In “Second Nature”, the author Michael Pollan, relates his father’s ambivalent spirit toward maintaining their suburban lawn in 1960, what he refers to as “ the most characteristic institution of the American suburb.” It is part of the “collective landscape: while not exactly public land, it isn’t entirely private either”. “To maintain your portion of this democratic landscape was part of your civic duty. You voted each November, joined the PTA, and mowed the lawn every Saturday.”
As Pollen recollects, his father decided one summer to forego mowing his lawn, create a mini-meadow out of that half-size postage stamp front lawn. Cars and passerby’s would stop and stare in at this anomaly. Neighbors wondered if there was a death or the family was moving. As the weeks passed, a representative neighbor for the community was selected to deliver the message – CUT YOUR LAWN! Pollan’s father’s response was to mow his initials into the untamed lawn. S-M-P. That was the last time his father used the mower before moving the family to another town!
As the face of a neighborhood, during these years communities began to enact weed laws aimed at protecting the public from neglectful landowners whose littered yards they believed could attract rats, mosquitoes or present a fire hazard. But also to promote what Pollen refers to as “the collective face of suburbia,” reflecting a shared sense of acquired values. As our understanding of a healthy ecosystem has matured, these laws are still wrongfully enforced against natural landscapes.
According to the E.P.A. “Natural landscapes are not a threat to safety or public health.“
More distressing, enforcement of local weed laws fosters an unnatural aesthetic conformity, by promoting and protecting monoculture laws, that furthers the malignant notion that humankind and Nature are independent.”
In the 1970s, the natural landscape movement emerged from infancy as it gained professional recognition and a modest measure of formal organization. In 1972, landscape architect Darrel Morrison, then a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI, designed Walden Park in Madison as a predominately native landscape. Morrison continues to create noteworthy public (and private) native landscapes throughout the United States, emphasizing plant communities and the important clarification that selection of native plant material is only native if it is indigenous to that specific local area. Within the last five years, the New York Botanical Gardens and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens installed his lyrical landscapes.