• Rose Smith

Grass as Far as the Eye Can See: A History of Grass Lawns


Photo Source: Pixnio

As Summer gets into full swing, lawn care comes to the forefront of seasonal duties. While we often take for granted the generally accepted custom of decorating our front yards with green grass that is well-watered and edged, such adornment has an interesting past dating back centuries.

At its original interpretation, the word lawn descended from the Middle English word launde, which describes an opening in a forest or a glade (Natural Planet). However, as time went on, laundes more commonly described as artificial lands that resembled clearings. In Medieval France and Britain, aristocrats kept flat manicured grasslands around their castles. Part of the reason was to make sure that guards had a clear view of their surroundings and intruders couldn’t hide behind trees or large shrubs, but it also was a great show of wealth (From the Grapevine). Before automatic sprinklers and lawn mowers, those manicured lawns had to be tended to with manual labor. Often, one could tell how well an aristocrat was doing by how well the lawn was manicured. If it was dying or going to weeds, the noble running that castle was likely in hard financial straights.

The idea of a lawn re-emerged in the 1500s in Renaissance Europe. Aristocrats started to manicure their lawns with chamomile and thyme rather than grass, but in the 1700s, landscapers started to favor using grass for their exteriors (Natural Planet, Pennington). Aristocratic homes, including the Palace of Versailles, began to prefer open spaces of green instead of lots of hedges and fences (Scientific American). This part of landscaping culture made its way towards the United States, and richer Americans started to incorporate grass lawns into their estates. In fact, the idea of a grassy front yard with some flowers in the front and a closed off back yard was a cultural import of this time. Those who could not afford such landscaping took to tending livestock and growing herb gardens in their front yards.

It wasn’t until the 1870s in which front yard gardens began to move to the back for most people. This was because of the influence of the now-rising urban park, which used manicured grass as a landscape. Also, suburbs were starting to become more popular, so grassy lawns were used to help show the difference between property and roads. During the 1800s, lawn technology was really taking off, including lawn mowers and sprinklers, making it easier to grow and maintain lawns, . The idea of the grass lawn soared even further with the popularity of golf in the United States (Pennington). People started to want their front yards to have well-mowed, golf course-like grass. While the World Wars put an interest in lawn care on hold in favor of investing resources towards the war, after the fact, lawn care became a staple of yard work. As the 40 hour work week became the norm through the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (which allowed many families to have their weekends free) and the invention of the motorized lawn mower in the late 1940s, it became even easier to maintain a lawn. From then on, maintained grass lawns became an extremely common sight.

The history of the lawn goes back centuries. While it started as a symbol of power and a strategical design in Medieval times, the lawn grew into a popular fixture for many homes, and by the mid-1900s, the grass lawn became a fixture in many American homes. As time goes on, it makes one wonder how landscaping will change over time. Even though grassy lawns have had a relatively dominant place for a while, it makes one wonder how landscaping aesthetics will change and shift with the times as well.