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National Public Gardens Day highlights area greeneries

| Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In the bustle of Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, public gardens can provide people a nice place to escape and enjoy the calm and scenery.

On Friday, National Public Gardens Day, nature enthusiasts have a chance to visit and learn about the role some 500 North American public gardens play in promoting environmental stewardship and awareness, conservation and education, officials say.

"Public gardens provide a place of beauty, a break from the stresses of daily life, and so much more," says Margie Radebaugh, the director of horticulture and education for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, one of the Pittsburgh area's four public gardens.

"They are a place to find inspiration, to learn about gardening and growing your own food ... to meet others with like interests, to gain a greater appreciation for the value of plants, and, a place to learn how to live more sustainably," she says. "Whenever I travel to any city, the first thing I do is check out what botanic garden might be nearby."

Phipps, in Oakland, is offering free admission Friday to guests with a Public Gardens Day coupon, either clipped from Better Homes and Gardens magazine or printed out from the magazine's website at . Public Gardens Day coincides with Phipps' May Market event, held on the lawn Friday and Saturday. All guests on those days will receive half-off admission.

At the Chatham Arboretum, located throughout 32 acres of Chatham University's 39-acre campus in Shadyside, visitors can explore the many trees, including a pin oak more than a century old and some 115 species of trees, shrubs and plants. The botanical features include yucca, crab apple and dogwood trees, Japanese maples, climbing hydrangea and simple plants like lilies and daffodils.

"Most of the people that come here say 'I had no idea there was all of this in the middle of the city,' " says Mary Whitney, the university sustainability coordinator for Chatham.

The center of the arboretum stands on the lawn in front of the Andrew Mellon house, where the administration offices are located. More plants are on the scenic "green roof," on top of the Mellon Board Room, where school officials hold meetings. National Public Gardens Day, Whitney says, is a great idea, because it gets people out in to nature and teaches them about their own gardens.

Another local public garden is the Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden in Oakland, which features plants with biblical names, like "Moses in the Basket" or "Joseph's Coat." Rodef Shalom, however, is only open for tours June 1-Sept. 15.

At California University of Pennsylvania, spokeswoman Christine Kindl says the entire campus is the arboretum. The Arboretum at California spreads throughout the 92-acre lower campus which has some 500 cataloged trees and shrubs, some of which are more than 200-years old, Kindl says.

"The central quad has some absolutely gorgeous trees, some that date to the 1700s," she says.

One notable tree is an American sycamore, circa 1810.

The arboretum also includes perennials, tulips and daffodils. Anyone can stop by and see the gardens, Kindl says.

"We are a public university, and we welcome guests," says Kindl, director of communications and public relations for the school in Washington County.

David Johnson -- director of corporate marketing for Azusa, Calif.-based Rain Bird Corporation, which sponsors National Public Gardens Day -- says the special day has successfully created awareness for public gardens. This year is the third celebration of the designated day.

"They are a beautiful place to go, but they also do a good job of teaching people gardening techniques and plants to grow in their regions," says Johnson, whose company manufactures irrigation equipment and sprinkler systems. "There are so many good things being done by public gardens."

People get "ideas on everything from design to ways to take care of plants and irrigate properly," Johnson says.

"There are plenty of people who have private gardens that people just can't get into," he says.

Area gardens

• Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, 412-622-6914 or

• Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden, 412-621-6566 or

• Chatham Arboretum, 412-365-1686 or

• The Arboretum at California University, 724-938-5492 or

Gardens worth a drive

Many public gardens are in driving distance of Pittsburgh and could make good road trips.

• Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

• Longwood Gardens, in Kennett Square, Chester County.

• Tyler Arboretum, in Media, Delaware County.

• Hershey Gardens, in Hershey, Dauphin County.

• Jenkins Arboretum in Devon, Chester County.

• Draime Estate Gardens at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

• Fellows Riverside Gardens, in Youngstown, Ohio.

• Ladew Topiary Gardens, in Monkton, Md.

• Surreybrooke, in Middletown, Md.

• Core Arboretum at West Virginia University, in Morgantown, W.Va.

• West Virginia Botanic Garden, in Morgantown, W.Va.

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