Lawns are not only an essential part of most American homes, they are an eco-system in and of themselves. An American-Lawns.com 2003 estimate states that about 50 million acres in America are covered in lawns. Lawns began as a symbol of wealth, and eventually became a symbol of middle-class America.
Formal gardens, fronted by clipped lawns, became the fashion among wealthy landowners in 17th century France and England. A castle or manor home fronted by a huge lawn was a status symbol, since it indicated that the owner was so wealthy he could afford to pay a staff to maintain a vast expanse of green. Only the rich could use land purely as a playground, rather than for the purpose of growing food.
Lawns in the U.S.
The early American settlers had little time for lawns, and most colonial dwellings were fronted not by a lawn, but by a patch of dirt or perhaps a cottage garden for growing useful plants and herbs. By the mid-1800s, many American homeowners sought to emulate the lawns of aristocratic Europeans. At first, only those wealthy enough to pay a staff to care for a lawn could afford one; but when the push mower was introduced in 1870, lawns became more common in America.
In the early 1900s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture collaborated with the U.S. Golf Association to create the best blend of grass for American lawns. The Garden Club of America sponsored contests for lawns, and publicized the importance of maintaining a lawn not only for aesthetic reasons, but because doing so was one's civic duty, according to Cameron Donaldson in "The Limpkin," the newsletter of the Space Coast Audubon Society.
Although the first gasoline-powered mowers were manufactured in the U.S. in 1919, it wasn't until after World War II that this technology became widespread. By the 1960s, gasoline-powered mowers were so common that one expert in lawns joked that if all the powered mowers in a single neighborhood were started at the same time, "the racket would be heard round the world." The widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep grass green and weed-free also changed the way Americans cared for lawns.
The modern ecology movement has attempted to educate homeowners about the dangers to the environment caused by lawn fertilizers and pesticides. New organic treatments for lawns are available. Some homeowners have returned to using a push mower in an effort to reduce carbon emissions from gas-powered mowers. Other homeowners have replaced conventional lawns with native flowers and grasses that require less water, or practice grass-cycling--leaving grass clippings to decay naturally--to reduce fertilizer use.