Almost everyone dreams of a lush, green lawn. Some Americans will spend hours amending soil, mowing grass, weeding and fighting crab grass and dandelions. But this wasn’t always the case. A green lawn was once considered a status symbol of the very rich. Today, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, anyone can care for and maintain a green lawn.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the grasses that were grown on a lawn had to be cut and maintained with a scythe. Because of this, large lawns were seen as a status symbol by the very rich, who could afford to employ gardeners to maintain their lawns. Others, such as presidents Washington and Jefferson, used the space as pasture. In the typical rural home, the front lawn was a place to keep a cottage garden, or was a packed dirt space for children to play in.
The idea of the sweeping green space was brought to the United States by tourists who visited England. There, large sweeping lawns were maintained as a part of a formal park on private estates. However, the extreme climate changes and differences in the United States were inhospitable to many English varieties of grass. Irrigation and mowing in summer months were labor-intensive challenges that many Americans didn’t choose to overcome. Even the White House kept sheep to tame the lawns during labor shortages during President Woodrow Wilson’s term in office.
The gradual shift to the uniform green suburban lawn that we know today happened during the Industrial Revolution. During that time, the wheel mower replaced the scythe as a labor-saving tool for cutting grass. A second invention that made watering and irrigation of grass less labor-intensive was the garden hose. Then the American Garden Club popularized the idea of the lawn as not only a gardening option, but also a civic duty.
Thanks to the guidelines set out by the American Garden Club, most homeowners strive for a uniformly green lawn. These guidelines were the basis for judging lawns against one another in Garden Club competitions. All lawns, according to the ACC, had to be sown with one type of grass. They had to be uniformly green with no weeds. Each lawn had to be neatly edged. The grass had to be cut 1 1/2 inches tall. The ACC determined that lawns that fell within these guidelines were the most aesthetically pleasing and healthy.
The structure of lawn grass is strawlike in nature. Roots at the bottom of the straw extend into the soil to draw up nutrients and water. The nutrients and water travel up the stem of the plant–the grass’s straw–to the leaves at the top. Leaves attach to the straw at nodes, which are jointed sections in the straw. Typically the leaves wrap the stem like a sheath before spreading outward to collect sunlight for photosynthesis. Grass reproduces through seed, and through stems that run along the ground. Stems that extend below the soil are called rhizomes, while stems that run above the ground are called stolons. The grass plant will draw energy from its parent plant along these runners until it has developed well enough to live on its own.