In early March my wife and I attended the world renowned Philadelphia Flower Show. The show was incredible and the Pennsylvania Convention Center location was great in the heart of the city of brotherly love. When I walked into the show I was thrilled to find it had a British theme. My wife and I met in London so this show was near and dear to my heart.
As you enter the show floor you encounter a grand Buckingham Palace-type entrance gate, gloriously decorated with many flowers along with the familiar red telephone booths and 15 foot tall Royal Guardsmen. I was especially surprised and pleased to see at the show displays how well the British based gardens utilized the lawn as part of their display in all aspects. Rolls of sod were used from the sculptured gardens to smaller English gardens, even at Harry Potter’s house and around the Big Ben display! The grass helped the flowers and plantings to really stand out to create a vision that would be a delight to reproduce at your home.
Lawns may have originated as grassed enclosures in medieval times as communal grazing enclosures. The idea of converting a grazed natural high grass meadow to a more formal lawn area has been a big part of English garden designs and culture since the 17th century. The framework that a lawn provided created a very tranquil setting to any garden design presenting an idealized view of nature. The English lawn set the style for manicured perfection with their crisp edging. A lush green lawn was a sign of aristocracy and stature. These gardens usually consisted of a lake, sweeping lawns, and groves of trees, hedges, bridges, statues, fountains and flowers to create a pastoral landscape.
These new garden designs eliminated geometric structures and alleys replacing them with rolling lawns making the landscape seem even larger. William Kent and Lancelot “Capability” Brown popularized the English garden and lawns. They turned thousands of acres in England into grassy parks only to be surpassed by the number of acres eventually dedicated to lawns in America. The use of lawns was important to provide direction and walkways to wander through the garden. By the end of the 18th century this garden design was spreading over many parts of the world. By the 19th century this form of garden influenced many city parks and gardens that where built in America and beyond. Eventually lawn grasses allowed popular horse races and hunting events to take place on formally low cut grass instead of high grass meadows. Can you imagine watching Downton Abbey without any lawn areas?
Even Jonathan Green himself was building bowling greens in the northern part of England around the time of the Civil War in America. These grassy areas where built more for entertainment than aesthetic value. Their lush green color was inviting and relaxing for the many factory workers that wanted to enjoy the end of their work day before heading out to the pubs for some cheer.
As I wandered around the garden displays at the flower show, I imagined myself returning to England again someday. I have not been able to get back there since going to the University years ago. As I walked I saw a short film highlighting The Beatles and many other others musical groups that were part of the British invasion. I also saw clips of various James Bond movies celebrating his 50thAnniversary; he still looks good for 50!
As I walked slowly to the exit area of the show I looked up and saw Queen Elizabeth in the window surveying the show floor perched above the grand entrance seeming to give her nod of approval to the displays. I thought I saw The Beatles walking slowly into the sunset and I heard a song repeating itself, “All you need is a lawn (all you need is a lawn) all you need is a lawn…”