The lawn is a gift of the English garden tradition from the eighteenth century. Early…
The lawn, in fact, dates back to the beginning of our country, but really took off in the mid-nineteenth century when suburbs developed around large cities.
At that time the homes of California too just like homes across the country began to showcase landscapes that included a lawn.
California now faces a crisis of drought which puts the coveted lawn in jeopardy.
A Boston Globe article this past Sunday, April 5, called “Drought may reshape image of California” calls for some drastic measures to preserve water in California. Of course, elliminating the lawn is near the top of the list.
Governor Jerry Brown says, “You just can’t live the way you always have.”
It is hard to give up the lawn since it has been part of America’s relationship with nature for so long. That green space out front is part of American history.
It is the English that taught us how to landscape with the lawn. In the nineteenth century America followed the Romantic English style of gardening, which, of course, included the lawn. In 1841 The Gardener’s Chronicle, an English garden magazine edited by horticulturist John Lindley, said, “Gardening is admitted to be better understood in Great Britain than in any other country, and the number of works on the subject prove the patronage it receives.”
A bit later English writer and landscape gardener William Robinson, referred to as the father of the English flower garden, wrote in 1870, “The lawn is the heart of the true English Garden.”
At the same time the American landscape designer Frank J. Scott published his famous book The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds. By the end of the century the book went through several printings and by then had become essential reading for the middle class homeowner. Scott wrote, “A smooth, closely shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty in the grounds of the suburban home.”
More recently historian Margaret Marsh said in her book Suburban Lives, “Frank Scott did not want suburbanites to turn their grounds into miniature farms. Rather, he wanted to teach them to create communities that were also large parks, where passersby as well as residents could enjoy the beauty of each lawn and garden. Suburbanites, Scott insisted, have a public as well as a private duty to create a beautiful lawn and garden.”
Scott seemed to imply that the lawn was a way of building a sense of community with your neighbor.
Perhaps it is that view of the lawn that has motivated homeowners for so long in keeping that neatly trimmed lawn.
The Globe article ended by reporting that recently Palm Springs ordered a 50 per cent cut in water use by city agencies. Thus, the city plans to use native plants for the summer months to replace the lawns and annual flowers that surround city buildings.