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Meadows: More Than Just a Pretty Place

Caren Glotfelty Meadow
Caren Glotfelty Meadow

Who doesn’t love strolling through a meadow filled with colorful flowers swaying in the breeze? These peaceful landscapes provide us with a simple way to be part of nature. However, meadows are far more than just beautiful. They are part of the original American landscape—a throwback to the times before everyone had a manicured lawn. Meadows also give back to nature as an ecological gem by providing bird and pollinator food sources.

A Friend of the Ecosystem

Bees, birds, butterflies, deer, fish, foxes and frogs can be found in meadows especially those with creeks or brooks running throughout the landscape. Providing a habitat for so many species adds to the value of meadows. High quality habitats for pollinators like bees and butterflies are increasingly rare, making the role of the meadow even more beneficial to our ecosystem.

The Allegheny County Parks Foundation recognizes the value of these wonders of nature. In partnership with Allegheny County, the foundation has replaced mowed areas in several parks with a diverse mix of native grasses and wildflowers.

Paul Riis Meadow
Paul Riis Meadow

The Allegheny County Parks Foundation has worked on several meadows including The Caren Glotfelty Meadow at Hartwood Acres Park, the Celebration Meadow and Indian Hill Meadow at Boyce Park, Barn Solar Meadow at Deer Lakes Park and Paul Riis Meadow at South Park.

Meadows act like a sponge which assists with erosion control allowing rainfall to infiltrate deep into the soil, which combats complications from water runoff. Since lawn maintenance is minimal with meadows, the amount of fuel and greenhouse gas emissions is significantly less.

Meadows also demonstrate their eco-friendliness by acting as a natural air purifier. As we all learned in school, plants capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen. A properly functioning meadow serves as a net carbon sink. This means it absorbs and retains more carbon than it releases providing us with a natural air purifier.

On the flip side, when a meadow is degraded, the plants emit more carbon than they absorb, which leads to the loss of that natural air purification, affecting both humans and wildlife.

In addition to being a valuable addition to our green infrastructure, meadows provide a place for recreation in nature which benefits humans of all ages. Scientific evidence continues to support the positive effects of nature on our sleep quality and quantity. Nature has also proven to be effective for creativity, focus, and stress management.

Margaret Lawrence Simon Dogwood Meadow
Margaret Lawrence Simon Dogwood Meadow

Built on land that was once actively mined for coal, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden spans 452 acres. Unique among the garden’s landscapes is the Margaret Lawrence Simon Dogwood Meadow. Evolved from woodlands, the meadow was formerly used for growing crops and for grazing cattle. Today, this eight acre meadow presents an ecosystem that provides an environment for visitors to view native sun-loving plants and insects. The meadow is also surrounded by more than 500 native Flowering Dogwood trees adding to the garden’s natural beauty, especially in the spring.

Should You Create Your Own Meadow?

Over 24 million acres of grassy lawns surround homes in the United States. With the continued development of suburban areas, those homes and their grassy lawns are spreading into forested land. With this continued expansion, our country loses an increased amount of native vegetation and wildlife habitat.

Homeowners can be part of the solution. Replacing all or part of a traditional grass lawn with native plants provides an important habitat for pollinators along with a variety of wildlife It also creates a beautiful natural landscape.

Establishing a meadow takes a bit of patience. It can take three to five years to establish a meadow from seed. Live plants can also be used to create an at home meadow. Landscape plugs are often used instead of large container plants as an inexpensive and easy option. Combining seeds and plugs is another way to go. This yields faster results while balancing costs.

Meadow-making advice from the Allegheny County Parks Foundation reminds us that weeds are the top enemy of a meadow. It is important to foster plants that suppress weeds. Planting in warmer weather also aids in suppressing weed growth. Another tip: skip the fertilizer because poor soil yields good meadows.

Once the meadow is established the benefits become clear. Meadows require far less maintenance than traditional lawns. No watering is necessary—rain takes care of that. And mowing only needs to be done every year or two to prevent woody seedlings from taking root.

Meadows create an intriguing wild landscape for any yard, one that is less neat and tidy than mowed lawns. The meadow will also transform your yard into an eco-friendly space by providing bird and pollinator food sources, and a natural air filter which is so much more than just a pretty sight.

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