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History of Lawns

Backyard & Porch Living from - LawnsBefore the invention of mowing machines in 1830, lawns were managed differently from today. Lawns belonging to wealthy people were sometimes maintained by the labor-intensive methods of scything and shearing. 

In most cases however, they were pasture land, maintained by grazing with sheep or other livestock. Areas of grass grazed regularly by rabbits, horses or sheep over a long period can form a very low, tight sward which is similar to a modern lawn. This was the original meaning of the word "lawn", and the term can still be found in place-names. 

Some forest areas where extensive grazing is practiced still have these semi-natural lawns. For example, in the New Forest, England, such grazed areas still occur commonly and are still called lawns, for example Balmer Lawn.

Lawns became popular in Europe from the Middle Ages onward. The early lawns were not always distinguishable from pasture fields. It is thought that the associations with pasture and the biblical connotations of this word made them attractive culturally. By contrast, they are little known or used in this form in other traditions of gardening. In addition, the damp climate of maritime Western Europe made them easier to grow and manage than in other lands.

It was not until the Tudor and Elizabethan times that the garden and the lawn became a place to be loved and admired. Created as walkways and for play areas, the lawns were not as we envisage them today. They were made up of meadow plants, such as chamomile, a particular favorite. 

In the early 1600s, the Jacobean epoch of gardening began. It was during this period that the closely cut "English" lawn was born. By the end of this period, the English lawn was the envy of even the French. It was also seen as a symbol of status by the gentry. 

In the early 1700s, gardening fashion went through a further change. William Kent and the age of Capability Brown were in progress, and the open "English" style of parkland was seen across Britain and Ireland. Lawns seemed to flow from the garden into the outer landscape.

During Victorian times, as more plants were introduced into Britain, and the influence of France and Italy became prevalent, lawns became smaller as borders were created and filled with plants, statues, sculptures, terraces and water features, which started eating into the area covered by the lawn.

In the United States, it was not until after the Civil War that lawns began to appear in middle class residences. Most people did not have the hired labor needed to cut a field of grass with scythes. Average home owners either raised vegetables in their yards or left them alone. 

If weeds sprouted that was fine. Toward the end of the 19th century, suburbs appeared on the American scene, along with the sprinkler, greatly improved lawn mowers, new ideas about landscaping and a shorter work week.

Lawns do not have to be, and have not always been of grass. Other possible plants for fine lawns in the right conditions, are chamomile and thyme. Some lawns, if grown in difficult conditions for grasses, become dominated by whatever weeds can survive there; these include clovers in dry conditions, and moss in damp shady conditions.

In more recent times, especially in suburban residential areas, a lawn may refer to an area surrounding a home where some or all of the natural grass or sod has been removed and replaced with artificial turf, stones, mulch or some other material determined by the homeowner to reduce maintenance and/or water consumption.

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