There’s a trend happening around our neighborhood that I am absolutely thrilled about. More and more people here are seeing their front yards as space to be used and enjoyed instead of maintaining it as the traditional green front yard carpet. I’m not sure if the change is a response to the past pandemic years, or if pinterest has exploded with ideas, but whatever the motivation has been, it has brought new life and vitality to an often underused and under appreciated space.
The signature lush, green lawn isn’t a long-standing American tradition. Front lawns as status symbols can be directly tied to the development of the suburbs and to a push by an influential developer by the name of Abraham Levitt. He believed that a well-cared for lawn was a vital step in achieving a satisfying lifestyle and showcasing an upwardly mobile community. To make sure that his homeowners understood their responsibilities, he wrote and distributed articles outlining step by step instructions for growing and maintaining lawns to all his home buyers. To underscore his beliefs, he imposed fines on homeowners who did not mow their lawns weekly during the spring and summer months.
Levitt wasn’t the only champion of a perfectly manicured front lawn. He was joined by the American Garden Club in the push to promote the importance – almost the necessity – of beautiful, well-kept lawns. They instilled the idea of lawn maintenance as a “civic duty” through local and national publicity campaigns and contests and even provided a definition of a “good lawn.” According to the American Garden Club, good lawns were “a plot with a single type of grass with no intruding weeds, kept mown at a height of an inch and a half, uniformly green, and neatly edged.” The front lawn became a showplace, not a living space.
At the same time, another design trend was emerging. The large, welcoming front porch, the spot where people from the neighborhood traditionally gathered together to chat and to watch the children running and playing, disappeared from suburban housing construction. A small front door landing took the place of the front porch. The concept of the private backyard was suddenly born as builders added concrete pads called patios behind each house. Barbecue grills, aluminum lawn chairs and even swimming pools appeared in the marketplace, supplying homeowners with everything they needed for a perfect by invitation only outdoor experience.
Over time, the idea of the private backyard became ingrained in American culture. While it did provide a much needed sanctuary from a stress filled world, retreating from the front yard to the back had unintended consequences. The sense of neighborhood community began to disappear, leaving behind a cloud of social isolation.
After nearly 5 decades of backyard living, we are beginning to see a shift in attitudes about what constitutes a “good” front lawn. People are recognizing that the front yard can not only extend and enhance their own outdoor living space, but can also help bring neighbors together and revive a community spirit.
Homeowners today are asking for front spaces that invite people to sit and chat, to enjoy a drink or even share a meal. In response, designers are transforming unused lawn areas into welcoming spots by incorporating decks, gazebos and paver patios in front landscapes. Adding fire pits and fireplaces lets the socializing continue well into the fall.
Pathways are meandering through front lawns. Some eventually wind up at the front door, but others lead visitors to an unexpected prize – perhaps a hidden glade, a quiet pond or a work of art.
The face of lawns is changing from large sweeps of solid green into generous beds of flowers and shrubs, adding riotous color and subtle fragrance to the landscape. Planted close to the street, passers-by are inclined to stop and share gardening wisdom with one another.
Individual edibles, like heads of cabbage or patches of kale, are easily slipping into pockets of the landscape, where they offer beauty in their form in addition to just tasting good!
Full-blown vegetable gardens, both as in-ground and raised beds, are being tended to in sunny front yards. Urban farmers know that there’s no better way to bring people together than by sharing fresh produce at the height of summer.
A private backyard is as welcome today as it was in its inception 50 years ago. That probably isn’t going to change. And an appreciation for a well-tended patch of thick, green grass is now just an enduring part of our shared DNA. But our attitudes about what our front yards can look like are definitely opening up to new ideas – and turning back to old ones!
If you’re thinking that your front yard could use a face lift, let the experts at Embassy Landscape Group help you out. They are sure to put a new twist on the old idea of a good lawn.