Gardening in the woods a few miles from Downtown Pittsburgh
October 22, 2015 1:12 PM
Second-year carpentry apprentice Aimee Hunt of Kilbuck helps to install a shed at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
Second-year carpentry apprentice Connor Harvey of Butler leans out a window to finish installing a shed at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
Apprentices from the Carpenters Training Center in Robinson work on a shed at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
Carpentry apprentices from the Carpenters Training Center in Robinson work in a light rain.
Apprentices from the Carpenters Training Center in Robinson add to a shed at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
By Bette McDevitt
Just 10 miles from Downtown, it seems remarkable to come upon a pristine forest where people in hard hats are building sheds.
But these aren’t garden-variety sheds and this is no typical forest. It’s the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden (pittsburghbotanicgarden.org), which is slowly taking shape on 460 acres of an abandoned strip mine adjoining Settlers Ridge Park in North Fayette.
In a light rain, apprentices from the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters were installing five potting sheds to form a star-shaped pavilion in what will be the Children’s Garden. The work stations use a variety of textures and colors to stimulate the five senses. One station has plastic tubing painted to resemble bamboo that carries water in a zigzag pattern down to a table, where it can be used to water plants.
“Our plan is to use the work stations in classes with cognitively impaired children, but it will be open to the general public,” said botanic garden president Greg Nace.
The project began in the spring when teams of architects, contractors and fourth-year apprentices at the nearby Pittsburgh Training Center designed and built the potting sheds.
“We began building a relationship with architects in 1995,” said Rick Okraszewski, director of the carpenters union training program, “They were interested in learning more about the hands-on aspect of the industry.”
In 2001, the Master Builders Association became involved in the collaboration, which begins with the apprentices’ designs.
“We all work together. Very few businesses use that model,” Mr. Okraszewski said. “We have something very valuable in how we do what we do, with formal education and hands-on training,”
A new set of apprentices installed the sheds in the garden.
“By this time, all the apprentices have had a hand in this project, laying the foundation and putting on the roof,” said instructor Dave Plutt. “Those who designed the project have completed the training program and we have the second-year apprentices putting the work stations in place.”
Other apprentices designed portable chicken coops that can be moved around to spread the natural fertilizer to various parts of the property. The brightly painted coops are now in place and inhabited.
A botanic garden, by definition, differs from other gardens in that it is intended for the exhibition and scientific study of collected, growing plants. So far, 60 acres on the northern ridge are open to the public along with three miles of hiking trails, some wheelchair-accessible. Eventually, there will be 18 distinct gardens and five types of woodlands. The plan is be one of the largest botanic gardens in the country.
Mr. Okraszewski said he likes to walk along the paths. He is proud of the work the apprentices have done. As he left the work site, he waved to the carpenters working in the soft rain.
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