The Complete, Illustrated History of Lawns

Written by Gene Caballero on February 17, 2016

Updated October 19th, 2018

Ever wonder where the modern lawn came from?

And, why do so many people meticulously manicure their lawns year after year?

It may not be obvious at first, but there are some very important reasons lawns came about.

Here's the deal, from survival to luxury, we will take a look at the history and evolution of lawns

Are you ready to get started?

Ancient Origins of the Modern Lawn

Tens of thousands of years ago, in the ancient plains of Africa, the grasses began to show their usefulness. The grasses of the African plains AKA ancient lawns, served a dual purpose. The grass plains allowed villagers and hunters to see danger approaching from far away, whether it be lions or an attacking tribe. Additionally, the grasses of the ancient untended African lawn served as a hiding place for hunters as they would stalk their prey.

Emergence of Sodding in Japan

Believe it or not, sodding was first written about in 1159. In the book "Aatu-tei-kaiI" or "Sakuteiki". In this Japanese book on gardening, we can find the earliest mentions of sodding, or turfing as it was previously known.

The First Turf Grass Lawns

The ancient ancestors of modern manicured lawns goes back to at least the 12th Century. Unlike today however, back in the 1200’s, there were no lawn mowers and lawns were maintained primarily by scythes and the grazing of animals.

Sports, Recreation and the Growth of the Modern Lawn

Most people don’t know this, but cricket was the first sport to ever be played on turf grass!

Though we don't know exactly when cricket started, there are likely references dating back to March 10th of 1300. Even earlier than the first written references to Cricket, is the oldest “surviving” Bowling green which was established in the year 1299.

Soon thereafter, in the early 15th century, turf grass began to be used in private and ornamental lawns.

By the year 1500, several sports were being played upon manicured turf lawns. These sports included croquet, tennis, and of course...  golf!

Around the year 1650 many countries, including America, were flooded with immigrants from Northern Europe. Guess what they brought with them? Yep, GRASS SEEDS! These grass seeds were very valuable. They were hand-carried and often wrapped in small bundles or put in crates along with other imported goods they needed.

Actually, in the eastern parts of America, it wasn't long before golf and other outdoor games could be played on grass. Games like lawn bowling or bowls, which were once popular in England and Scotland.

The Meaning of the Word Lawn

We are well on our way through the origin of the lawn, but perhaps one of the best ways to discovery the origin of anything is to study “the origin of the word” or the etymology. So what is the origin of the word lawn? Let’s take a look.

In the 1540’s we find the word "laune", which is known as an enclosure, or place of worship. There are also other versions of the word lawn which dates back even further. In Middle English we find the word "launde" (1300 AD), which is originated from the older “Old French” word, “lande” Meaning"heath, moor, barren land; clearing".

The Spread and Advancement Toward the Modern Lawn

Throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, lawns began to expand and become more elaborate. This was especially true among the wealthy classes. The desire for lawns was so intense, that in the 17th century in Europe, the ruling class flaunted their personal wealth by merely surrounding themselves with lawns.

Cleverly, these green, grass lawns were perfect for showing off castles and manor homes. Additionally, they could be used as a playground, rather than a source of food. Ergo, the lawn became one of the first status symbols.

Most people don't know this but, for most people, having a lawn wasn’t feasible. For example, here in the United States, many of the early colonists were far too busy with fighting wars and dealing with other problems to be bothered with something as time-consuming and as useless as a green lawn. Instead, they chose to use their lawns as a cottage garden with edible plants and medicinal plants.

Then it happened. In 1830 Edwin Beard Budding made the first mechanical mower. This simple machine made it easier for all people to enjoy a fresh cut lawn. By 1890 the mechanical mower was available to the general public at an affordable price.

Americans began to wise-up about the benefits of grass and lawns after looking at newspaper pictures in Europe suggesting what a simple green lawn could provide to a beautiful home. Of course, at first only the wealthy could afford the labor it took to maintain a lawn. But once the push lawn-mower was invented in 1870, all of a sudden most any property owner with a home wanted a green lawn.

Look, due to the fact that many parts of America and the world had problems with drought, the evolution of turfgrass entered the "lawn" picture. After some lengthy trial-and-error approaches, the development of turfgrass became a valuable and functional asset for sports, as well as recreational, and ornamental uses.

And it continued.. By the 1950’s turf grasses began to be studied in a scientific manner. The first published turfgrass research was conducted by Dr. William J. Beal. Since this study, many more have been produced, and the evolution of turf grasses has continued.

The Modern Lawn

Now, nearly every house in the United States has at least a small lawn, and the technology has advanced exponentially. Not only do we have gas and electric powered mowers, we have tools for aerating, dethatching, killing weeds, irrigation, seeding and on and on.

In Conclusion

It continues today. In the modern age we face new challenges when it comes to maintaining a lawn. One of the biggest challenges to those in drought areas like California, Arizona, Nevada and other parts of America is having access to enough water to maintain a lawn. Fortunately, there are many techniques you can use to maintain a lawn even in water restricted areas.

The evolution of the lawn, and lawn care continues to this day. GreenPal is one of those evolution's. With GreenPal you can hire and schedule professional lawn care from your own phone! You should really check it out here.

There you have it, The Complete, Illustrated History of the Lawn.

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