Lawn-some inventions

How much do you know about the history of lawn care? All right, then how much would you like to know? Read on.

1. Which is the oldest watering device: the pitcher, the watering can, or the rubber hose?

2. What rotary invention did an English gardener design in the early 1800s, which left hoofprints on lawns?

3. Were weedy lawns ever in vogue?

4. The mechanical advantage of the Chinese 'wooden ox' or 'gliding horse' was so great that it was first used by the military. What do we call this one-wheeled invention today?

5. What flower did seed-catalog entrepreneur W.A. Burpee's family promote as the national flower - with help from former Sen. Everett Dirksen? (Bonus: What flower did it lose to?)


(1) The pitcher. Even as late as AD 742, gardeners poured water from a pitcher into the hand so it would slide through fingers like a sieve. The watering-can was developed shortly thereafter. The first hoses were made of gum or leather. (2) The rotary lawn mower, was designed by Edwin Budding, a British inventor and gardener, in 1830. His early machines were pulled by flat-shod horses whose shoes were sometimes covered by rubber boots to lessen the damage to lawns. (3) Yes. Classical and medieval gardens were a mix of greens and wildflowers, trodden down. Lawns were generally uncut, and weedy plots were considered a thing of beauty. By the 1800s, English lawn games like bowls and golf made closely cropped turf more desirable. Before lawn mowers, armies of scythe-wielding gardeners or flocks of sheep did the trimming. (4) The wheelbarrow. The original Chinese invention had the wheel in the middle. It carried people and supplies to armies. (5) The marigold. After Burpee's death in 1915, his family rallied support for adopting the marigold as our national flower. The campaign failed. President Reagan made the rose the US national flower in 1986.

Sources: 'Panati's Extraordinary Origins,' by Charles Panati; 'Everyday Inventions,' by Meredith Hooper; 'The Timetables of Technology,' by Bryan Bunch; 'The Second World Almanac of Inventions,' by Valérie-Anne Giscard d'Estaing; 'Lawns and Ground Covers,' by James Underwood Crockett.

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