The Lawn is a look at grass, lawn, and what has happened to the world as a result of people both equating and differentiating between grass and lawn. And what has happened as a result of people lusting after lawn, getting envious or jealous or protective over lawn, even killing over lawn. Lawn, in a few generations, has become a class indicator and a cause of official bullying, court cases, and terrible waste and pollution.
Grass has been around since about the time of the dinosaurs. Most references say it goes back 55 million years, but recent studies of fossilised dinosaur poo now point to an age of at least 65 million years.
Lawn is a different matter, it's modern stuff. Some "lawns" have been around since the middle ages, but those lawns would never pass muster today, not with the lawn snobs. They might have been neatly cropped, but they had many species, and the cropping was sometimes done with a scythe, but more often, animals had the task. True lawns as we know them, began in the middle of the Victorian era.
The lawn mower was invented in the 19th century, but it was only about 1860 that people started going mad about lawns, and this book traces the intertwined histories of mowers, architect-specified lawns, lawn sports from cricket to football to croquest and lawn tennis. Here, I need to bow briefly to Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World, because it was while I was writing that book that I discovered the many sports that arose in 1859, or within a year either side of it. This was just 30 years after the invention of the first reel lawn mower, the point at which the first patents expired. Most importantly, though, by 1859-60, the lawn-mower was a maturing technology.
I also found, while writing Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World, the incredible case of the sheep, struck by lightning in Hyde Park in 1859, while serving as a lawn mower. Some research led me to the discovery that Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, was clearing £2000 a year, buying up scrawny cattle and sheep, running them on the public parks in London, then selling them for meat when they were fattened up. From there, I moved on to examine the whole mens sana in corpore sano ethos, the legend that the Iron Duke claimed that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (don't believe it!) and more, all of which also sprang up, just as the lawn mower became mature technology.
When you begin to look at lawns, mowers, and lawnsmanship, you begin to realise just how much lawns cost us, expecially in English-speaking countries, which smugly assert that only they truly care for lawn. Actually, Americans say that only they truly care for lawn, while the rest of the Anglophones widen the scope to us, but I visited a lot of lawns in a lot of countries, either in person of with Google Earth, while writing this book, as these two examples show.
Pictures: King's College, Cambridge, a classic lawn that inspired many imitations, Vondelpark, Amsterdam, a classic 19th century park and the royal palace, Ayutthaya, Thailand: grand lawns also require topiary, in this case, elephants!
I also looked at lawn ornamentation, lawn snobbery and much more. Lawn, it turns out, is much more than grass, and it rates much more highly. Our western, obese couch-potato, sports-mad society wouldn't be what it is, without lawn.
This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/writing/lawn.htm
It was created on February 6, 2009 and last revised on June 25, 2009, when I added this link to me discussing the book with Phillip Adams on Late Night Live. I'm not sure how long it lasts, but I'll come back and check it from time to time.
The home page of this set is here.
people have been here or to one of the other pages on the site.