This is a true story about green lawns and how they came to dominate in the United States. Ted Steinberg’s “American Green: the obsessive quest for the perfect lawn” is an excellent book.
Steinberg is an environmental historian and it shows. Landscapers, gardeners, and people who love or hate lawns should definitely read it. As a landscape professional I found it fascinating on my second reading.
The book isn’t new. It was published in 2006. I read it and my copy ended up in storage until now. My second reading was better. I recommend buying the softcover edition for your own library.
Steinberg takes you from the Origins, through the Dark Side and into the Future. With global warming and severe droughts in California, the Future chapters would look different if the second edition were to be published now in 2016.
Some things haven’t changed. People still die in ride-on mower accidents and Latinos still dominate the workforce in places like California. The excerpts from Spanish Phrases for Landscaping Professionals alone are worth the book cost. For example, Nosostros no ofrecemos seguro de salud (we don’t offer health insurance.)
In the Origins you will meet the key characters that shaped the landscape industry and made the lawn a key feature. It really is a fascinating question: why should the lawn dominate so much? A huge industry developed around it as landscape turned into landscaping. A father and son would share the lawn care work around their home but eventually a new industry rose up to do the work for them. Fertilizer and pesticide use went up and soon a debate started. Lawn lovers versus detractors.
The case for brown lawns now makes a lot of sense. With water restrictions in the US and Canada, it makes sense to let lawns go dormant in summer. Unless you are rich and living in a place where brown can’t happen. But that will be the subject of a future blog post based on a recent Harper’s magazine story from California.
You can dive deep into this subject if you follow Steinberg’s notes. I looked up an interesting story from 1983. It was a case where a wife in Massachusetts wanted to surprise her husband with a beautiful lawn. She hired a company but managed to catch a worker urinating on her property. When she confronted him, he assaulted her, choked and strangled her and eventually crushed her skull with pieces from a retaining wall.
Defence lawyers argued that repeated exposure to chemicals made the 23 year old worker unable to decide between right and wrong. The jury disagreed. First degree murder charge carried an automatic life sentence for the recent college graduate. A sad and bizarre story.
If you work in the green industry, this is one must-read book. Likewise if you love or hate lawns. Five stars out of five.