Manicured Lawns – A Brief History

The concept of closely cut, well-kept grass areas in gardens premiered in the 1700s in England and France.  The amount of maintenance required by these new garden features kept them strictly in the realm of the rich. 

Thomas Jefferson was among the first to replicate European lawn styling in America at his Monticello estate. Other wealthy U.S. landowners soon followed suit, but front yards of the average working homestead stayed devoted to vegetable and herb gardens, or grazing animals. By the latter part of the century, however, front yard produce gardens moved to the rear as maintained grasses took their place.  

In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act made a 40-hour workweek the new norm. Many Americans devoted newly free weekends to lawn enhancement, maintenance and ENJOYMENT?!  World War II sidelined those efforts, but post-war prosperity saw renewed interest in the perfect lawn.  Rotary power mowers surged in popularity and production, making large, well-maintained lawns possible for the country’s growing middle class.  In the 50s and 60s, American suburb development exploded, and lush, green, manicured lawns grew in popularity. 

Your Lawn Is A Food Desert

While these manicured lawns might be visually appealing to you, they are actually a food desert and offer little to no habitat for pollinators. Lawns also have other environmental costs.  According to several sources, turf grass – not corn, is the most common irrigated crop in the country. To keep all that grass growing, 50 to 75% of the domestic water supply is used, adding up to over 20 trillion gallons a year. Lawns are also major sources of pollution from fertilizer and pesticide run-off—all for a type of landscape that doesn’t produce food or provide other critical economic benefits.

Down with Grass! – Not so fast….

Many cities/towns have ordinances against having anything other than turf grass maintained at a certain height on your property.  But if you live outside the city limits, and you are not violating any HOA rules, why not turn some of your yard into a pollinator meadow?  Not only will you be helping the pollinators, you will save yourself time, reduce pollution and conserve water.

Watch for Lawn to Meadow – Part II for easy to follow instructions.  In the meantime, here is a little inspiration from my newly transformed front yard.  The birds, bees and butterflies are abundant!