The American Lawn

Tessot’s “The American Lawn:  Surface of Everyday Life” is basically a discussion about surburbia, as told through the quintissential history of the lawn.  The article discusses the beginnings of the lawn, how it came about, and the cultivation techniques that have been employed to produce what we now recognize as a lawn.

This article really opened my mind to my views of surburban sprawl and the mindset that I thought I had.  While I fully admit I’m a product of pure surburbia, I have always thought that it was something I hated, wanted to get away from, and couldn’t really relate to.  After reading Tessot’s descriptions of where the lawn was described as “a carpet” that would have floral “embrorderies,” though, I was struck at exactly how I think about my front lawn.  I don’t really consider it “alive” in the sense that woods or fields are, even though technically it’s just as alive as everything else.  I realized that I don’t really think about my lawn at all when I walk across it to get in my car, or look outside to check the weather, it’s more just there.  However, I do know that when I drive past an ill-kept lawn, I will think to myself, “wow, that really needs some work,” instead of “wow, that’s a really nice freedom lawn.”  To be honest, I really think the lawn is more of an extension of the home than actually a part of nature.

This could be, though, because I don’t especially like my lawn.  For instance, I loved the lawn at my first house so much more than the one where my family currently lives, and it had almost no grass at all.  The front yard was taken over by a massive magnolia tree that would lose all its flowers in the summeres, leaving the lawn covered with pink flowers.  My absolute favorite lawns are like this, they have really big, shady trees you can sit under, and are full of pretty flowers.  These lawns arguably are more in touch with “nature” (in the sense that there are more plants) than the traditional surburban plot of grass, but are equally cultivated (if not more so) and removed from nature in that sense.  However, it often takes years of work and natural growth to achieve this effect (for instance, my current house is over ten years old and still doesn’t have any big trees or “old lawn” kind of feel at all,) and so there’re not really what’s associated with the surburban “pop up” town.

The next point that really struck me was the point about the lawn being a woven texture.  I’m reminded of the summers where my dad was teaching me how to mow the grass, and for a long time would only let me mow the backyard because I couldn’t make the lines perfectly straight, and they weren’t all always 100% visible.  This quest for the perfect lawn, woven back and forth like cloth, is definitely something I can relate to.

Overall, I found the article very interesting, and it provided many insights into my own relationship with my lawn.


1. Is there some sort of “ideal ratio” between the amount of “wild” elements and “tame” elements in a lawn?

2. To what extent is one’s lawn a reflection of themself?

3. Is lawn care an art or an obligation?  Why do you think this?

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