Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Landscaper’s paradise

Castles like this one, surrounded as this one is by close-cropped grasses, offer a clue to the historical origin of the precision-trimmed lawn that now demands so much time and effort for most working- and middle-class suburbanites to maintain in order not to bring down their neighbors’ property values.

Castle and grounds, England

Castle and grounds, England: no archers.
[ Image Source ]

In medieval Europe, a large and diligently maintained greensward was a symbol of great prestige, for it implied that the edifice it surrounded was a castle worth defending. Feudal baronies, often at war with one another or with their nominal lieges, kept the grounds of their castles clear of brush that might conceal approaching enemies. And in the days before lawnmowers, such manicured meadows demanded the work of many hands, which made them evidences of their owners’ affluence, for only the rich could afford the necessary labor.

As is almost invariably true, what was the fashion among the wealthy became a symbol of luxury coveted by the commons, and when Europeans (and most particularly Scots) settled in North America, the practice of keeping a lawn came with them. At first, it remained the prerogative of the upper classes who could afford to hire laborers, but after the invention of the lawn mower in 1830 — and particularly after its popular adoption around 1890 — the residential lawn gradually became a commonplace.

So, next time you spend a fine, clear Saturday pushing a roaring machine around your property rather than going to the beach or reading a novel, blame it on a medieval baron. But then be thankful you don’t have to mow the lawn around this castle with a scythe while keeping a watch out of the corner of your eye for approaching archers.

Originally published as a review of a photo essay on old and picturesque English buildings. Update: As of 15 April 2015, the photo essay is no longer available.

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