Pittsburgh botanic tour explores gardens of Fox Chapel, Aspinwall
When Margaret “Peggy” Douglass and her husband, Jim, were in the process of moving to Pittsburgh from their native Texas, they went house-shopping and toured a century-old home in Fox Chapel with a swimming pool.
Jim Douglass told his wife: “You can have the house if we get rid of the pool.”
After the couple moved in, Jim Douglass left on a business trip. Upon his return, he asked if someone had left the water running somewhere.
“I said, ‘No, I built a pond,'” in the exact spot where the pool had been, says Peggy Douglass with a slight Texas twang.
The pond is surrounded by rocks and landscaped with shade-loving plants, such as lady's mantle, hostas and frothy pink astilbes. A statue of a dog crowns the upper level of the pond, the waters of which flow down a rocky stream into a lower pond that looks as if it has always been there.
Garden aficionados will be able to tour gardens at the homes of the Douglasses and 13 other gardeners June 28 at the 18th annual Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Town & Country Tour. Proceeds from the tour of gardens in Fox Chapel and Aspinwall benefit the Botanic Garden in North Fayette and Collier.
Visitors will have the option to take a self-guided tour for $55 or a bus tour for $135, which includes lunch at Andora Restaurant in Fox Chapel.
They will be able to view several garden rooms at the Douglass home, built as “Silver Spring Farm” in 1863. The springhouse, a 19th-century form of refrigeration, is visible along the road. It is bordered by a pond and various plantings, including lilacs, day lilies and ferns. The spring was at one time the source of Silver Spring Water, which was bottled and taken by horse-drawn wagons to downtown Pittsburgh for sale.
“I can't live on the beach or the river,” Peggy Douglass says, so she enjoys the water features on the property. The front of the property is sloping and is home to ‘Knockout' roses, flowering spirea and white-blooming oakleaf hydrangeas.
Douglass had a courtyard added to soften the pavement near the side driveway kitchen entrance. A garden table and chairs sit on a flagstone surface bordered by pink astilbe; green, blue and chartreuse hostas; a purple clematis climbing a metal support pyramid; and pink catmint. A small stone fountain made with an old millstone trickles water into the fountain where fish swim and greet visitors to the kitchen.
“What a wonderful, welcoming entrance,” says Kitty Vagley, director of development for Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
Closer to a barn on the property, Douglass, a member of the Fox Chapel Garden Club, added an arching sweep of garden punctuated with silvery lamb's ears, hostas, catmint and viburnum shrubbery.
Sally Foster of Fox Chapel, a member of the Garden Club of Allegheny County and a past president and distinguished member of the Fox Chapel Garden Club, suggested the Douglass gardens to the garden-tour committee.
“Peggy has really brought personality to this house,” Foster says. “You can tell a gardener lives here.” While the Douglasses had help designing and constructing the gardens from Gregg Friday, owner of Friday Landscaping, Peggy Douglass does the lion's share of maintaining them.
Because of the many mature trees on the property, once owned by former Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Branch Rickey, Douglass has had to learn about shade and other aspects of gardening through her membership in the Fox Chapel Garden Club.
“I didn't know a thing about gardening” growing up in Texas, she says.
“It gets so shady, grass won't grow” in certain spots on the property, she says. Instead, she planted various ground covers. “I wanted it to have a country feel. … It's always evolving.
“I think I must be a frustrated farmer.”
Some of the gardens on the tour are professionally maintained, while others are cared for by homeowners, says tour chairwoman Mickey Stobbe.
“It's an interesting tour,” she says.
Organizers are offering self-guided and bus tours.
Stobbe says either tour can appeal to those viewing.
“The bus tours are awfully fun to share with a friend or family member,” she says. “You don't have to worry about driving or parking, and a wonderful lunch is included. Either way, it makes for a memorable day.”
Concepts conceived in the gardens on the tour can offer a source of inspiration, Stobbe says.
“You can come away with wonderful ideas for garden rooms or larger gardens you can try in your own garden space,” she says.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.