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No Fence Restricted the American Lawn
I have often mentioned that the lawn has become the major remnant of the English garden still present in the American landscape.
We have no fences containing that lawn. It is free to run into the neighbor’s lawn. That is the American contribution to the English lawn.
English gardener and writer Joan Parry Dutton recognized that in her book Enjoying America’s Garden which she wrote after her visit to America in the 1950s.
She said: “If I were asked if there was one single feature of American gardens as a whole which had caught my attention, I would unhestitatingly say the lack of hedges.” Hedges meant any kind of enclosure including a wooden or metal fence.
In earlier American gardening it was a different situation where animals roamed the property on farms and suburban areas outside cities. There a fencing of some sort was necessary especially for maintaining a vegetable garden close to the house.
America’s premier nineteenth century nurseryman and landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing, no fan of fences, once wrote: “To fence off a small plot around a fine house, in the midst of a lawn of fifty acres, is a perversity which we could never reconcile, with even the lowest perception of beauty.”
Denise Otis in her book 45 to 50 dating seems to agree. She wrote: “Although it is almost never used and is probably seen more by passersby than by its owners, the open front lawn yard retains it hold upon the American sense of fitness; and yet it was only a little less than a hundred and fifty years ago that the fences came down.”
Fences may have been popular in colonial times, but by the nineteenth century move to the suburbs, the fence became a thing of the past. The American garden enjoyed the open lawn that seemed endless as it flowed into the neighbor’s green.
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