America's Romance with the English Garden

The English Garden

 

 

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It's time to think about the lawn. As people mow, fertilize, aerate and—for some lawn enthusiasts in the thick of the coming summer's dry heat—spray paint yards, they may wonder how the lawn became such a common feature of the American landscape. American homeowners love their lawn. We spent almost $40 billion last year on lawn care. The book America's Romance with the English Garden tells the story of how America fell in love with the English garden, especially the lawn.

 

The UK magazine Spectator named the book one of the "best garden books of the year." Now in its second printing, by author Thomas Mickey, America's Romance with the English Garden, tells the story of how the American lawn originated in the nineteenth century. "We love the lawn because the garden industry sold it to us as a way to display social status," says Mickey, a master gardener and professor emeritus of communication studies at Bridgewater State University, who researched the book at Washington's Smithsonian Institution.

 

Mickey suggests that Americans were "seduced" by the idea of the romantic English garden style of landscape (noted for its trim, green lawn) thanks to the marketing efforts of nineteenth-century seed companies and nurseries to sell seeds and plants to the new suburbs spread across the country.

 

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In their illustrated catalogs—which had become possible thanks to advances in printing—and with mass mailing—made available by cheap paper and railroad transportation—these businesses sold not only plants and seeds, but an image of the English garden landscape style with the lawn.

"Though the company owners knew the French, Italian, Spanish and Dutch gardens, the English garden, with its signature lawn, became the brand to sell seeds and plants in the nineteenth century," says Mickey.

Thanks to the efforts of the seed companies and nurseries, the lawn became one of the most noted features of the American landscape, appearing in cities and towns from Maine to California.

Publisher's Weekly says, "Mickey has thoughtfully woven together an American landscape design history with a critical examination of how commercial interests and mass media shape our preferences, even in our humble backyards."

The paperback edition ($26.95) features more than 40 illustrations and is available through www.ohioswallow.com, Amazon and elsewhere.

 

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