Many thanks to Dan Zak of the Washington Post for the beautifully-written article about Americans’ changing attitudes toward their lawns. Even better, it features our own Edamarie Mattei sharing her thoughts about both her family’s relationship with lawns over time and her views on turf’s changing role in American culture.
From the article: “For ‘setting off’ both the house and the landscape, planting a good lawn is of vital importance,” declared a caption in the New York Times in 1937. Around that time, during the Great Depression, the Mattei family in Cincinnati did not have a lawn. They had a yard, and the yard was functional. It was for the chickens and tomato plants. It was not for grass. One of the Matteis, Vic, used the GI Bill to get to graduate school and become a research scientist. He made a family of his own in the Philadelphia suburb of Cinnaminson, N.J., in a subdivision that paved over Quaker farmland to accommodate Americans who were tinkering with the Aegis radar system for the nearby RCA Corp. Everyone in the subdivision had a lawn, of course. What was the American Dream, in the 20th century, if it wasn’t aproned by a quarter acre of Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue, which is good for recreation and admiration and not much else? Vic had some token vegetable plants on the property, but the yard was not for survival. The yard was for lawn, and the lawn was for mowing.
“He was mowing the lawn every Saturday,” says Vic’s daughter, Edamarie Mattei. “And that was success: Having the lawn. Mowing the lawn.” That was the 1970s. It is now a half-century later. Specifically Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. Mattei, a landscape designer, is standing on a lawn in a leafy crook of Bethesda, Md. She is talking to the owner of the lawn about getting rid of it.
“It contributes nothing,” says M.J. Veverka about her lawn, which she’s watered and weeded and mowed for 31 years — and for what? The lawn is static, nonfunctional, tedious. Last year Veverka filled in her backyard pool, removed the surrounding lawn and enlisted Mattei’s company to turn the space into an oasis of native plants, a “homegrown national park,” in the words of a grass-roots movement for regenerating biodiversity. Veverka so loves the backyard — which is now an evolving work of horticultural art and a functioning component of the surrounding ecosystem — that she wants to do the same thing with her front yard.