We know the lawn has long been an important part of the home landscape.
Therese O’Malley says in her book Keywords in American Landscape Design: “Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the lawn was an essential element of the American designed landscape.”
Homeowners today address the issue of the lawn in different ways. In parts of the country where water is at a premium that might mean decreasing or even eliminating the lawn.
The Lou Weiss household in Pittsburgh took an unusual step by eliminating the front lawn completely and replacing it with gravel (below).
I visited their house a couple of weeks ago on my trip to Pittsburgh for the Garden Writers Association Annual Symposium.
Instead of grass, Weiss has covered the area in gravel. The gravel allows rainwater to percolate through channels leading to a rock cistern. Water from the cistern and the roof is recycled for use in the home and the vegetable garden out back.
When I first saw it, I couldn’t believe it.
The Weisses kindly invited us into the house. The beautiful design of the landscape complements the features of this modern white house. It is no surprise that the house and landscape have both received a lot of press over the years, often in architecture magazines.
I must say, though, that the front lawn really took me by surprise. It seems an extreme way to deal with the landscape, but there is something that I like about. Maybe it’s the white color of the house that complements the gravel so well.
Though most American gardeners probably cannot take the step that the Weiss family did, the gravel lies there in the midst of a long tradition of the lawn which is the heart of the English garden. The seed and nursery industries of the nineteenth century often encouraged the lawn in their catalogs.
Philadelphia nurseyman Thomas Meehan wrote so matter of factly in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in 1882: “The garden is made up in the main of trees and shrubs, lawn and flower-beds.”