Lawns are the most grown crop in the U.S.—and they’re not one that anyone can eat; their primary purpose is to make us look and feel good about ourselves
This article is a part of the Green Thumbery series, where everyday gardening meets history and science.
Warmer weather in the northern states means more time outside, and more time to garden. While urban gardeners may be planning their container gardens, in the suburbs, homeowners are thinking about their lawns. It’s the time of year when the buzz of landscaping equipment begins to fill the air, and people begin to scrutinize their curb appeal.
The goal—as confirmed by the efforts of Abraham Levitt in his sweeping exercise in conformity (although it had been established well before that)—is to attain a patch of green grass of a singular type with no weeds that is attached to your home. It should be no more than an inch and a half tall, and neatly edged. This means you must be willing to care for it. It must be watered, mowed, repaired, and cultivated. Lawns are expensive—and some regard them as boring in their uniformity—but they are a hallmark of homeownership. Why do Americans place so much importance on lawn maintenance?
In The Great Gatsby when Nick Carraway rents his house on the West Egg, he apparently spends little time on lawn care. The disparity between his patch of greenery and the immaculately manicured grounds of Jay Gatsby’s mansion is clear: “We both looked at the grass—there was a sharp line where my ragged lawn ended and the darker, well-kept expanse of his began,” reports Carraway. In preparation for Gatsby’s luncheon with Daisy, Gatsby is so troubled by this difference that he sends his own gardeners to take care of the offensive strip of grass.