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19th Century Seed Catalog Cover Highlights Lawn

Notice the lawn on this late 1890s seed catalog cover from Buckbee in Illinois.

You take care of your lawn, perhaps reluctantly, because it is important to you and the neighborhood.

American homeowners have been cultivating a lawn for over two hundred years.

The lawn also played an important part in the English garden style from the 17th century, if not earlier.  That’s how we learned about it.

In 19th century America, seed and nursery companies sold the  importance of the lawn both in the essays and the images in their mail order catalogs.

Nurseryman Thomas Meehan in the 1880 issue of his  magazine Gardener’s Monthly spelled out the importance of the lawn for every home landscape: “To properly make a lasting lawn, and to keep it in good order taxes the highest skill of the horticulturist, and when well executed, is the masterpiece of ornamental gardening. Without it all other improvements look insignificant. It forms the green carpet upon which all ornaments are to be placed, and its bright verdant hue imparts beauty to all.”

A few years later, in 1898, the cover  on the catalog from the Illinois seed company Buckbee showed an image of a home landscape with a lawn, thus pointing out the lawn’s  importance to the gardener.

When home owners read about the lawn in garden magazines and saw the lawn in illustrations in garden catalogs, it was no wonder that the lawn assumed an important role in home landscape.  The lawn became the normal way to define the home landscape.

Most nineteenth century garden books also offered a similar message about the lawn.

Though it’s not easy to go against mainstream ideas, today there seems to be more tolerance for questioning the lawn’s place in the landscape.  Some gardeners no longer maintain a lawn, because they have chosen native plants, including ornamental grasses, to replace the lawn.

What do you think?


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