The Best Gardens to Visit in Pittsburgh

best gardens to visit in Pittsburgh

The Best Gardens to Visit in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, often celebrated for its industrial heritage and steel-making legacy, also harbors a softer, greener side with its array of botanical gardens and lush spaces, making it a destination for those seeking serenity amidst urban landscapes. Among these, the best gardens to visit in Pittsburgh offer an escape to nature lovers and horticulture enthusiasts alike, showcasing everything from exotic plants in meticulously curated botanical gardens to organic gardens flourishing with native flora. The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, Phipps Conservatory, and the verdurous expanse near the PPG Aquarium and Pittsburgh Zoo highlight the city’s commitment to green spaces.

These gardens not only serve as tranquil retreats but also as educational hubs where visitors can learn about plant species from western Pennsylvania and beyond. From the historical significance of the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark to the cultural charm of The Frick Pittsburgh’s gardens in Oakland, each garden narrates a unique story. Let’s guide you through the verdant paths of Pittsburgh’s best-loved gardens, including hidden gems and well-trodden trails, making it easier for you to plan your visit to these picturesque locales.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Located in Pittsburgh’s vibrant Oakland neighborhood, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens stands as a green oasis, offering a tranquil retreat from the urban environment. Established in 1893 and spanning 15 acres, this National Historic Landmark is not only a testament to Pittsburgh’s rich history but also to its commitment to sustainability and green practices. The conservatory features a 14-room glasshouse and 23 distinct gardens, each meticulously curated to showcase a variety of flora and thematic exhibits. Among the highlights are:

  • Year-Round Exhibits and Flower Shows: From the enchanting Butterfly Forest to the intricate Garden Railroad and the Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show, Phipps offers an ever-changing display of natural beauty.
  • Sustainable Architecture: The Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) is a marvel of green design, generating its own energy and treating all water on-site. It’s the first building to meet seven of the highest green certifications, showcasing the conservatory’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
  • Educational Programs and Services: Phipps provides a wide array of learning opportunities, including child and family programs, adult events, wellness programs, and conservation efforts. It’s a hub for those looking to deepen their understanding of plant life and sustainable living practices.

Visitors to Phipps can also enjoy various amenities and services designed to enhance their experience. The conservatory is open daily, with free parking available in Schenley Park surface lots and the Phipps parking lot. Admission is priced affordably, with discounts for seniors, students, and children, and free entry for members and toddlers under two. Moreover, the facility is wheelchair accessible, ensuring everyone can explore its beauty. For those interested in a more in-depth experience, guided tours are available for groups with advance reservations.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is more than just a garden; it’s a place where nature, architecture, and education converge to offer a unique and enriching experience. Whether you’re a local looking for a peaceful escape or a visitor seeking to explore Pittsburgh’s greener side, Phipps promises a world-class garden experience that’s not to be missed.  When it comes to the best gardens to visit in Pittsburgh, you should start here!

Pittsburgh Botanic Garden

Spanning 60 acres in Oakdale, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is a verdant retreat that combines the beauty of 18 distinct gardens and woodlands with a range of activities for all ages. This urban garden is not just a place to admire the flora but also serves as a testament to environmental recovery, showcasing thousands of plants, including many native shrubs and trees. Here’s a closer look at what the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden offers:

Planning Your Visit:

  • Hours of Operation:
    • Spring/Summer (April 1 – September 30): Closed on Mondays; open Tuesday from 9 am – 5 pm, Wednesday & Thursday from 9 am – 7 pm, and Friday – Sunday from 9 am – 5 pm.
    • Fall/Winter (October 1 – March 30): Closed on Mondays; open Tuesday – Sunday from 9 am – 5 pm.
  • Location: 799 Pinkerton Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15071
  • Contact: 412-444-4464

Admission Details:

  • Daily Rates: Adults (18+) $15, Youth (3-17) $9, Children under 3 Free. Discounts available for Seniors (62+) and Military with valid ID ($2 off), and Students with valid ID ($2 off).
  • Members: Enjoy free admission and discounted rates for special programs.

Activities and Programs:

  • Family-Friendly Activities: Engage in child and family programs like “Seedlings: Sensational Spring” for ages 3-6, and “Young Artists in the Garden,” included with regular admission.
  • Adult Events & Programs: Participate in wellness programs such as “Chair Yoga at the Garden” and “Tai Chi Qigong at the Garden,” led by experienced instructors.
  • Special Events: The Garden hosts various events throughout the year, including plant sales, outdoor concerts, and educational programs. Visitors are encouraged to check the website for the latest schedule.

Visitor Information:

  • Accessibility: The Garden is designed to be a walking experience with ADA-accessible restrooms and pathways, ensuring it is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers.
  • Visitor Guidelines: Guests are asked to stay on paths, not pick flowers, keep dogs on a leash (except service animals), and dispose of trash properly.
  • Amenities: Free parking is available, and visitors are welcome to bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages, with picnic tables available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden not only provides a space for solitude and family-friendly activities but also emphasizes the importance of environmental education and sustainability. Whether you’re looking to participate in wellness programs, enjoy art exhibitions, or simply spend a day surrounded by nature, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden offers a diverse array of experiences for visitors.

Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden

best gardens to visit in Pittsburgh

In the heart of Oakland, the Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden offers a unique and enriching experience for visitors interested in the intersection of botany, history, and biblical lore. Established in 1986 by Irene and Rabbi Emeritus Dr. Walter Jacob, the garden has grown to feature over 100 species of plants mentioned in the Bible, each thoughtfully labeled with corresponding biblical verses. This free-to-visit garden is not only a testament to the deep connection between flora and scripture but also serves as a living museum where visitors can explore ancient agricultural practices through replicas of farming tools displayed amongst the plants.

Key Features of the Garden:

  • Diverse Plant Life: The garden proudly displays more than 100 tropical and temperate plants from biblical times, including olive trees, figs, pomegranates, and dates. Each plant is accompanied by a label indicating its biblical references, providing a unique educational experience.
  • Immersive Landscapes: Visitors can wander through a carefully crafted representation of the River Jordan, complete with a waterfall, a desert, and a stream, mimicking the varied landscapes of the Middle East.
  • Accessibility and Visitor Information:
    • Open from June 4 to September 14, with varying hours throughout the week and additional evening hours in June through August.
    • Wheelchair accessible, ensuring that everyone can enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the garden.
    • Free parking available on the street and in the parking lot behind the synagogue, with the garden also accessible by public transportation.
    • Group tours for 8 or more can be arranged by contacting the garden, making it an ideal destination for educational trips or group outings.

Behind the Scenes: Irene Jacob, the driving force behind the garden’s creation, brought her extensive knowledge in the history of gardening and a particular focus on the ancient Near East to this project. Her legacy continues to be felt through the garden’s educational programs and the ongoing addition of new plants each year, ensuring that the garden remains a dynamic and engaging space for visitors. The garden’s commitment to education and accessibility is further highlighted by its free admission, though donations are greatly appreciated to support the care of the plants and the garden’s operations.

The Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden stands as a serene oasis in the midst of Pittsburgh’s urban environment, inviting visitors to explore the rich botanical heritage of the Bible. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a lover of nature, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, this garden offers a unique glimpse into the landscapes of ancient Israel and the plants that have been a part of human culture for millennia.

Highland Park Entry Garden

The Highland Park Entry Garden, a beacon of historical and botanical significance, was rejuvenated in 2005, breathing new life into this Victorian-style oasis. As visitors step through the grand entrance, they’re greeted by an array of spring bulbs that bloom from March to May, painting the landscape with vibrant colors of squill, crocus, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, glory of the snow, and alliums. The blooming season gracefully concludes with the fall anemone and goldenrod, providing a continuous display of beauty. In a nod to environmental conservation and biodiversity, 2017 saw the addition of butterfly and pollinator plants, including milkweed and butterfly weed, further enriching the garden’s ecological diversity.

Key attractions of the Highland Park Entry Garden include:

  • Seasonal Blooms: A meticulously curated selection of flowers that ensures colorful blooms from early spring through fall.
  • Butterfly and Pollinator Plants: A dedicated effort to support local biodiversity with the introduction of species like milkweed and butterfly weed.
  • Victorian-Style Features: The garden boasts a restored fountain, reflecting pool, and benches, offering a serene setting for relaxation and contemplation.
  • Grand Entrance: The main park entrance showcases bronze sculptures by Giuseppe Moretti, clustered Ionic columns, and a beautifully restored fountain, making it a picturesque Victorian entryway.

Highland Park’s historical significance is rooted in its establishment in the late 1800s, primarily to house the city’s municipal water system. Reservoir No. 1, an iconic feature, is accessible through the Entry Garden, underscoring the park’s role in Pittsburgh’s urban infrastructure. Beyond the garden, the park offers a plethora of activities with its popular bike track, swimming pool, sand volleyball courts, and proximity to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has played a crucial role in the park’s ongoing enhancement, including the restoration of the Entry Garden and the creation of seasonal pools along Washington Boulevard.

This Victorian-style gathering place not only serves as a formal entryway into Highland Park but has also become a beloved community favorite, especially for those visiting the nearby Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. Its transformation from a neglected space to a meticulously restored garden exemplifies the community’s dedication to preserving and celebrating Pittsburgh’s green spaces.

Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark

Stepping into the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark, visitors are transported to a pivotal era of Pittsburgh’s industrial history. This site, declared a National Historic Landmark in 2006, stands as a towering remembrance of the U.S. Steel Homestead Works’ past and Pittsburgh’s significant role in the 20th-century steel industry. Located in Swissvale and Rankin, PA, the furnaces are a raw, post-industrial landscape offering a unique blend of history, art, and nature.  You may think that this shouldn’t be on a list of the best gardens to visit in Pittsburgh, but… you’d be missing out if you didn’t add it!

Guided Tours and Workshops:

  • Industrial Tour: A two-hour journey offering insights into the site’s technology, culture, and the iron-making process. Available from May through mid-November, with general admission priced at $25 in advance and $28 at the door. Discounts are available for students, seniors, and kids.
  • Arts & Grounds Tour: Highlights the creative aspects of the site, including graffiti art and metal casting workshops, photo safaris, and blacksmithing programs, fostering a deep appreciation for the fusion of industrial heritage and contemporary artistry.
  • Iron Garden Walk: A botanist-led monthly tour focusing on the site’s diverse, successional plant communities, showcasing how nature reclaims industrial spaces.

Events and Celebrations:

  • The Carrie Blast Furnaces host a vibrant schedule of events, from festivals and special exhibitions to being a sought-after location for weddings and celebrations, thanks to its historic charm and modest rental rates. Group tours are also available, allowing visitors to experience the larger Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

Visitor Information:

  • Location: 801 Carrie Furnace Boulevard, Pittsburgh, PA 15218
  • Accessibility: Limited due to the raw, post-industrial nature of the site. Handicapped parking is available, but the grounds covered during tours are not wheelchair accessible. All visitors must sign a liability waiver.
  • Photography: Allowed, enhancing the experience for those wishing to capture the site’s stark beauty, though videography and drones are prohibited.
  • Amenities: Free parking on-site and portable/universal restrooms available for visitors.

The Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark stands not just as a monument to Pittsburgh’s industrial might but also as a testament to the resilience of nature and the transformative power of art. It offers a unique perspective on the city’s past, present, and future, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in the rich tapestry of Pittsburgh’s history.

Through the exploration of Pittsburgh’s verdant landscapes, from the architectural marvel and green oasis of the Phipps Conservatory to the historical significance and natural rebirth at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark, we’ve ventured across a city that seamlessly weaves its industrial past with a green, sustainable future. These gardens and spaces not only serve as serene escapes but also stand as enduring testimonies to the city’s commitment to environmental preservation, education, and the cultivation of community spaces that encourage exploration, reflection, and a deeper connection with nature.

As we reflect on the journey through Pittsburgh’s best gardens, it’s evident that these spaces are more than just areas of natural beauty—they are vital parts of the city’s identity, offering insights into its past, present, and aspirations for a greener future. They beckon visitors and locals alike to pause, explore, and appreciate the intricate balance between urban development and nature’s resilience. This exploration invites us to continue discovering, learning, and engaging with the natural world, fostering a sense of stewardship and appreciation that extends far beyond the boundaries of these gardens.

Explore more of Pittsburgh

Exploring Pittsburgh’s greenspaces extends beyond the highlighted gardens, with numerous other botanical and horticultural sites enriching the city’s landscape. These include:

  • Kennywood Amusement Park: Not just for thrill-seekers, this park also features beautifully landscaped areas.
  • Abeille Voyante Tea Co.: Offers a serene garden setting for tea enthusiasts.
  • The Andy Warhol Museum: While known for its art, it also has a green space that provides a quiet retreat.
  • Pennsylvania Macaroni Company: Nearby, visitors can find small garden spaces perfect for enjoying a quick snack.
  • Wigle Whiskey and Cinderlands Warehouse: Both venues incorporate green elements into their outdoor spaces, offering a refreshing ambiance.
  • Westinghouse Memorial Garden, Chatham College Arboretum, Mellon Park Walled Garden, and From Slavery To Freedom Garden: Each offers unique plant collections and tranquil spaces for reflection and relaxation.

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy plays a crucial role in maintaining the city’s green spaces, with the Horticulture and Forestry team dedicated to the upkeep of several notable gardens:

  • Mellon Park Walled Garden: A historic garden known for its beautiful floral displays and serene atmosphere.
  • Westinghouse Memorial Garden: Surrounding the pond, this area is meticulously maintained, offering a picturesque setting within the city.

Additionally, Pittsburgh’s Regional Parks, including Emerald View Park, Frick Park, Riverview Park, and Schenley Park, contribute significantly to the city’s green infrastructure:

  • Emerald View Park: Offers expansive views and a variety of trails through wooded areas.
  • Frick Park: Known for its extensive walking and biking trails amidst lush greenery.
  • Riverview Park: Features a blend of natural landscapes and historical landmarks.
  • Schenley Park: A central hub for cultural and recreational activities, surrounded by vibrant gardens and green spaces.

These parks and gardens collectively enhance the quality of life in Pittsburgh, providing residents and visitors alike with a multitude of options for outdoor enjoyment and nature exploration.  Make sure to add these to your list of the best gardens to visit in Pittsburgh!


Exploring the best gardens to visit in Pittsburgh

1. How much time is typically needed to explore the Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh? Exploring the 1.7-mile loop trail at the Botanical Gardens near Oakdale, Pennsylvania, is usually a relaxed activity that can be completed in roughly 36 minutes. This easy trail is perfect for a peaceful walk, and it’s quite common to have the path to yourself.

2. What is the recommended duration for a visit to Phipps Conservatory? Visitors should allocate about 90 minutes for a self-guided tour of Phipps Conservatory, though it’s entirely possible to spend a full day admiring the indoor and outdoor gardens. To fully enjoy your visit, it’s advisable to start early enough to finish exploring before the conservatory closes.

3. Is there a botanical garden in Pittsburgh? Yes, Pittsburgh is home to the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, a place that offers both inspiration and education on living in harmony with nature. It’s a great spot to learn about and appreciate the environment.

4. Which neighborhood is considered the best in Pittsburgh, especially for families? Pittsburgh boasts several family-friendly neighborhoods, with some of the best being Brookline, Highland Park, Point Breeze, Regent Square, and Squirrel Hill North. These areas are well-regarded for their community feel, amenities, and overall quality of life.

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