A Lawn Story

Harari has a few pages on the history of Lawns:

Stone Age hunter-gatherers did not cultivate grass at the entrance to their caves. No green meadow welcomed the visitors to the Athenian Acropolis, the Roman Capitol, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem or the Forbidden City in Beijing. The idea of nurturing a lawn at the entrance to private residences and public buildings was born in the castles of French and English aristocrats in the late Middle Ages. In the early modern age this habit struck deep roots, and became the trademark of nobility.

Well-kept lawns demanded land and a lot of work, particularly in the days before lawnmowers and automatic water sprinklers. In exchange, they produce nothing of value. You can’t even graze animals on them, because they would eat and trample the grass. Poor peasants could not afford wasting precious land or time on lawns. The neat turf at the entrance to chateaux was accordingly a status symbol nobody could fake. It boldly proclaimed to every passerby: ‘I am so rich and powerful, and I have so many acres and serfs, that I can afford this green extravaganza.’ The bigger and neater the lawn, the more powerful the dynasty. If you came to visit a duke and saw that his lawn was in bad shape, you knew he was in trouble.50

Harari, Yuval Noah. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (p. 60). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The Lawn Institute tells a more nuanced tale.

A tree-free turfgrass space around your castle was a defensive measure, the better to see if Birnam Wood was approaching, but it was originally mown by grazing animals. The village green was also a protected space for grazing animals, and doubtless was the model for Harari's untouchable quad at Oxford. A twelfth century Japanese book already discussed sodding technique.

Turfgrass grows naturally and abundantly in well watered temperate climates, and tolerates grazing well.

My yard has only rock, ornamental grasses, and flowers in front, but I do have a modest lawn in back. It's pretty scruffy, mostly due to the clan of turtles that share our living space.


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