A visit to Hartwood Acres' garden certain way to brighten a summer day

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Come and see the thick beds of giant orange marigolds and tall stands of wispy fuchsia cosmos.

“They look fantastic,” Susan Frost of McCandless said during a recent visit to the vast gardens of colorful annuals and perennials now flourishing at Hartwood Acres, the 629-acre park in Hampton and Indiana townships.

“It's like we have our own little Phipps Conservatory right here in Allison Park,” Frost said. “You don't have to travel to Oakland.”

Frost recently visited Hartwood's gardens with daughters Quinn, 10, and Lainey, 4, and their friend, Molly Smyers, 10, to snap photos.

Other visitors that day included yellow and black swallowtails — both butterflies — and hummingbird moths drawn to the pink and white echinacea blooms in Hartwood's traditional, English-style, perennial garden.

Master gardener Sally Foster of O'Hara maintains the perennial garden, also a way station for monarch butterflies.

At 78, Foster works three or four days per week on the garden, which includes a protective hedge of 16-foot lilac bushes.

“We're waiting for the monarchs (butterflies) to appear, because we have planted the milkweed on which they lay their eggs for the next generation,” said Foster, a member of the Garden Club of Allegheny County and Fox Chapel Garden Club.

Last year, the Smithsonian Institution accepted the perennial, terrace and formal gardens at Hartwood Acres, plus, the grove of hemlocks trees behind Hartwood Mansion, into the Smithsonian's Archives of American Gardens.

Foster helped document the gardens at Hartwood Acres for inclusion in the archives on behalf of the Garden Club of Allegheny County and the Garden Club of America.

The late landscape architects Rose Greely of Washington, D.C., and Ezra C. Stiles of Oakmont designed the gardens in the 1930s for the late John and Mary Flinn Lawrence, former owners of Hartwood Acres.

“Mrs. Lawrence also was a member of the Garden Club of Allegheny County and a very active gardener,” Foster said. “So I feel a kinship toward her, very much.”

The gardens at Hartwood Acres include asters to zinnias, plus, Mexican sunflowers, Victorian sage and canna lilies.

“It's a hidden gem,” Foster said about the collective gardens, which flank Hartwood Mansion. “Just walk up there, and you're blown away with the color.”

Each winter, Dave Wislie of Hartwood Acres' public-works crew germinates the gardens' annuals from seeds. He starts the plants in greenhouses behind the stables at Hartwood Acres.

This year, community service groups of Alcoa and Giant Eagle employees, plus area Girl Scouts and the Friends of Hartwood, a nonprofit group of volunteers, planted the seedlings in the formal garden at Hartwood Acres. Last week, Amy Giammattei of the Friends' board of directors transplanted a variety of heirloom irises shipped from the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Essex County, N.J., in the formal garden at Hartwood.

“I have irises from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,” she said.

Labels in the perennial and formal gardens identify the ocean of blooms, including tall and miniature yellow snapdragons, magenta gomphrena, pink and white vinca, orange tithonia, pink and white echinacea.”

Horticulturist Tammy Watychowicz of the Allegheny County Parks Department recently led a tour of the gardens after the county's 2013 Edible Flowers Luncheon at Hartwood Acres.

“A lot of your snapdragons are annuals, but they'll act like perennials, especially if they're mulched,” she said.

Watychowicz, a graduate of Fox Chapel Area High School, recommends the gardens for artists who want to sketch flowers, people who want to educate themselves about annuals and perennials, and those who simply want to relax.

“It's tranquil and peaceful with the sounds and the smells,” said Watychowicz. “All four seasons, there is something to see.”

Admission is free, too.

The entrance to Hartwood Acres is at 200 Hartwood Acres, off Saxonburg Boulevard, in Indiana Township. For information, call 412-767-9200.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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