Pittsburgh is home to some of the country’s most delightful gardens and parks, and the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is particularly cherished for its sprawling landscapes, themed gardens, and rare and diverse plant collections. Whether you’re a plant novice or a botany expert, the Botanic Garden provides a true escape from the hustle and bustle of city life just 30 minutes away.
Pittsburgh Botanic Garden was conceptualized in 1988, with the goal of establishing an outdoor public garden with robust plant collections. Today, it features 65 acres of gardens and woodlands where people can explore, learn from and build meaningful connections with nature. Fun fact: The location used to be a former strip mining site that has done a 360-degree turnaround from a barren landscape to a space that’s thriving with life, making a strong case for restoring and reclaiming land.
The Botanic Garden has a different charm during every season of the year, but is especially compelling during the summer. Flowering plants are in full bloom, including recognizable blooms like coneflowers, irises, lotuses, milkweeds, mountain laurels and so many more.
The site is buzzing (literally and figuratively) with birds, bees and blooms plus events and exhibits. If you visit frequently, you get to see plants starting out as seedlings and transforming right in front of your eyes as they reach maturity. These plants then bring insects, birds and other animals who all have unique ways of utilizing plants for their own benefit.
The Botanic Garden also offers a wealth of programming — workshops, nature expeditions, camps, seasonal events, exhibits and more. It is a fantastic space for families to connect with nature and each other. It is not only a fun excursion for young visitors but is also full of intangible learning opportunities — stuff that you can only learn outside a classroom. Tiny nature enthusiasts can traipse around the apple orchards, and visit the chicken coop at the Heritage Homestead. It is also a great place for kids to get introduced to gardening, get their hands dirty, and learn where the food on our plates comes from.
Above all, getting a front row seat to some of nature’s most fascinating processes is one of the most valuable experiences the Botanic Garden has to offer.
Here’s how to revel in it all and make the most of your visit.
Stroll, stop and stare
Sometimes, the best agenda is to have no agenda at all. When you plan your visit, make sure to make it an unhurried one. Take your sweet time just soaking in the beauty of the flowers, trees and colors around you. Sit and while away in one of the shaded pergolas, or stroll along one of the tree-lined walkways. It is an excellent opportunity to just be, at a time when our culture focuses so much on doing.
Picnic among the plants
Give yourself a break from toiling over the hot stove and tuck into an outdoor picnic. You can pack your own picnic basket or enjoy food and drinks at the Canopy Café, a cute spot nestled amidst the tree tops. They also have takeout food available for a feast in White Pine Grove, a designated picnic area. The Botanic Garden also offers a picnic basket for two, which includes admission for the day, and a curated selection of gourmet meats from Salty Pork Bits, cheeses from Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy, fresh bread, homemade chutney, other delicacies, and wine!
Channel your inner artist
You can try your hand at an art or attend a watercolor class. With such perfect subjects around to inspire you, creating art can be a complete sensorial experience — the fragrant blooms, the chirping birds, the soft grass underneath your feet, and the breeze rustling through your hair. The best part is that you can be fully present with yourself, and your surroundings.
Know the birds and bees
Prepare to get “bee” dazzed. Summer months at Pittsburgh Botanic Garden are some of the most active, energetic times for plants and pollinators that call the site home. Visitors will also see different pollinators in action, from the honeybees working hard out of the apiary, native and migratory birds who live in and rely on the garden as a food source, and even chipmunks and squirrels. Learn about the garden’s native pollinators with a master naturalist or make your own native bee box with plenty of pollinator-focused activities.
Get your groove on
There’s something to be said about joyful movement in the very lap of nature. It is beneficial for not just the body, but also the mind and soul on an intrinsic level. There are plenty of hiking trails that snake through the surrounding woodlands, including leisurely walks, accessible pathways and more strenuous treks. While a stroll or a brisk walk in the definitely counts toward your daily steps, the vast greens provide a blissful setting to do some yoga stretches. Choose from various wellness programs like Tai Chi with a view of the water lilies, yoga in the woodlands, or simply a healing forest bathing meditation for a much-needed stress buster.
Sip and socialize
Here’s your occasion to be a social butterfly in such beautiful surroundings. Indulging your senses sounds right, with the tranquil gardens and a pint (or few) of beer. During summer months, the Botanic Garden hosts dynamic community events like evening jazz concerts and garden art exhibitions. Coming up on Aug. 4, the Botanic Garden will showcase local breweries and musicians at Growlers & Flowers. This event has a little something for beer lovers and gardeners alike, as you may enjoy a brew or two in the Peirce Celebration Garden, listen to music in the Davidson Events Center and play lawn games outside.
Immerse yourself in education
This year’s educational programming for younger kids includes programs like Seedlings: Spectacular Summer, lessons for adults such as Herbalism in the Allegheny Plateau and Botany Walk & Talk, and wellness programs for folks looking to experience nature’s healing and relaxing effects. Summer is also the time for new beginnings. This year, the Botanic Garden will open Unearthed, an outdoor exhibition of artworks created with recycled and reclaimed materials. The Welcome Center is now filled with artwork by Michelle Stitzlein as part of her exhibition, Perennially Green.
Forage & Finds
After a relaxing jaunt through the site, buy some plants at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden’s whimsical gift shop, Forage & Finds. Choose from native plants, local goods and handicrafts. The garden accessories and potted plants make for great souvenirs or lovely gifts for friends.
The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is located at 799 Pinkerton Run Road in North Fayette. Summer hours are Tuesday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday–Thursday: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday–Sunday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The garden is closed on Monday. Tickets: $15 for adults; $9 for children; free for kids under 3. Discounts available.