History of Lawn

History of Lawn

A lawn refers to an area of soil that is covered with grass. A lawn can be created for functional or recreational purposes and it can be a private or public lawn. The grass on the lawn is taken care of through regular maintenance practices like mowing, fertilization, and irrigation to ensure that it is healthy and unaffected by diseases, pests, insects, and weeds. The word ‘lawn’ traces its origins back to the Welsh word, ‘llan’ which in turn is derived from the word, ‘landa’ which is Common Brittonic. Even as lawns are common all around the world today, it was not always so.

Edenapp explains the history of lawn from its ancient origins to further development in the 17th and 18th centuries and finally till the modern lawns that we see everywhere today, in this article. Edenapp also discusses the benefits of lawns, the types of lawn plants, and the origin of grass lawns. The history of the lawn care industry is mentioned briefly at the end to show how the development of the lawn through history has given birth to this new industry. Let us start with the origin of the lawn.

Origins of the Modern Lawn

Before the first form of the word ‘lawn’ was coined in the middle ages, we had ancient grass plains in Africa. These grass plains allowed the villagers in the surrounding settlements to see any dangerous wild animals from afar and also helped the hunters hide themselves from their prey. Though these plains were never called lawns, these are the first examples of large grass-covered areas.

The first mention of sodding or turfing occurs in a Japanese book on gardening written in 1109, called Sakuteiki or Aatu-tei-kaiI.  

In the medieval times, lawns existed as enclosed pasturelands as depicted by the Celtic word, llan which was used in 1540 and literally translates to ‘clearing’ or ‘heath’. This word is similar to Common Brittonic words that mean ‘enclosure’ and were likely used in reference to a place of worship.

The aristocratic classes of Europe started using lawns on their private properties in the middle ages and since the use of lawn mowers was not possible till the 17th century, these early lawns were maintained by animals grazing or by labor-intensive practices like scything. The contemporary influence popularized the use of lawns in other cultures and regions.

17th Century

In the 17th Century, lawns were created as social spaces and had walkways. These lawns were mostly made with meadow plants. The English lawn was also born in the 17th Century and quickly became the symbol of aristocracy throughout Europe. It depicted that the owner of the lawn had enough wealth to keep land that was not being utilized for any functional purposes such as constructing a building or for agriculture.

English colonists started establishing themselves in what is today’s United States of America in the early 17th Century. When the settlers found only annuals like marsh grass and broomstraw instead of pasture grass with higher nutritional value in this new place, they asked for grass seeds from back ‘home’. This is how native European grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and Fescues found their way to the U.S. But, grass seeds were not the only things that the shipments from Europe brought; seeds of weeds like plantains and dandelions also came to the U.S. with the desirable grass seeds. This led to more than twenty species of European weeds being established on the east coast regions by 1672.

19th Century

The idea of lawns in the U.S. really took off during the 19th Century. At the beginning of the 19th Century, the then President of the U.S., Thomas Jefferson first created a European style lawn at his residence. Following this, other wealthy American landowners also did the same.

What really gave a boost to lawn care was the invention of the lawn mower in 1830 by an English textile engineer named Edwin Beard Budding. But this was in England. American lawn mowers were not patented until 1868 and when it happened, all the American houses who could afford servants to maintain lawns found a ray of hope.

In 1876, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) put up displays of lawns for the masses at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition. These displays explained how to install a lawn in your yard but did not provide much information on how to maintain it which led to lawns with very short lifespans. It was only when more research was done on turfgrasses in the 20th century that lawns became more of a permanent fixture in American suburbs.

Modern Lawns

Two happenings in the 20th Century led to lawns becoming popular all throughout North America. The first was the construction of affordable suburbs with established lawns by Abraham Levitt and his sons William and Alfred on Long Island between 1948 and 1952. These were the first residential properties to already have a lawn in the yard. The second was the invention of pre-emergent herbicides in the 1940s as this allowed homeowners to get rid of weeds like dandelions and establish only desirable turfgrasses.

Today, lawns are part of almost every American property as recent research by the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) shows that around 81 percent of American homes have lawns and 79 percent of these homeowners believe that lawns are an integral part of a home. Therefore, we can see that what started as pasture fields centuries ago has now become a manicured area that adds to the aesthetic and market value of a property.

Benefits of a Lawn

We know that a beautiful and healthy lawn enhances the curb appeal of a property and increases its market value. But even apart from these advantages there are various other benefits to having a lawn and Edenapp lists all of them below.

  1. Prevents Soil Erosion: The roots of turfgrass hold the soil together and prevent it from getting washed away due to runoff. Since the roots penetrate deep in the soil and add organic matter to the soil, the water retention capacity of the soil also increases. This allows more water to be absorbed, reducing runoff.
  2. Improves Air Quality: A healthy lawn improves air quality by trapping dust particles. Lawn grass, like other plants, also takes carbon dioxide from the air and adds back oxygen. It is noted that 2500 square feet of lawn can supply enough oxygen for a family of four for a whole day. Grass also transpires which prevents the air from getting too dry and reducing the amount of micro dust particles suspended in the air.
  3. Lowers Surrounding Temperature: Urban areas get heated easily due to the concrete and grass buildings that absorb and trap heat easily. Turfgrass helps lower this temperature. Turfgrass temperature  remains 30 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the surrounding asphalt and at least 14 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than bare soil.
  4. Improves Wellness and Reduces Stress: Studies have shown green spaces to improve physical and mental wellness by speeding up recovery and reducing stress. Those who work in environments where green spaces and natural plants can be seen have been seen to recover from mental stress quicker.
  5. Aids in Stormwater Management: Turfgrass prevents sediments and pollutants from being washed away due to rains and entering surface water. Thus, turfgrass manages the stormwater and prevents water bodies from being polluted.
  6. Provides Habitat for Beneficial Insects: A healthy lawn that is porous with the required amount of nutrients invites beneficial organisms like earthworms that further benefit and improve soil health.
  7. Reduces Allergies: A healthy and well-mowed lawn keeps weed seeds and spores under control. This also reduces the amount of pollen in the air and thus helps reduce allergies.

Types of Lawn Plants

When we think of lawns, we think of grass. But, grasses are not the only plants or vegetation that can be used in a lawn. In this section Edenapp talks about grasses and other types of lawn plants used to create a lawn.

Grass: Grass is synonymous with lawns and it is mainly divided into two types – warm-season grass and cool-season grass. Most grass types used on American lawns are not native to the U.S. but have been brought into the country by colonists but since they have been here for a century, they have completely adapted to the conditions and have naturalized themselves to the environment in the U.S.

Common types of warm-season grasses are as follows.

  • St. Augustine Grass
  • Zoysia Grass
  • Bermuda Grass
  • Bahia Grass
  • Centipede Grass
  • Carpet Grass
  • Buffalo Grass
  • Kikuyu Grass

Common types of cool-season grasses are as follows.

  • Kentucky Bluegrass
  • Ryegrass
  • Fescue
  • Bentgrass

Alternative to Grass: A common alternative to grass is groundcover. Groundcover (also written as ‘ground cover’) as the name suggests is any plant that covers an area of land without leaving bare patches of soil. Some popular examples of groundcover include alfalfa, ivy, honeysuckle, creeping phlox, creeping jenny, creeping thyme, etc.

Other types of lawns that do not include lawn grass are xeriscapes, and native plant habitat gardens. Xeriscaping involves creating landscapes using plants that require very low amounts of water for survival. Native plant habitats involve creating landscapes with only native plants.

What is the origin of grass lawns?

The origin of grass lawns can be traced back to European aristocracy as the first grass lawns emerged around French and English classes. Later, this trend spread among the wealthy class of Europe who started creating lawns in and around their property to show that they can afford to keep lands purely for entertainment and personal enjoyment. The contemporary influence spread the idea of grass lawns from Europe to the rest of the world.

What is the history of the lawn care industry?

The history of the lawn care industry is merged with the history of the lawn. As lawns spread from European aristocracy to the private yards of many homes across the world, the need to maintain these lawns emerged. This need was partially fulfilled by the invention of a lawn mower in 1830. Lawn mowers were the first motorized equipment of the lawn care industry. Slowly people began to incorporate more things into their landscape while also getting busier raising the need for someone else with the right knowledge to take care of their lawns for them. And thus the lawn care industry was born. 

For a detailed history of the lawn care industry read Edenapp’s article – History of Lawn Care.

For high quality lawn maintenance that keeps in mind the specific requirements and health of your lawn, contact Edenapp.

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