THE LAWN "ECOSYSTEM"
Ecosystems develop anywhere living things interact. A lawn or turf grass area is no exception. In fact, a lawn is one of the commonest "ecosystems" found in the area of Northeast Ohio. That is because so many people live in this part of the country. Cities and suburbs dominate the landscape, punctuating the more open areas of farmland and remnant woodland. Lawns are a dominant landscape feature of eastern North America and have their roots in a landscape tradition that can be traced to English and French garden design. The European tradition of lawns can be traced to a time when decorative gardens featured unmowed grassy areas, sown with herbs and wildflowers as attractive places in which to walk. Later, grassy lawns were mowed or clipped by hand and began to resemble the manicured lawn of today.
The close cropping of turf areas began because of a passion for lawn bowling that swept first France then England. The thicker meadows of herbs and wildflowers were not conducive to easy bowling. Clay and earth areas were also not acceptable. So, a technology of clippers, mowers, and new grass varieties exploded, and by the time of the European conquest of the Americas, lawns were already an integral component of landscapes. By this time, the definition of a lawn was a closely-cropped expanse of several species of appropriate and controllable grasses.
Today, it is standard design for the ideal North American house is to be viewed across this broad expanse of green. But just because such ecosystems are common doesn't mean they are easy to maintain. Because lawns are artificially simple systems, grown with the intent of having no more than one or two species of grass present, they require a great deal of energy expenditure to maintain that simplicity. Like the North American agricultural field, a "perfect" turf grass area is maintained by regular mowing, the application of intensive fertilizer, and a liberal dusting of pesticides and herbicides. This has created one of the largest industries in the nation, ranging from teenagers who mow lawns for their neighbors to multinational conglomerates that make millions of dollars making and selling lawn machinery and chemicals. Without this intensive maintenance, the typical Ohio lawn begins to revert all too quickly to the native ecosystem of deciduous woodland, dominated by tall woody vegetation, under which very few species of grass can even grow.