Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Let us take a look at the history of lawns in America. The first signs of grass seed or other European native plants arrived in this country from the European settlers. The settlers brought the seeds over unknowingly on their clothing, in crates of imported goods and in the hay and straw used by farm animals.
Most of the land in Europe and America was used for agricultural purposes to make a living. Old medieval castles kept trees clear and grass at lower heights with livestock grazing so guards could see any approaching hostile visitors. Later in England, as wealth was accumulated, there was an increasing demand for a more manicured lawn for their country estates. The idea of sheep grazing on the land to keep the grass cut short was not attractive to the English noblemen. Only noblemen could afford to have lawns and this became a status symbol that you appreciated the finer things in life. As an interest in sport and recreation grew, the wealthy then wanted to add hunting grounds, cricket fields and lawn bowling on their estates as well. A well-kept lawn continued to be associated with success, order, and upward mobility. Hiring groundskeepers to cut the lawn with scythes was expensive. Funny, in today’s world we feel the same as neighbors compare who has, “The Best Lawn in Town!”
During the Industrial Revolution, factory workers started to play lawn bowling games as a form of entertainment. European villages where being designed with “commons”, which were grassy areas to stroll, sit or bowl as the idea of a town or city park came about. The park gave a place for people to relax and enjoy a few moments of peace and tranquility. Today there are parks everywhere from small towns to large cities all across the world.
In the late 1800’s when Americans traveled to Europe, they brought back the idea of lawns to the states. Woodrow Wilson had sheep grazing at the White House to keep the lawn looking good. However, the real reason was to spur the production of wool, which was in short supply during the war. Wilson auctioned off the wool from his sheep to donate to the Red Cross. It wasn’t easy to establish a lawn in America; the local general store did not have grass seed on the shelves. The moist and mild climate of England made growing lawns there much easier than the hot, humid areas in America.
The suburban population sprawl of new homes over the last 100 years required many new lawns to surround quaint little houses along with animal pens and gardens. The invention of the lawn mower allowed small areas to be cut without using big farm equipment. Gasoline powered mowers became available around 1920. All of a sudden lawn mowers became the new status symbol as farmers moved away from using sheep to keep the grass short. America’s love affair with the lawn had begun. Consistent mowing looked great and reduced weed populations.
The first improvement in the quality of lawn grasses through breeding was really done by Dr. C. Reed Funk of Rutgers University in the 1960’s. Selecting specific germ plasma from Central Park, he named his first grass “Manhattan” which was a Perennial Ryegrass. In the next 30 years Dr. Funk contributed hundreds of new varieties of cool-season grasses for us to enjoy. As we couple these new Jonathan Green grasses with modern lawn fertilizers and chemistry to control insects, weeds and fungus, we strive for our own “little piece of heaven.” A beautiful Jonathan Green lawn that we can walk through in bare feet, have a picnic or play ball. Today lawns are one of the biggest crops in America and the rest is history!Back