Pirate Parrot Makes Surprise Visit to Highland Park Small Business

By Diane Averill

The Pirate Parrot, Pittsburgh’s beloved MLB team mascot, came to Highland Park on March 14, straight to Karen Toole’s front door. She was, to put it mildly, surprised to see him.

“I thought they were just coming to ask questions about my business,” Karen said.

(Photos by Harrison Barden)

“They” are representatives of “Going to Bat for Small Business,” now in its fourth year, a joint project of the Pirate organization and PNC Bank. They came not to ask questions but to tell Karen that her floral design business, AndFlowers, was one of six small businesses in the Pittsburgh region selected to receive a 2023 grant of $5,000 plus a marketing package, including TV and radio commercials during Pirate games in April, valued at $100,000.

The timing of the award is a deliberate effort to boost Karen’s ongoing Earth Day project, “Unwind the Vines!”, which she credits for capturing the attention of the review committee charged with recognizing six small businesses that have helped to make a positive impact on their communities.

(Photos by Harrison Barden)

With “Unwind the Vines!” (featured in February on this blog), Karen has organized community volunteers and master gardeners into several teams who will pull down and cut away invasive vines that strangle and smother public trees. With the haul of vines, she and others will direct free workshops in forming decorative vine spheres, many of which will be used in a public art installation. Karen hopes that this will become an expanding annual effort to rescue and preserve the trees in our parks and public spaces.

There are still openings for the workshops and an additional workshop, aimed at the adults who might like to sip some wine while winding their vines, April 18 at the Blue Sky Kitchen & Bar on N. Whitfield Street in East Liberty. For details or to volunteer, visit the AndFlowers website.

Meanwhile, back in Karen’s home-based floral design studio, as a videographer recorded the proceedings, the Pirate Parrot tried his hand at making a vine sphere. With Karen’s help, he put one on the board.

HP neighbor plans to conquer invasive vines, and you can help

By Diane Averill

They’re creeping all over the place and no doubt, you’ve seen them: those drooping masses of invasive vines that strangle our public trees.

HP resident Karen Toole plans to do something about it and she’s counting on community volunteers to join her, in celebration of Earth Day. A floral designer and Penn State master gardener, Karen has secured DPW permits for vine cutting and removal from the area around the Highland Park Reservoir on two Saturdays, April 15 and April 22, from 10 a.m. to noon. (Similar events will take place at the Spring Hill Greenway on the North Side.)

But it won’t be all work and no play. On the succeeding Sundays, April 16 and April 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, and April 23 at Phipps Garden Center participants (including children) will be led in making vine spheres which they can then take home or contribute to a still-in-the-works public art installation. Tools and materials will be provided for all events, purchased with the proceeds of the GoFundMe that Karen has set up.

At each vine-cutting site, Karen will have fellow master gardeners on hand to answer questions and be on the lookout for the destructive spotted lanternfly, ready to direct isolation and disposal of the invasive pest. Of critical importance, open-bed trucks will be needed to transport the vines from the park to the workshop sites. Karen hopes that local business owners and contractors will step up to provide this vital service.

A Tree Pittsburgh study found that from 2010 to 2015, Pittsburgh lost 6.2 per cent of its tree canopy. While much of that loss accrues to development, it nonetheless makes every remaining tree more valuable.

Vines destroy trees not just by blocking sunlight to prevent leafing out, they can trap moisture that leads to disease and bug infestations. Some vines will girdle a tree so tightly that circulation of water and nutrients is choked off.

On frequent walks with her Australian shepherd, Cruz (named for his birthplace of Santa Cruz, CA), Karen has paused to pull down some vines from time to time. The city does what it can, she says, but the problem is too big for any one entity to solve. Thus, she hopes that this initial “conquering of the vines,” as she calls it, will be become an annual event reaching a larger area. “We have more control,” she said, “if we work together.”

To volunteer or for more information, go to Karen’s business website or Instagram.