When she was in her 20s, Patti Whalen loved going to North Park with her friends. But now that she’s 70, she hadn’t been there in decades — until last month. Ms. Whalen and other residents of Moorhead Towers in Oakland visited the park on their monthly outing.
“I just love being out in nature. This brings back so many memories,” she said.
The Oakland residents don’t often have the chance to spend a whole afternoon outdoors because of their urban location, and Ms. Whalen and her fellow apartment dwellers welcomed the opportunity.
“This place, this lake, it brings me a lot of peace,” she said.
It was also an opportunity to showcase the new Marshall Lake Demonstration Gardens, according to Meg Scanlon, interpretive naturalist for the park.
“We rarely do extra programming, but the new garden is one of the places that is wheelchair-accessible, and we love showing them off. Plus, it gives our interns a great experience as educators,” she said.
The interns, Liz Kager and Bob Smith, led the group of more than 20 disabled and elderly residents of Moorhead through the plants in the garden.
The garden was developed by Chelsea Carver, 15, of Pine when she was working on her Girl Scout Gold Award. Chelsea created various areas in the garden so that visitors can learn more about uses for the plants and to encourage them to try adding the plants to their own gardens. The garden is at the entrance of the park’s Marshall Lake.
“There are actually five sections to the garden and each one highlights certain plants,” Chelsea said. The sections include deer-resistant, drought-resistant, pollinator, butterfly and hummingbird plants, and the edible perennial area. Chelsea planted all but the edible perennials.
To earn her Gold Award, she designed the garden and sought donations from local businesses and sponsors for plants and materials. She also supervised planting and labeling of the garden. She has now turned the project over to the park.
“It is more like a community garden now,” said her mother, Eileen.
Ms. Kager of Monroeville recently graduated from Slippery Rock University and shared some of her knowledge of the plants with the visitors.
She explained that the Monarch Way Station provides food for monarch butterflies.
Ms. Kager showed the visitors citronella, basil, mint and other plants, including garlic.
“Of course, everyone knows garlic flavors food, but it is also used to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure,” she said.
As she explained the medicinal and culinary uses of the various plants, Ms. Kager shared small pieces of the leaves for the visitors to smell.
Mr. Smith, a senior at Slippery Rock, lives in Ross. Since he recently completed a major research project on the beavers of North Park, he showed the visitors preserved feet and the pelt of a beaver. The pelt was a big hit, but the feet, not so much.
Mr. Smith shared information and other items with the visitors, including a preserved bull frog, a snapping turtle shell and preserved tail, and a cast made of a great blue heron’s footprint. He also pointed out a beaver lodge visible from Marshall Island. The guests followed with a walk around the island.
The program finished with Ms. Kager serving mint tea that she had made from plants in the garden.
Ms. Scanlon hopes others will visit the new garden and take advantage of the educational information supplied. The gardens help to share some aspects of the park that many visitors may miss.
“So much of our programming is done here at the nature center, but we have these other areas that offer so much and are more easily accessible to more of the public. I hope people enjoy them,” she said.
North Park offers nature programming throughout the year. Information: www.alleghenycounty.us/parks or 724-935-2170.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.