were started.
  • “Peek & Preview” guided tours of the “Woodlands of the World” for the public began in mid-September.
  • The passive acid mine drainage treatment system was constructed to restore the Woodland Gardens pond.
  • A 400,000 gallon underground cistern was constructed to supplement the Garden’s future irrigation system and eliminate dependence on municipal water.


  • Received our first $1 million dollar grant and moved forward  to capture State Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) matching grant.
  • Tree Nursery was built with funding from the Pittsburgh-based Sprout Fund.
  • First two miles of trails built in the Woodland Gardens.
  • The first 12 acres of the Woodland Gardens were cleared of invasive plant species.
  • Volunteers and staff planted 1,450 bulbs, 635 perennials, 140 shrubs and 276 native trees in the Woodland Gardens. +learn more



History of the Land

In the beginning of the 18th century, the Six Nations of Iroquois controlled the area from Erie, Pennsylvania to West Virginia and west into the Ohio Valley. The six tribes were dominated by the Seneca and included the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Tuscarora. European fur traders and farmers began to migrate to the area. Most were Scots-Irish and German. After the French and Indian War, the English government and the tribes signed a series of treaties, resulting in a steady stream of homesteaders coming into the region.

According to many sources, John Henry, a 16 year old Scots-Irish immigrant, was the first white settler in the region around 1760. A fur trader, he is thought to have built the cabin which is still standing along Pinkerton Road in North Fayette Township. Eventually he moved south of Pittsburgh to farm, becoming a founding member of the Mt Lebanon United Presbyterian Church and a Commissioner in Upper St Clair.

In 1772, the Walker brothers came west to farm and likely knew John Henry well. Gabriel and Isaac Walker migrated from Lancaster County and were the first to record a legal claim to the land. Both served in the Revolutionary War. In the 1790s they participated in the Whiskey Rebellion and the records show they were charged, imprisoned, and taken to Philadelphia to be tried for treason. They were pardoned and returned home.

Click here to learn more about the history of the McGill Family farm.

Updated 12/31/15