the time before synthetics...

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by woodycrest, Sep 4, 2003.

  1. woodycrest

    woodycrest LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 435

    This subject keeps rolling through my head...

    So ok it's 2003 and lawn fertilizer, pesticides, etc etc are used in large quantities all over the world.

    Suppose its 1850....

    What did they use to fertilize?
    There was no Scotts or Lesco.
    Did the rich folk have beautiful lawns? Probably.
    How did they maintain them and fertilize and kill weeds.
    They couldnt head over to Home Depot and pick up a bag of scotts turf builder plus, right?
    Organic was the only choice.

    Obviously there were no ZTR's or string trimmers. How did they cut thier lawns? maybe they didnt care about having 'the perfect lawn'

    Any thoughts on this?
  2. yardmonkey

    yardmonkey LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 341

    Excellent observation - plants have been growing just fine for millions of years with no help from people and their poison chemicals. And people have been growing all kinds of plants with organic techniques for thousands of years.

    Actually, though, as far as lawns go, the whole trip of having lawns doesn't really go back all that far. But I'm sure there have always been people with nice lawns of some type - even hundreds of years ago.

    There is a peculiar arrogance about modern humans. We tend to think that everything has always been like it is now. As I get older I find it more and more interesting to realize that it was only a few generations ago that electricity was invented. Only a few generations ago that cars and planes and trains were invented. When we are kids in school studying history it all seems like it was millions of years ago (and its all boring). People have been here for a long long time and we used to learn from nature.

    We seem to have some great reverence for "science" but none for nature. We take it for granted that everything about our modern civilization is just great.

    Yes organic techniques have been practiced for thousands of years. One of the coolest books I have recently acquired is a classic of organic literature - Farmers of Forty Centuries - by F.H. King. Published in 1911, subtitled Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea and Japan. It has been reprinted but is now out of print - check out or and you can get a copy pretty cheap. An amazing and indepth study of primitive agriculture. Modern agriculture has yet to compare with the yields these people got with their intensive methods.

    As for lawns and the lawn care industry, there is a very cool book published by the Smithsonian called The Lawn - A History of An American Obsession by Virgina Scott Jenkins. This book should be of great interest to anyone in the lawn care industry, especially anyone who is organically oriented or anyone who wonders "how things got this way". Here's a link to it at Amazon -

    I'm kind of a book freak so I'll post more info on some other books soon......
  3. dvmcmrhp52

    dvmcmrhp52 LawnSite Platinum Member
    from Pa.
    Messages: 4,205

    Thanks yardmonkey,I like reading in the winter time.
    Woodycrest,Good question.Although I don't have the answer on how it was done or what techniques were used I am sure the early railroad barons and such did not have weed infested lawns that looked like a cow patch.Hopefully someone can enlighten us with some history.
  4. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327


    I'm guessing.
  5. yardmonkey

    yardmonkey LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 341

    Rereading the original post, I guess I'm being pretty general and just pointing out with the Farmers of Forty Centuries book that people have used organic techniques for a long time - but that has nothing to do with lawn care.

    The Smithsonian book does have a lot of history. How did people mow their lawns? With scythes or with goats. Sometimes weeds were pulled - the rich hired people for that. Later, after the invention of the push reel mower, the lawn became a part of the suburbs. In the early decades of the 1900's, lots of people put manure on their lawns as fertilizer.

    But lawns as we know them are a pretty recent thing. Even the turfgrasses are recently developed or imported. It may be that the kinds of lawns many of us maintain have not existed in the past - but that doesn't mean that there are not organic methods to acheive the results that people want to see today.

    There is another super-cool book that I strongly recommend to everyone - Redesigning the American Lawn - A Search for Environmental Harmony - by Borman, Balmori, Geballe. This one is published by the Yale University Press. It was originally published in 1991 and the Second Edition was published in 2001. I mention it here because it also has a nice little section on the history of the lawn. (which starts by pointing out that the lawn is not a universal part of human experience - it is a development of western civilization).

    Now if you are really interested in organic lawn care, this is one book you need to get. It makes the case for organic lawn care, explaining the problems with chemical fertilziers and pesticides, etc. Describes the difference between the "Industrial Lawn" and the "Freedom Lawn" and points out that there is plenty of room in between the extremes.
    Here is an Amazon link for more info:
    (note that you can get used books cheap at amazon)
  6. GroundKprs

    GroundKprs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,969

    .....The Lawn - A History of An American Obsession by Virgina Scott Jenkins. This book should be of great interest to anyone in the lawn care industry, especially anyone who is organically oriented or anyone who wonders "how things got this way". You can read excerpts of this book on Amazon.

    First sentence of book: "The domestic front lawn is a typically American landscape feature." For a simple history of how lawns came about here, see <a href="">Why grass? Why mow it?</a>. And I traveled in Europe in the late 1950s; they had lawns there too, back then, anyhow.

    Golf started out in the 15th century in Scotland. Do you think they tried it in 2 ft high grasses? Many turf based sports started out in the defensive turf areas outside the fort or castle walls when there was a lull in combatative times.

    On page 10, "Lawns were new to most Americans in the nineteenth century." But on page 11, "By the 1640s, a regular market in grass seed existed in New England's..." Are we trying to contradict ourselves?

    Sounds like this author has an agenda, and is writing her history to match that agenda. Such is not real history. Yes this may be a good book for someone with negative feelings toward current lawn care practices, but don't look at it as history.

    And the book is obviously written to support someone's negative opinions. Usually this type of person shoots themselves in the foot somewhere down the road. This author does it in her first sentence. Hope this forum will be more than a place for tree huggers to slap themselves on the back. There are plenty of other forums on the 'net for that. It's Ok if you started organics because of negative feelings, but let's try to chill the negatives on both sides, and let everyone learn something positive.

    Dave is great for pushing this idea, and I will question him and others a lot. Hope my questions don't seem negative - I don't think they would to anyone licensed and experienced in lawn care. Learning comes from questions, not from nodding or shouting agreement.
  7. SWD

    SWD LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 988

    Intensive turf management practices can be traced back to monks operating a vineyard in France in the middle 1600's. Thet invented the first insecticide, based upon tobacco juice and arsenic.
    Most of the early forms of particularly colonial bentgrass and some varieties of creeping bentgrass where introduced into the US around 1750 or so.
    Actually, having turfgrass maintained nicely infront of your house, castle, domicile, etc, was considered a sign of wealth and civility.
    Initially, turf was grazed by animals, then hand shears, then somewhere in the mid 1800's, the first push reel mower was released. Interestingly enough, the mercury based fungicides came from this era, as did the lead arsenates. There was no way to monitor build up of these materials in soil and it was falsely presumed that if you can't see it, there is no problem.
    Additionally, mesophillic processes where first used in processing the manure mixes that occurred from the agrarian society. Composting has been around for awhile.
  8. yardmonkey

    yardmonkey LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 341

    ...Yikes! I should probably just ignore, you really should apologize....

    OK OK, I'm sorry for my extremely negative post. I will try to have positive feelings from now on, not only for the "treehuggers" and their wacky ideas but also for the millions of tons of toxic chemicals dumped on American lawns. And I will try to refrain from recommending crazy books full of lies published by fly-by-night vanity publishers such as the Smithsonian Institute and Yale University. Please don't read the books I mentioned - no one could learn anything positive from such garbage.
  9. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327

    I wonder if any of the famous palace gardens of Europe had any counterparts in Asia?
  10. A1 Grass

    A1 Grass LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 330

    Shame on you! (heh heh heh)

    Oh yeah, I just ordered the book! Thanks for the link.

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