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    « Vertical Gardening Round Up | Main | Plants for Small Gardens: Abelia Kaleidoscope »

    August 22, 2011

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    Debra Lee Baldwin

    Wow, Susan, this is a fascinating read and beautifully written. I love the phrase "tyranny of weekly mowing."

    Instead of mindlessly accepting lawns as essential front yard elements, people are now talking a long, hard look at them and going with creative, lovely and low-maintenance alternatives.

    In your research, did you learn that broad expanses of lawn were English landholders way of saying "I don't need to grow agricultural crops, I can squander my property on something useless"? I'd heard that somewhere, can't remember where, and like it. Rings true.

    I had not read or heard that, but the ability to waste resources in an ostentatious fashion has always been a way of advertising wealth, so I wouldn't be surprised. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

    TC

    "For the first time, many of us are questioning our unthinking devotion to our lawns and the tyranny of weekly mowing and instead considering alternatives that sustain the environment..."

    The above statement implies that lawns are unsustainable and harmful to the environment. I humbly disagree. Furthermore, I don't think mowing is tyrannical, it's actually quite relaxing.

    I'm in love with my large lawn and always will be. Which isn't to say I'd not consider an alternative like putting in a wildflower meadow. I guess I'm a lawn apologetic because I think the anti-lawn folks sometimes make claims against grass that leave folks thinking it's an aberration to want a grassy back or front yard.

    TC, unless a lawn is maintained with no supplemental water, no fertilizer, no pesticides, no mechanical equipment and perfect storm water management, it IS harmful to the environment. Even in those cases, gardens that provide food, attract pollinators or act as wildlife habitat are sustainably superior. Of course, there are other landscape choices that also deliver some of the same evils, but lawn is one of the few landscape options that is environmentally lacking by almost every standard. More importantly, although it sounds like you are using your lawn for recreational purposes, many do not, but simply choose a lawn as a default option. The purpose of this article is not to chastise homeowners with lawns, but encourage all of us to make a thoughtful, informed decision as to whether a lawn, or an over-sized one, is necessary at all. Choosing a lawn, just because they're ubiquitous and pretty, isn't much of a reason.

    Evelyn Hadden

    Susan, love the article and the images. It's an interesting history; we have been slaves to this lawn fashion for a long time. And while I wouldn't want to go back to the cesspools, livestock, and garbage dumps of yore, I hope we can return to more practical and nature-friendly uses of the land... and entice ourselves to spend more time outdoors too.

    P.S. I dug up a hubcap once while installing a rock patio in my backyard.

    It's amazing the amount of time that goes into lawn care, particularly given that many people don't really even use their lawn for anything (front yards especially)

    Jocelyn/the art garden

    Thanks for the history lesson - great stuff here! It helps to see where we've come from (and why) in order to develop new models and solutions for the future.

    It does put things in perspective a bit, doesn't it?

    Shirley Bovshow "EdenMaker"

    Great historical report on the American Lawn phenomenon. I appreciate the insight Susan.
    Shirley
    Thanks, Shirley!

    rebecca sweet

    I find it ironic that people once flocked to the almighty lawnmower and now people are running as fast as they can from it! Great post, Susan. Love all the info!!

    Unless it's a riding mower and there's a beer can hat involved.

    Pam/Digging

    This is a great summary of the history of the lawn in America, Susan, and enough to convert anyone wondering why they bother with a lawn anymore. I understand keeping a lawn that is actively used or featured for negative space, but to keep it because it makes all the houses in a neighborhood look the same is silly and archaic. A mix of other kinds of plants attracts birds and bees, may require less water, and expresses your individuality. Plus it's more beautiful!

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post. And thank you for the link from your new Lawn Alternatives page!

    Debbie

    Susan, I love that phrase 'an amusing, useful and healthy exercise'. I wonder how many homeowners think like that now? I really enjoyed your post, it's interesting to see how lawn-love slowly evolved. Great photos, too!

    Judging by the size of the mow and blow industry, I'd say very few
    ;-)

    Linda Lehmusvirta

    Great post, Rebecca!

    Thanks, Linda. Did you perchance mean to say Susan? Don't worry, wouldn't be the first time.
    ;-)

    Jenny Peterson

    I love your historical perspective, Susan--and really appreciate your overview of the lawn's impact on the environment. You have an enviable way of saying what needs to be said in a way that doesn't slam people. Thank you!

    Thank you, Jenny!

    Tara dillard

    So much of Europe NEVER did the monoculture lawn.

    Again, much of gardening is what we have to unlearn.

    Discovered Tara Turf in Europe. Changed my ideas on much about USA landscaping.

    Adore the pics you posted.

    XO Tara

    Thank you, Tara

    Mamaholt

    I took out all my turf, front and back, here in Austin, TX and we LOVE it.

    Our front yard has no landscaping other than some potted plants. I used color and yard art for interest.

    My front lawn is, quite literally, almost maintenance-free and it looks great!

    You can see it here on my lawn reform post:

    http://www.wabi-sabihomeandgarden.com/

    Keep up the great work!

    That's terrific - thank's for sharing!

    James

    Funny that you recommend the Grampp book. The copy from my library is on the piano right now. Now all I need to do is read it!

    As far as reducing or replacing lawns...when you've discovered the perfect answer to convince a hold-out to convert to something other than a lawn, let me know. Seemingly no amount of logic will move he-who-must-have-his lawn to trying something new and more sustainable and--quite frankly--interesting. I suppose that domestic drama is symptomatic of what's going on in the world at large. We get attached to some things, no matter how impractical they might be...

    I think you'll really enjoy it James. Not so much for the historical aspect, although that portion is very interesting, but the part where Chris speculates on the future of our relationships with our gardens. I've taken classes from Chris at Merritt College, and he's an engaging and informative teacher.

    Robert Webber

    Wow! Great to have this overview of how the archetypal US lawn arose. As a former historian I loved it . Thanks!
    Best
    R

    We Americans often have such a short perspective of national history, it is eye-opening when you understand just how recent our lawn-obsession really is.

    Town Mouse

    Very interesting post. I really had no idea when I moved to this country how important this lawn thing is. And I'm still puzzled, especially by the myths surrounding it. "Kids are playing on the lawn" - maybe behind the house, but they're usually not even allowed out front.... Well, times are a-changing, I hope.

    They ARE changing, although a bit slower than some of us would like.

    Scott Hokunson

    A great way to approach this topic Susan! I fear most Americans see the weekly maintenance thing as the least cumbersome task when compared to gardening, mostly because it's what they've been told for years. Quite possibly a fear of the unknown (how to garden) is what is holding the majority back. Shame that we have come so far from what we all once were.

    We're a young country, and tend to have a short sense of history - and I include myself in that. Chris Grampp's book was an eye opener for me. I knew about the impact the lawn mower had, but was interested to learn that our love affair with lawns was a bit more complex.

    Clint Rowley

    The image of the push mower brings back some good memories of landscaping as a kid. It always looked like so much more fun until you got behind one of them and had to push them yourself.

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