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Pittburgh Botanic Garden benefactors' generosity making an impact

| Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

When George and Ada Davidson of Edgeworth took a tour of Pittsburgh Botanic Garden last year, they met two couples. One was from Canada and the other, from the Midwest.

Both out-of-town couples visited the area specifically to tour the North Fayette garden, which opened last year.

“I was impressed because the (Canadian) gentleman said, ‘We read about this and made a special trip to come and see the progress.' … I thought, ‘This thing has legs,' ” George Davidson said.

The Davidsons and Joan and Robert Peirce of Sewickley Heights made recent gifts totaling in excess of $500,000, which will finish the farmstead in the portion of the botanic garden that will reopen to the public April 1.

The Davidsons' gift will go toward finishing the second level of the Bayer Welcome Center, including furnishing the catering kitchen and the banquet room and funding an adjacent, already built outdoor stone plaza. The gift will include a fund for the Ada and George Davidson Event and Culinary Center's future maintenance.

Ada Davidson is a longtime, avid gardener whose garden has been featured on tours to benefit the botanic garden and other community organizations. The Davidsons were the first family to open their garden for the first outdoor gala to benefit the botanic garden many years ago, and have supported it from the concept stage, garden officials said.

George Davidson said he and his wife chose to fund the welcome center furnishings and plaza because they would benefit the botanic garden financially.

“I thought, ‘What can we use soon and generate income and generate visitors?' ” said Davidson, retired Dominion Resources chairman and former chairman and CEO of Consolidated Natural Gas.

The other gift, from the Peirces, will go toward a new garden adjacent to the outdoor plaza at the Bayer Welcome Center.

That garden, which in the spring will feature thousands of blooming daffodils and blue “glory of the snow” flowers, will be named the Peirce Celebration Garden. It will be the site of weddings scheduled throughout the year.

Years ago, when Robert Peirce was an Allegheny County commissioner, he and his wife met the late J. Judson Brooks of Edgeworth.

Brooks, an accomplished gardener, shared his vision of a botanic garden. Funding the project and cleaning up the 460-acre site, which had environmental issues such as acid mine drainage, took many years, and in the interim voters changed Allegheny County's form of government.

“We think the garden is a great asset for Western Pennsylvania,” Joan Peirce said.

Greg Nace, botanic garden president, called the Davidsons' and Peirces' contributions “capstone gifts” that will finish off the farmstead portion of the 60 acres soon to reopen to the public.

Kitty Vagley, director of development for the botanic garden, said garden officials were surprised and gratified by the two major gifts.

“It was an amazing confluence of generosity,” Vagley said.

More funds will be raised to complete the rest of the attractions in the Woodlands, which will include a Japanese teahouse and koi pool in the Asian Woodlands and a tree house village in the Appalachian Woodlands.

More gardens, an amphitheater and a center for botanic research will open in future years on the remaining 400 acres of the garden site.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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