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 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. Since opening day, more than 2,000 guests toured the Woodlands.
  • 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 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 Moment 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, 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.


  • Name of organization and Garden changed to Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
  • Mashuda Corporation began extracting coal from the mines in November.
  • With Pennvest grant, built three permanent irrigation ponds to hold two million gallons of water – enough to carry the gardens through summer dry spells.
  • The entrance road was widened and improved.
  • Construction began on “Woodlands of the World”, 40 acres to be divided into five distinct woodlands: Asian, European, English, Appalachian Plateau and Cove Forest.
  • Design work started on Fred Roger’s Garden of Make Believe.


  • Received Department of Environmental Protection Growing Greener II Grant to expand erosion and sedimentation ponds into irrigation ponds.
  • Permits from Township of Collier, Township of North Fayette, and the PA Department of Environmental Protection approved to allow reclamation to start.


  • A reclamation permit application to reclaim 72 acres of abandoned mines was submitted to the PA Department of Environmental Protection for approval.


  • Schematic design for Phase One of Garden completed at cost of $451,000 and an Entrance Corridor Design at cost of $102,000.


  • Governor Rendell awarded a $5 million State Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) matching grant for road building, Visitor Center construction, and infrastructure.
  • With a change in the remediation plan, the lease was re-negotiated with Allegheny County to allow BGWP to remove the coalmines. The owner of the coal donated his royalties to help pay for reclamation.


  • Hurricane Ivan flooded abandoned mines beneath the Garden, prompting revisions to AMD remediation plans. Complete site reclamation replaced water treatment as preferred method of permanently cleaning up AMD.


  • Design team completes comprehensive Master Plan at cost of $330,000. Garden renamed the Botanic Garden of Western Pennsylvania (BGWP).
  • Environmental Restoration, Water Quality and Economic Impact studies were completed and identified Acid Mine Discharge (AMD) from abandoned coalmines under the site.
  • Allegheny County added 20 acres to lease, bringing total to 452 acres.


  • First Executive Director is hired.


  • A national search culminates in hiring of MTR Landscape Architects (Pittsburgh, PA) and Overland Partners (San Antonio, TX) to oversee design of Garden and its buildings.


  • Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources awarded $100,000 matching grant for master site planning of garden.


  • HSWP signed a 99-year renewable lease with the Allegheny County Board of Commissioners for 432 acres in the southwestern corner of Settler’s Cabin Park, in North Fayette and Collier Townships. County Commissioner Bob Cranmer noted “We have been looking for opportunities to enhance our parks and this project does that by creating an exciting new attraction without expending tax dollars. A thriving botanical garden will become a destination site for visitors and a business generator for our region’s sizable green industry.”


  • Allegheny County Commissioners voted to negotiate a lease for land in Settlers Cabin County Park.
  • HSWP hired their first paid employee.
  • The Western PA Conservancy and HSWP signed a letter of understanding agreeing to cooperate to establish of a botanic garden.


  • The HSWP and Pittsburgh Civic Garden Center agreed to become partners.


  • First annual Open Gardens Day tour held.
  • Site selection started in cooperation with the landscape architecture firm of Environmental Planning & Design, later Marshall, Tyler and Rausch (MTR). Led by Lindsay Bond Totten, five criteria were used:
    • Within 25 miles of downtown Pittsburgh,
    • Regional access with proximity to four lane highways and good local access over secondary roads,
    • Minimum of 100 acres, with a minimum of 30-50 buildable acres with less than an 8% slope,
    • Uniquely Pittsburgh or southwestern Pennsylvania site including pleasing topography or industrial or cultural history,
    • Price should be low to nothing to save funds for construction.


  • Workshop was held to plan the Garden’s location, funding, and programming. City and county representatives, local community and professional organizations, and representatives from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia were present.


  • HSWP became a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.
  • Collaborations were initiated with the Pittsburgh Civic Garden Center, Western PA Conservancy, Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Pittsburgh Zoo.
  • Annual Plant Sale was initiated to recommend under-utilized regional species and varieties of ornamentals.


  • July 22, 1988, David Quatchak, Michael Masiuk (both of Penn State Cooperative Extension), Jim Pashek (Vice President, PA Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects), Frank Pizzi (Horticulturist, Pittsburgh Zoo), David Rieger (Chairman, Western PA Section, American Society of Landscape Architects) and Ed Vasilcik (Horticulturist, Phipps Conservatory) met at Max’s Allegheny Tavern over beer and bratwurst to form the Horticultural Society of Western Pennsylvania (HSWP). They sent invitations to “organize a vast audience of gardeners and work toward making lasting horticultural improvements, both in our own gardens and in our city, state and region.” and over 40 people responded to attend the Society’s first meeting August 18.