Jennifer Rotermund: The history of the lawn

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Photo by Jennifer Rotermund

By Jennifer Rotermund

When we think about the long term effects of war, we don’t often think about our lawns, but America’s obsession for a home surrounded by perfectly manicured golf-course greens is a wound we received in WWII.

Prior to the war, lawn seed mixtures more closely matched the agrarian practicality of farm pasture or wildflower meadows. It included not only grass seed, but nitrogen-fixing plant seed like clover and violets. 

This made sense. These mixtures of plants ensured that the lawn was low maintenance, green throughout the year, and supported a wide variety of pollinators and beneficial soil life (thus keeping everything else around the lawn in balance and healthy).

But WWII gave us Agent Orange and a variety of other chemical defoliants that needed a use when the fighting concluded. The active ingredient in Agent Orange, 2,4-D, easily found a new home in lawn herbicide products (think Weed N Feed today). 

New, affordable suburbs, catering to G.I.s returning home looking to resume some kind of “normal” life, expanded across the eastern seaboard. To those GIs, trained in discipline and order, the advertised promise of a perfect lawn in front of their new family home felt good and right.

It was a kind of perfect storm of events, a war wound masked in comfort and beauty... and something that felt controllable after too many years of out-of-control destruction.

Almost three generations later, we’ve mostly forgotten.

But we do know this: lawns without a diversity of plants are high maintenance, water needy and susceptible to a range of diseases. 
The chemicals we use to maintain this high maintenance lawn only add to the lawn’s dependence on them, and these chemicals are killing us... like an old, festering wound.

That war is over. It’s time to heal.


Anonymous,  August 31, 2019 at 8:56 AM  

Shoreline should ban the sale and use of Roundup. Other communities have done the same. It would be good for the health of our salmon streams and orcas and good for us.

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