January 16, 2023 Transforming Turfgrass: Turning Several Acres of Over-Mowed Grass Into Pollinator-Friendly Wildflower Meadows Pollinator The Allegheny County Parks Foundation in Pennsylvania oversees the operation of one of the largest regional park systems in the United States. The nine parks under their care occupy over 12,000 acres of land in the areas surrounding the city of Pittsburgh and welcome more than 22 million visitors each year. After conducting a 2015 ecological assessment survey in Boyce Park, an 1,100 acre regional park that sits about 15 miles east of downtown Pittsburgh, the foundation identified the park’s vast turfgrass area as an ideal candidate to be converted into a pollinator-friendly wildflower meadow. By using Ernst Seeds’ Showy Northeast Native Wildflower & Grass Mix, the county’s wildflower meadow was in full bloom by 2017. We talked to one of the leaders of the Boyce Park renovation, Joel Perkovich, who serves as a Landscape Architect with the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, to learn more about how the project came together. Credit: Joel Perkovich Taking Inventory of Existing Ecological Quality According to Perkovich, the 2015 ecological study of the nine regional park areas served as the impetus for the park improvement projects that soon followed. “The purpose of that was to inventory the quality of the existing ecosystems within the park,” he said. “Things like the quality of forest communities, opportunities to improve stormwater quality, and essentially taking an inventory of the existing ecological quality of the park. And then, opportunities to improve them.” Large portions of Boyce Park had been mowed and maintained on a regular basis for decades, which was an early indicator to Perkovich that the area could be suitable for renovation. The regular maintenance on the land eliminated most weeds and provided optimal soil conditions for the planting of a wildflower meadow. ”We found areas that had been mowed for 50, 60 years, and you just have turf grass everywhere,” he said. “Those tend to respond really well to being converted to meadow.” Building a Wildflower Meadow From the Ground Up Following the completion of the study, Perkovich and other parks foundation members began planning the Boyce Park renovation. The team identified an eight-acre hillside, previously covered in turfgrass, as a focus-point for the growth of a wildflower meadow. After receiving approval for the project, preparation began for the renovation and seeding process. By the end of the first season, the level of improvement was clear as day. “The first growing season, there was a stunning sight of wildflower blooms,” said Perkovich. “Prior to that, it was just a really large, mowed hillside surrounded by woodlands.” Credit: Attila Csokai, Master Gardeners of Allegheny Co Not only was the new wildflower meadow a delightful sight for visitors, the influx of native plants and other vegetation provided an instant boost to the immediate area. “In terms of habitat value, every time we plant one of the Showy Northeast grass and wildflower meadows, we’re introducing about two dozen native species into that landscape,” said Perkovich. “It just provides so much more value to a very wide range of organisms like birds, bees and butterflies.” Teaming up with Ernst for the projects was a relatively easy decision for Perkovich, as he had had success with Ernst Conservation Seeds seed mixes in the past. “Ernst has a very good reputation as a supplier of native seed mixes,” said Perkovich. “They’re well-established, they have a great reputation and also a reliable product.” Inviting Pollinators Back Home The development and installation of the Boyce Park wildflower meadow was such a success, the Parks Foundation has completed six additional meadow installations in the county parks since 2017. While the county hasn’t yet conducted a study to quantify the wildflower project’s impact on native plant and animal species, Perkovich says the improvement is immediately apparent to anyone who visits the area. “It is visually indisputable,” he said. “The amount of diversity of life that utilizes those better habitats, compared to what previously existed there, is incredible.” Though Allegheny County represents just a tiny portion of America, Perkovich is pleased with the example he and his team have set. “The decline of biodiversity, globally, is very well documented,” said Perkovich. “These meadows play some small role, I think, in providing more high quality habitat for wildlife. So whether that’s birds or pollinators or any type of insect, it certainly contributes to the vitality of the surrounding environment.” Creating a Stir in the Community Butterflies, bumblebees and native vegetation aren’t the only species flocking to the new meadows — the flowing, wildflower-covered hillsides gave park visitors and even people passing nearby reason to stop and spend time in the newly renovated areas. Perkovich says that even though the meadows haven’t been as “showy” in the years following the first bloom, he still regularly sees drivers pull over to take selfies in front of the tall, colorful flower fields. “We’re getting lots and lots of traffic of people just pulling over and going up and walking through the meadow,” he said. “It’s not an off-limits wildlife area. We want people to get in there and enjoy it and appreciate it.” Boyce Park’s success since its renovation has given Perkovich and his team the blueprint for additional wildflower projects in the Allegheny County parks. Since 2017, the Allegheny Parks Foundation has developed six additional wildflower meadows occupying over 40 acres of land in its county parks. And Perkovich is planning more for the Pittsburgh metro area in the near future. “This coming year, we have two other large Metro areas that we’re planning for,” he said. “Each year, we just continue to try to find opportunities for adding more meadow habitats in the parks system.” Interested in Planting a Wildflower Meadow, Contact Ernst Today The Boyce Park project wasn’t successful because of luck. The Allegheny County Parks Department set themselves up for success through early research, meticulous planning and careful seed selection. Before starting your own wildflower meadow, it’s vital to take similar steps. Whether you’re an amateur gardener or professional landscape architect, the experts at Ernst Conservation Seeds will help you throughout the creation of your own pollinator-friendly wildflower meadow. If you’d like to learn more about the Showy Northeast Native Wildflower & Grass Mix used in the Boyce Park restoration, or any other of our carefully curated seed mixes, reach out to our team today.