Who Invented the Lawn?

The lawn has invaded the suburban native habitat of the U.S. and is not an American made product. The concept of the lawn started in medieval France and Britain; low grass around your castle made it easy to watch for anyone approaching. (Easy to understand for any Game of Thrones fan!)

Castle Rising, Norfolk, England  Image Source: ©  DeFacto  / Wikimedia Commons /  CC-BY-SA-4.0

Castle Rising, Norfolk, England

Image Source: © DeFacto / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-4.0

Later in 17th century England, sheep served as natural lawn mowers grazing on public grass.

The first lawn mowers were so cute!  Image Source: ©  Chris Upson  /  Sheep Grazing  /  CC-BY-SA-2.0

The first lawn mowers were so cute!

Image Source: © Chris Upson / Sheep Grazing / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Cutting the lawn grass regularly on large, private estates required many hands working to scythe and weed the grass. There were no lawn mowers back then. The human labor needed to maintain the grass was something only the rich could afford, making the lawn a status symbol.

Lawn as a status symbol.  Image Source: ©  Evelyn Simak  /  View across the south lawn  /  CC BY-SA 2.0

Lawn as a status symbol.

Image Source: © Evelyn Simak / View across the south lawn / CC BY-SA 2.0

Over in Scotland in the 1500s, they started playing golf on areas of turf grass. The open grasslands and climate of Scotland lent itself to the sport of golf played on wide stretches of flat green space. As Scottish immigrants came to America, so too came golf, and the first golf club was built in 1888 in New York (The St. Andrews Golf Club in Hastings on Hudson).

Children playing golf in 1882 at St. Andrews, Scotland.  Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons  /  Stymie, by Thomas Hodge

Children playing golf in 1882 at St. Andrews, Scotland.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons / Stymie, by Thomas Hodge

Starting in 1910, the U.S. Golf Association in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, funded and performed research on the best ways to cultivate turf grass suitable to the variety of climates in America. Their research identified several turf grass species best suited for the U.S. including Bermuda grass from Africa and blue grass from Europe.

Detail of Bermuda Grass  Image Source:  Flickr, Internet Archive Book Images , illustration from  American Grasses  by Scribner, Frank Lamson, 1851-1938.

Detail of Bermuda Grass

Image Source: Flickr, Internet Archive Book Images, illustration from American Grasses by Scribner, Frank Lamson, 1851-1938.

Now that there were grass blends available, there was still the issue of constantly cutting the grass, providing enough water, preventing pests and diseases, and always keeping the grass looking green. Not to worry, as the push mower had been invented in 1870, the lawn sprinkler was first patented in 1871, an arsenal of pesticides and herbicides was manufactured widely during the 1940s, and nitrogen fertilizer was mass-produced in postwar U.S. in nitrate factories once used to make bombs for World War II.

The workings of growing and maintaining turf grass had been figured out, just as the first suburbs were being built. The stage was set for the lawn to take over the American landscape, and did it ever.

The rise of the lawn.  Image Source: ©  Prasannanossam3  / Wikimedia Commons /  CC-BY-SA-4.0

The rise of the lawn.

Image Source: © Prasannanossam3 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-4.0

 
Amanda Bayley