In 2014, The Penn State Master Gardener Program of Allegheny County partnered with the Rivers of Steel to develop a comprehensive plant survey Carrie Furnaces in Rankin, PA to learn more about the succession of native, aggressive and/or invasive plant species that are surviving, and even thriving, in disturbed soils. As part of this research, the Master Gardeners were charged with developing an interpretive component to educate the public on best practices in environmental stewardship. Given the nature of the Carrie Furnaces and its history and connection to iron, a multi-disciplinary team of professionals and volunteers from science, art, history and industry was pulled together to create a unique project and approach: a public, interpretive, walkable guide to the Carrie Furnaces "wild garden." For this project, 12 plaques will be cast in iron at Carrie Furnaces, and will lead participants through the fields and structures of the site providing an interpretive narrative of the wild gardens taking over this former industrial landscape. Each plaque will have an educational narrative written by the Master Gardeners that is specific to the site. These narratives are based on research into the site’s unique bio-diversity including topics such as plant succession, soil conditions, sustainability, environmental factors, wildlife habitat support, and what the future garden may reveal. They include botanical illustrations of the local plant community that highlight easily identifiable features such as bark, fruit and leaf form. The plaques will be three dimensional to allow the visiting public to take rubbings with charcoal and paper. This project is situated at the intersection of three key ideas and trends in gardening and landscapes: the idea of wild gardens, the idea of a living laboratory, and the idea of sustainability. These key ideas are elaborated on with the use of the site’s history and use of the cast iron as a material of both past and present.
Funded by Pittsburgh, PA (September 2014)