Impact of Meadows on Your Parks

This blog post was written with the support and guidance of Ernst Seeds

Meadows have long captured the imagination of nature lovers and anyone resisting the cultural domination of the mowed lawn. The meadow stands as an appealing cross between a wild-west prairie and the homogeneous lawn dominating our landscapes. In an age of sustainable gardening, its allure grows even stronger if we consider its ecological benefits including bird and pollinator food sources and shelter, erosion control and stormwater runoff management.

A wildflower or native plant meadow is a functional and interactive plant community teeming with and supporting life. It is also a flower garden for all to enjoy and reap the mental benefits of its aesthetic beauty and aromas. Most meadows have 10 or more wildflower and grass species, which creates a diverse and strong ecosystem. Meadows require attention and careful planning to become established but are well worth the effort. An established meadow requires less maintenance than a turf lawn, no watering and mowing just once a year to prevent woody seedlings from taking root. The tall grasses and flower stalks provide a year-round experience for pollinators, insects, and park visitors.

Meadows are always evolving. In fact, visitors should anticipate changes in what they see from year to year. The first growing season will look much different than a second growing season, which will look much different than an established meadow. This diversity helps to suppress weeds and other undesired plants to the area and helps to stimulate the long-term health and sustainability of the soil and land. No matter what it looks like, these meadows provide enormous benefits to ourselves, to local pollinators, to the economy and on local ecology in general.

Impact of Meadows

Bird and Pollinator Food Sources and Shelters

Meadows attract beneficial insects that our pollinator species – like honeybees, monarch butterflies, birds, bats and other native pollinators – survive on. These pollinators are in turn responsible for approximately 1/3 of the food we consume each day.  Since pollinators have been on the decline for years, by planting native seeds we are ensuring that our pollinators have food, nectar, shelter and healthy habitats to promote and stabilize populations.

apis mellifera
Apis Mellifera; Contributed by Ernst Seeds
field of wildflowers

Erosion Control

One of the most effective ways to fight erosion and water runoff is to plant native seed mixes appropriate to the site. Native seed mixes have a variety of plant species with deep roots to help stabilize the soil and bind it together. Plant foliage also intercepts rainfall and helps to provide a cover for the soil, which decreases the droplet’s impact on the soil surface. All of this works together to help ensure that rainwater is absorbed into the ground’s surface and thus reduces soil runoff and erosion.

Stormwater Absorption

Native plants protect the local watershed and help to manage rain runoff, flooding and landslides by absorbing polluted stormwater before it can flow into our lakes and rivers. Additionally, native plants provide nutrients, assist with hydrologic processes like percolation and act as filters. Since meadows have a diverse mix of different species, they are well equipped to survive tough climate changes. Different plant species will thrive in different conditions, which is perfect for managing stormwater since conditions will vary in these locations based on how much water or drought we receive.

Indian Hill in Boyce Park
Indian hill meadow in bloom

Meadows are beautiful and attract park visitors

Meadows provide a beautiful landscape of blooming flowers in the summer, healthy habitat in the winter and change with the seasons and years. Meadows encourage visitation – between birders who come to see avian attractors, to nature photographers, to those looking to walk through the paths and explore their layers of beauty. There is something about the sounds, smells and beauty of a meadow scene that encourage us to pause, be present and enjoy the beautiful landscape that surrounds us.

The Allegheny County Parks Foundation has partnered with Allegheny County to successfully install almost 40 acres of meadows within Boyce Park, Hartwood Acres, North Park and South Park. Additionally, thanks largely in part to the success of Boyce Park’s Indian Hill Meadow, Allegheny County has now added meadows to previously mowed areas in all 9 of your county parks.

Learn more about a few of the meadows we have worked on in your parks:

We also have a guide available if you are interested in creating a home meadow on your property.