I’m home from visiting Pittsburgh, where I attended the big Garden Writers Symposium, and thankfully I returned with a few photos to post here. (After posting here for eight years this summer I’m thrilled to find anything new to write about.)
First up, a study in contrasts starts with the estates of Sewickley Valley, Pittsburgh’s oldest wealthy area, where we saw the formal garden shown above. Old and wealthy? Check. Interesting? Not to me or, from chatter I heard on the bus, very many of us.
And how about this next one for old, wealthy and just weird? The back yard shown here is mainly mulch. The homeowner clearly likes the look but visiting garden writers were collectively puzzled.
An entirely different garden, home and neighborhood was stumbled upon by my pals and me on our way to a museum we’d been told not to miss (details coming soon). The neighborhood is the Northshore, where Randy Gilson moved in almost 20 ago and proceeded to paint the town, just about. As he tells it:
I really fell in love with the architecture even though it was in a rough neighborhood. There were a lot of empty lots littered with garbage. It seemed like there was a lot of separation of values and people were not getting along and no one picking up any of the weeds or litter. That’s when I started thinking that I need to do something myself.
I dipped into my savings from my job as a waiter and started cleaning up the neighborhood, starting with the litter and planting hundreds of mini gardens. With one thousand dollars, I bought whiskey barrels and put them in front of all the empty houses with shrubbery and flowers, and that’s when the magic started to happen!
In 1995, I purchased this dilapidated, abandoned building with a credit card and began turning it into my expression of art, which was later dubbed by a friend, “Randyland.”
Over the years, I’ve created many pieces of street art, in addition to 800 gardens, 50 vegetable gardens and 8 parks. Doing all of this on a shoestring budget taught me how to recycle. So when I bought the building, I thought well why not use the same ideas? I could recycle paint, wood and things I find in the alley ways. So I started applying these ides into this building and turning it into a giant outdoors art gallery.
Got that? He’s created 800 gardens and 8 parks in this formerly unloved neighborhood and believe me, you cannot NOT stop and feast your eyes, not to mention experience the exuberance of Randy himself.
Here’s Randy touching up a mural and greeting us warmly.
Scenes from the Randyland garden.
Other homes in the same block of Arch Street.
The ringleader and driver for our Pittsburgh wanderings was Susan Reimer, shown above gobsmacked by Randyland. There was nothing like it in Pittsburgh when she was growing up there. The other two escapees from hotel conference rooms that gorgeous afternoon were Ginny Smith and Carrie Engel.
Detail showing Randy’s love of period metal chairs. (What are they called? I have two of them and have always wondered.)
Another side of Randy’s home, sidewalk view.
Randy’s become quite a celebrity there in Pittsburgh and even on the “Today Show,” he told us, and if you’re ever nearby do stop and meet him. Then leave a nice contribution so he can create still more colorful and joyful urban renewal projects.
May every “rough neighborhood” in the world find its own Randy Gilson.