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Our Obsession With Lawns

Posted On: Oct 20 2017

People Spend 60 Billion A Year In Lawn Upkeep

The term "lawn", referring to a managed grass space, dates back to the 16th century. For the record a lawn is defined as “an area of soil-covered land planted with grasses or (rarely) other durable plants such as clover which are maintained at a short height with a lawnmower and used for aesthetic and recreational purposes” (Wikipedia).

Common characteristics of a lawn are that it is “composed only of grass species, it is subject to weed and control, it is subject to practices aimed at maintaining its green color (e.g., watering), and it is regularly mowed to ensure an acceptable length, although these characteristics are not binding as a definition” (Wikipedia).

Interestingly, lawn value and usage has changed over the years. In the early days, North Americans were more concerned with the domestic use value (every inch of their land had a use - meaning mainly livestock and gardens surrounded their home) as opposed to the land exchange value.

In 1957 and onwards, a new evolution in landscape usage for homeowners began because of three major suburban movements in history.

  1. In 1865, the 1st suburban community was founded after the Civil War in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, a result of the emergence of railroad, street car, and trolley lines. These communities were modeled after parks (Tuxedo Park which eventually became the model for twentieth-century suburban developers). It was at this time (1860’s) that the first American lawn mower was patented and grew to become a multibillion-dollar industry.

  2. The 1920’s, witnessed the rapid adoption of the automobile in North America by the middle class. It also gave rise to the growing popularity of the game of golf. Eventually, green lawns became an extension of the golf course, replacing garden spaces.

  3. After the World War II, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Golf Association funded grass research, making it possible to grow lawn grass in all regions.

The Problem With Conventional Green Lawns?

Today, 6 billion a year is spent in North America on maintaining a beautiful green lawn, sometimes to the detriment of our environment and our health. As a point of interest, a vast majority of the world does not share North America’s obsession with manicured grass lawns. In fact countries such as India and China find lawns unseemly and a waste of resources, and dispose of them accordingly.

Why Naturescaping Is A Viable Solution

Naturescaping is a method of landscape design that restores what mother nature created by reclaiming plants that are native to a land area. It is a revitalization practice that seeks to conserve, protect and restore the lands and waters on which our quality of life depends. It is not wasteful nor harmful to mother earth or its inhabitants.

By reclaiming native plants back into a region, we attract and permit beneficial insects and birds to flourish. Naturescaping relies on plants, trees, grasses and the like, native to an area, because they’ve already proven to be hardy and require minimal watering (wastage).

Landscaping that sustains biological life, such as foliage that has grown in a region for centuries requires minimal human influence once established and keeps waterbodies healthy. By placing complimentary native plants together, the plants themselves do the natural weeding of the area and harmful pesticides are not required.

Benefits Of Naturescaping

  1. Low Maintenance

    Native plants evolved to thrive in local conditions. They do not require extra watering (except during establishment), chemical pesticides and fertilizers, or frequent pruning.

  2. Health & Wellbeing

    Traditional landscaping uses large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, some of which are suspected carcinogens. During rains, these chemicals often run off into public water supplies.

  3. Enhances Livability

    An ecologically functional landscape offers rich plant diversity, beautiful scenery and a natural wildlife habitat. It is cleaner and healthier benefitting both people and nature.

  4. Saves Time & Money

    The cost of maintaining a naturescape is significantly less than that of a traditional landscape - a naturescape essentially takes care of itself - saving time as well as money.


Download the CottageClub Naturescape Practical Guide & Manual - Written By Sherry Stengler, CottageClub

  • Credits:
  • Ulysses Prentiss Hedrick, A History of Horticulture in America to 1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950), p. 263.
  • Rudy J. Favretti and Joy Putman Favretti, Landscapes and Gardens for Historic Buildings (Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1978) p. 177.
  • Charles L. Flint, Grasses and Forage Plants (Boston: Lee & Shepard Publishers, 1888), pp. 283, 254.
  • William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill & Wang, 1983), p. 141; Everett E. Edwards, “The Settlement of Grasslands,” in Grass: The Yearbook of Agriculture, 1948 USDA (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1948), p. 16.
  • E.L. Jones, “Creative Disruptions in American Agriculture 1620-1820,” Agricultural History 48 (1974): 524-.
  • Cronon, Changes in the Land, p. 142.
  • Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 157. Jones, “Creative Disruptions in American Agriculture,” p. 524-.
  • Edwards, “Settlement of Grasslands,” p. 19.
  • Cronon, Changes in the Land, p. 142.
  • Ibid., p. 143.
  • Crosby, Ecological Imperialism, p. 156.
  • Jack Rodney Harlan, Crops and Man, p. 101.
  • Charles Marrow Wilson, Grass and People, p. 5; Robert W. Schery, “The Migration of a Plant, “ Natural History 74 (Dec. 1965): 43.
  • Schery, “Migration of a Plant,” p. 44.
  • Wilson, Grass and People, p. 5.
  • Crosby, Ecological Imperialism, p. 153.
  • Edwards, “Settlement of Grasslands,” p. 18.
  • Favretti and Favretti, Landscapes and Gardens for Historic Buildings, p. 48; James R. Buckler and Kathryn Meehan, The Art of Gardening: Maryland Landscapes and the American Garden Aesthetic, 1730-1930, p. 8.
  • Jenkins, Virginia Scott, “The Lawn: A History of and American Obsession.
  • Steinberg, Ted, “American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn”.
  • Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawn


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