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Celebrate the Season with Dazzling Nights at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden

The Lotus Pond at Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in winter showcases the natural beauty of the season.

The Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is a place for people to connect with plants year round, and the holiday season is no exception. While some may think of a garden as a place to visit only during the warmer months, this 460-acre site located outside Oakdale, PA, is a wonder no matter what time of year—especially when it’s filled with dazzling lights.

Executive Director Keith S. Kaiser leads a group through an educational program. The garden offers a variety of programs for adults, children and families to learn more about sustainable gardening and the natural world.

“We’ve done a number of weekend-long events before, but we’ve never done Dazzling Nights in this format before,” explained Executive Director Keith S. Kaiser. “The show will have about a dozen different features, including a laser light forest, trees wrapped with lights, and a light show around the Japanese Garden and lotus pond. There will also be a light tunnel, as well as bright light tubes that are part of a show reflected in the water.”

Unlike other light shows, Dazzling Nights provides an immersive experience in the natural landscape. “Visitors won’t find Santa or a gingerbread house here, but will find themselves able to wander and wonder through the garden in a very unique and engaging way that connects them to the plants and landscape,” said Kaiser.

The show, which opened Nov. 27, will take place every evening until Jan. 1, except for Christmas Day. Food and drinks, including hot chocolate, beer and wine will be available for sale.

While the light show is a spectacular draw, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden offers many other reasons to visit year round as well. Since it first opened in 2015, more than 250,000 visitors have enjoyed the gardens and woodlands situated on a former abandoned coal mine.

“When we leased the land from the county in 1998, we realized that there was big potential here to create a botanic garden from scratch,” said Kaiser of the site 10 miles west of downtown. “However, there were concerns about the condition of the soil and acid mine drainage, so we took on a mine reclamation project in 2004, and when it was completed a couple of years ago, we reforested the area; now we’re waiting for the plants to take over.”

Approximately 65 acres of the site, which focuses on the native plants of western Pennsylvania and the landscapes, flora and fauna of our geographic region, is now open to the public. A new Welcome Center opened in 2021, and additional gardens have since been added.

“While this is a great place to start enjoying plants, it’s also a good place to learn about them, which is why we provide a lot of educational programing,” said Kaiser.

Much of this programming is interactive, including the Garden of the Five Senses, which opened in 2020.

“We saw a big spike in visitation from families with children who came to do some of the activities along the way,” said Kaiser. The meandering path through the garden includes a sniff-and-savor area, a touch area, an Eye Spy section, a balance beam and a spider climb among other amenities.

The garden’s Hillside Pollinator Garden and a four-acre dogwood meadow provide the opportunity to get up-close to pollinators and to admire the beauty of the native landscape, especially in the fall months. The Japanese Garden, which includes a lotus pond, is also a crowd favorite.

In addition to drop-in educational programs, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden offers formal classroom programs for preschoolers through adults. “We want people to understand the importance of the native landscape and the importance of plants in everyone’s life,” said Kaiser. “Most people don’t think much about plants in their day-to-day life, including the fact that they are responsible for the food we eat and the air we breathe.”

Visitors are also introduced to the garden through a number of special events including Growlers & Flowers in August and Dig: An Evening of Jazz in the Garden in the summer. Adult classes, such as an upcoming holiday wreath-making workshop, also attract visitors, as do special events at the Peirce Celebration Garden and Davidson Event Center.

“The Davidson Event Center is a converted 1870s barn surrounded by upscale gardens,” said Kaiser, noting that the locale was the site of approximately 110 weddings this past year.

Visitors to the Welcome Center can enjoy its current art exhibit, Patterns of Meaning, by artist Cory Bonnet, which also features artists Nate Lucas, A.J. Collins, and Brian Engle. Carbon Cycle: An Earth Art Exhibit by W. Gary Smith is on display in the Exhibit Garden and shows the evolution of the site from an abandoned coal mine to a stunning garden.

By becoming a member of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, visitors can not only support this local oasis, but save money as well. “Members receive a discount on their Dazzling Nights tickets; 20 percent off on up to eight tickets,” said Development Director Beth Exton. “They also have access to our special dinner night, where they can purchase a prix fixe dinner with a wine pairing that comes with a ticket to Dazzling Nights. But those are just about sold out, so they should hurry!”

Those looking for last-minute holiday gifts should consider gifting a membership, which ranges from $45 for an individual to $110 for a family, and includes free admission for 12 months, discounts on educational programming, discounts in the gift shop and café, and members-only exclusives. Plants and other plant-themed merchandise are also available in the garden’s gift shop.

To learn more, visit The garden is located at 799 Pinkerton Run Rd., Pgh., 15071.

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