In this article in the Earth Week series, Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy tells us how they're green not only because they have parks, but because of their important goal to nurture native species and natural habitats.
As a park user, you may have seen the signs: Maintained Meadow Area (MMA) in one of our Olmsted landscapes. To the uninitiated, these areas may appear as overgrown sections of the park that have been simply been left un-mowed. That isn’t the case; these areas have been designed and intentionally planned and planted. If you look closer you’ll see that these un-mowed sections of the park aren’t a cluster of weeds, but rather they feature a variety of native plant species and are habitat for a number of birds and butterflies.
The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has a goal of becoming the “greenest” parks system in the nation while also maintaining the historic legacy of America’s first landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. To support those two goals we are attempting to limit and reduce the amount of heavily maintained lawn area in our system while also adding in naturalistic plantings. These plans would in turn cut down on the use of mowers, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers needed for lawn care.
What is an MMA?
A Maintained Meadow Area (MMA) is a former section of open lawn in an Olmsted Park that has been either cleared of non-native plants and reseeded with natives or selectively planted with native plants.
How is it created?
Once an area of a park is selected from a section of open lawn, the Olmsted team creates introduction zones, which is where native material is planted within the section. The grass around the introduction zones is kept at bay by Olmsted zone gardeners through the growing season. The reintroduced native plants aim to restore biodiversity to the MMA and in time re-establish a natural habitat within its borders. Plant material is determined by the conditions of the area from a variety of criteria: shady vs. sunny, dry vs. swampy, etc. These areas will be mowed depending on the plant material used either never, once every two years, once a year (spring), or twice a year (spring and fall).
The following year zone gardeners monitor the reintroduced plant material closely to ensure growth and healthy propagation. The establishment of an MMA takes a few years, but once there, it brings the original plant palette back to the area as if it had never been disturbed, helping to restore natural ecosystems.
Our Olmsted team is applying these principles of MMA to flower beds as well. For example, the flower bed on the Scajaquada Expressway across from the tennis area is a micro MMA. Up until couple of years ago, that bed was planted every year with non-native annuals. When in full bloom, this year, that same flower bed will boast an amazing variety of native perennials that love the open sun they get on Rt. 198, and require less maintenance that their annual predecessors. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park is also proud to have several micro MMAs featuring sunny, shady, and forest conditions. The picture on the right shows one of them in its full summer glory.
Do Your Part
If you have a garden you can create your very own version of an MMA with native plant species. Native plant species offer a number of benefits over traditional lawn areas both in the parks and in your own backyard. These areas provide a chance to introduce native flora to restore the natural habitat, introduce sustainable biodiversity, a habitat for beneficial insects & birds, and reduce the carbon impact of mowing and maintaining open lawn areas and flower beds. Before planting, make sure to consult an authority on what species of plant life are indigenous to your area.
For more information on our MMAs, please visit http://www.bfloparks.org/images/uploads/mma.pdf.