Coast Audubon Welcomes Dr. Ross McCluney to April Meeting
Native Plant Society Welcomes Roger Hammer to April Meeting
World Series Needs Pledges
of the American Lawn
Conservation Framework Lays Out Vision for Protecting Vital Breeding
Grounds for Billions of North American Birds
Soup for the Nature Lover's Soul Features Foreword by John Flicker
Program and Field Trip Schedule
History of the American
Reprinted with permission from the Guide for Real Florida Gardeners,
a free publication for homeowners, available at your local native
nursery or Florida Native Plant Society chapter, or by calling Just
Cause Media, 321-951-2210.
Some scientists believe that humans may be genetically encoded
with a need to surround ourselves with low-growing turf grass. Tens
of thousands of years ago in Africa, our ancestors
stayed fit by chasing and being chased by big wild animals. The
African savannas, large areas of low grasses, enabled human hunters
to easily stalk their prey and spot predators at a distance.
Historians, however, believe that the human desire for lawns came
about much later, in 17th century Europe, when the ruling royals
flaunted their wealth by surrounding themselves with lawns. Lawns
did a great job of showing off castles and manor homes. They also
let the neighbors know that the lawn owner was so wealthy that he
to use the land as a playground, rather than a source of food. Thus,
the lawn became a status symbol.
In the United States, early colonists were far too busy to be bothered
with something as time-consuming and useless as a lawn. Their yards
were cottage gardens planted with edible and medicinal plants and
surrounded by paths and storage areas of hard-packed dirt, swept
clean daily. And so it remained until enough wealth and leisure
time was accumulated
to start decorating the yard and creating play areas. Naturally
our immigrant ancestors brought with them their Old World ideas-and
Old World plants.
By the mid 1800s, the desire to emulate upper-crust Europe was
in full swing. Literate Americans began to see magazine
articles and books touting the lawn as essential for beautiful homes.
At first, only the wealthy could afford the labor provided by hired
staff to maintain lawns. Of course, this further cemented the idea
of lawn as a status symbol. The push mower came on the scene in
1870 and suddenly almost any property owner who wanted to could
have a lawn.
Seizing on this opportunity to push forward an “improved”
lifestyle and supporting industry, the Garden Clubs of America,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Golf Association jointly
spread the gospel of grass throughout the country in the early 1900s.
Contests were held to reward
lawn owners. Garden writers focused on the neighborly
desire to conform and acquire status. Lawns became not just an aesthetic
issue but a moral imperative.
With ever-improving technology, gas-powered lawnmowers
came on the scene and after World War II, chemical weapons manufacturers
turned their attention to the lawn and the formidable perceived
enemy: insects. Warehouses of potent chemicals turned into fertilizer
and pesticide products. This came at the perfect time for the postwar
boom era, when Americans everywhere became suburbanites
and felt they needed lawns.
Fortunately for all of us, scientists like Rachel Carson (author
of Silent Spring) came along to explain the danger that such chemicals
presented to all life, including ours, and the modern environmental
movement was born. Scientists and activists battled to institute
legal protections for public health and welfare and continue to
do so today. Thanks to their efforts, many homeowners already want
to reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals in their home. Now we’re
beginning to recognize the need to reduce or eliminate lawns!
Read more on your own:
- The Landscaping Revolution, Garden with Mother Nature Not Against
Her, Andy Wasowski, Contemporary Books, Contemporary
Gardener Series, Chicago, 2000.
- The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession, Virginia Scott
Jenkins, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., 1994.
- Redesigning the American Lawn: a Search for Environmental Harmony,
F. Herbert Bormann, Diana Balmori, and Gordon T. Geballe, Yale
University Press, 1993.