Last week I talked a little bit about my own relationship to the lawn. This week I would like to give you a little history lesson on them. This is brief and I am not someone who has made a life-long quest of studying the history of the lawn. With that said, I did do some research on the matter and this is the outline I have. There seems to be some conflicting information out there, but it is largely just unimportant side notes anyway.
The first recorded lawn that didn’t just happen to be a meadow that I have noted was that of the Taj Mahal. If I understand right, it was maintained by a group of 27 widows out of a sense of love. The idea made it’s way to England thanks to the Crusades and quickly became a sign of wealth. Only the rich would have the sheep needed to graze a large lawn effectively.
The invention of the reel mower (reel, not real, as in cylinder of spinning blades) allowed for those who were less well off to maintain a lawn of some sort. Sure, the rich folks had larger lawns because they could pay a staff to maintain them, but even someone with modest funds could save up to buy such a device and keep a small lawn without needing to own sheep or cattle.
The lawn might have died out, if not for golfing. The grass native to the US didn’t behave like English grasses, so trying to keep a lawn in the English manner was a lost cause. In 1915, the USDA and U.S. Golf Association worked out a blend of grasses that could handle the U.S. climate and still produce an English style lawn. For obvious reasons, the Golf Association tried to convince Americans just how beautiful such lawns were and it wasn’t long before they were being adopted again. Shortly after, several more blends were worked out for lawns.
When the invention of the lawn hose and rotary mower (like the one out in your garage or shed) meant that just about anyone could have a lawn regardless of their walk of life. Even so, it wasn’t really a major desire on the part of the average American until The American Garden Club began a huge campaign that included contests and such that it really took off. The club asserted that it was every American’s civic duty to maintain a healthy and beautiful lawn. Through their efforts, lawns became the most accepted form of landscaping. The club even went so far as to state the proper form of lawn as such: “a plot with a single type of grass with no intruding weeds, kept mown at a height of an inch and a half, uniformly green, and neatly edged.”
We are now at a point where roughly 20 billion is spent per year to maintain lawns, with over 26 million homes hiring people specifically to maintain their lawns full-time. Lawns in this country use more water and energy than all of our standard agriculture combined! There is big business in lawns and an equally big amount of waste. I used to hate lawns for all sorts of reasons and learning this didn’t help at all. Still, there is a place for lawns, but I’ll get into that in the next week’s entry of the series. Until then, I hope I’ve offered you something of value and interest.