Americans can’t live without their lawns—but how long can they live with them?
In 1841, Andrew Jackson Downing published the first landscape-gardening book aimed at an American audience. At the time, Downing was twenty-five years old and living in Newburgh, New York. He owned a nursery, which he had inherited from
his father, and for several years had been publishing loftily titled articles, such as “Remarks on the Duration of the Improved Varieties of New York Fruit Trees,” in horticultural magazines. Downing was dismayed by what he saw as the general slovenliness of rural America, where pigs and poultry were allowed to roam free, “bare and bald” houses were thrown up, and trees were planted haphazardly, if at all. (The first practice, he complained, contributed to the generally “brutal aspect of the streets.”) His “Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening” urged readers to improve themselves by improving their front yards. “In the landscape garden we appeal to that sense of the Beautiful and the Perfect, which is one of the highest attributes of our nature,” it declared.