Clover Lawns Replacing Grass in Reversal of Suburban Historical PatternHistorians in the News
tags: environmental history, suburban history, consumer culture
Edwina von Gal thinks that grass lawns can become like cigarettes: something that was once in vogue and backed by a massive industry that can be rebranded as an unhealthy and costly symbol of American corporatism.
One possible way to achieve that, says Ms. von Gal, founder of the nonprofit Perfect Earth Project, is by popularizing clover lawns. Online, photos and videos of clover lawns have frequently gone viral — #cloverlawn has over 65 million views on TikTok — and an aesthetic shift away from traditional grass lawns is already in full bloom.
Clover didn’t always have a bad rap, even among the most conventional homeowners. “It has long provided an important ecological function by capturing nitrogen from the air and adding it to the soil, effectively fertilizing the lawn,” said Ted Steinberg, a historian at Case Western Reserve University and the author of “American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn.”
Seeing this as a potential way to make money, Scotts, a popular lawn care brand, sold Clovex in the 1950s, a product that helped homeowners integrate clover into their yards.
Somewhere along the way, a switch was flipped.
“The development during World War II of herbicides like 2,4-D, which kills broadleaf plants like clover but leaves the grass intact, helped give clover a bad name,” Mr. Steinberg said. “The recent interest in clover represents a turning back of the clock toward a world of more sustainable, lower-maintenance yards. Clover lawns are, at root, a return to the past.”
But he warned that the growing popularity of clover lawns could lead people to strive for a clover monoculture “in the same way some people yearn for a smooth carpet of Kentucky bluegrass.”
“Nature doesn’t work that way,” Mr. Steinberg said.