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  • Writer's pictureSusan Flint

A Brief History on Lawns and Sustainable Landscape Alternatives

Updated: Jul 10

girl sitting on clover covered lawn with her dog

Lawns have a rich history and significant environmental impact, evolving from natural

forest glades to suburban staples. Understanding their origins and considering

sustainable landscaping alternatives can help us create more eco-friendly and low-maintenance


Origins of Lawns

The word “Lawn” comes from the Middle English word “Launde,” which originally

referred to a glade or opening in the woods.

Evolution of Lawns

  • 17th Century England: Closely cut grass lawns emerged at the homes of wealthy landowners, maintained by human labor.

  • 19th Century America: Frederick Law Olmsted, a famous American landscape architect, popularized meadows in parks and suburban lawns.

  • The first lawn mower was invented in 1830 by Edwin Budding, becoming a staple in American suburbs by 1890.

Why Do We Have Lawns?

  • Practical uses: Play areas for kids and pets.

  • Aesthetic appeal: Enjoying the look and feel of a well-maintained lawn.

  • Restful space: Provides a serene place for the eye to rest amid diverse landscape features.

The Impact of Lawns

  • Environmental Impact:

    • 40 million acres of cultivated lawn in the Continental United States.

    • Lawns require a tremendous amount of water—9 billion gallons per day in summer.

    • Lawn maintenance emits 27 million tons of air pollutants annually from mowers and edgers.

    • Chemical use: $90 million spent on chemicals and fertilizers annually.

    • Total annual expenditure on lawn care: $30 billion.

  • Resource Use:

    • Time: An average of 70 hours per year on lawn and garden care.

    • Money: Significant annual expenses on lawn care products and equipment.

sustainable Landscaping Alternatives

  • Replace Lawns:

    • Replace all or part of your lawn with low-maintenance ground covers.

    • Add diverse native plantings to your yard.

  • Strategic Planting:

    • Use large deciduous trees to cool your home in summer and allow passive solar in winter.

    • Maintain large overstory trees to capture carbon dioxide, averaging 60 lbs of carbon per year.

  • Roof Gardens:

    • Reduce the environmental impact of buildings.

    • Keep buildings cooler, aid in carbon capture, and manage water runoff.

Making a Difference

  • Community Impact: Small decisions can significantly impact your quality of life and the environment.

  • Considerations:

    • Replace single-species lawns with alternative ground covers.

    • Consider groundwater infiltration when deciding if or how much impenetrable surfaces to put in your landscape.

    • Plant native species to support local wildlife and pollinators.

By becoming Good Stewards of the land, We All have the Power to Restore and Sustain the Earth from our Own Backyards.

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