Hello fellow readers, A visit to Point State Park, an urban garden in downtown Pittsburgh, highlights a recent trip. The mist from a glorious 150-foot fountain that sits at the point where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers combine provided soothing relief from the oppressive heat of the day.
Pittsburgh became known as “the Steel City” and was a thriving industrial town until it declined into mayhem by the 1940s. Today transformed, Pittsburgh is considered one of the most livable cities in the world.
The city’s picturesque 36-acre Point State Park is graced with many native species strategically planted, many of which I love to include in landscape designs. American Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a small vase-shaped tree with clusters of yellow flowers in late fall or winter. Along the paths are swaths of Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), a favorite because of her evergreen clumping nature that can control erosion.
Then there’s Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), which grows 40 feet tall. Most adored for her early spring reddish-pink flower clusters covering her branches before leaves emerge. The Pittsburgh Redbud Project began in 2015 to enhance the riverfronts and open spaces. Since then, almost 1300 redbuds and other native trees have been planted by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC). The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded Community Greening Awards in 2008 to gardens managed by WPC, including The Point Garden and The Pittsburgh Project. No question that adding native plants to landscapes is often preferred, almost trendy. But there’s another point of view in urban areas.
I recently had the privilege of hearing Peter Del Tredici called Urban Nature: Human Nature. Retired as Senior Scientist Emeritus at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and professor in the Landscape Architecture Department, Peter currently teaches in the Department of Urban Planning at MIT.
One of the things that stood out from his talk was his question – “What is native of filled land such as NYC and Boston?” To which he answered, “Nothing… (therefore) restoring native ecosystems is a crazy idea.”
Next to the photo of his book, Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide, Peter Del Tredici listed the origin of 222 species in urban areas. “The vegetation of cities is as cosmopolitan as its people.” Then went on to share statistics of population changes in Boston that parallel the percentages of plants from other countries in the same region. Fascinating. The essence of his lecture was upbeat and filled with encouragement to embrace the changes. Our world will adapt. Still, most can’t help to wish to hold onto what they perceive as native. Or what it used to be. It seems part of human nature.
Column Updated 9/26/21