Learning from the Lawn

The gardens tell us how Washington used his land. He grew crops. He planted exotic flowers. He showed off his wealth and power. What else can we learn by studying the land? Let’s look at the bowling green.

A bowling green is an area of closely cut grass. The one at Mount Vernon looks like a huge front lawn. In the 18th century, land was valuable. Most people used their land for a purpose, like farming.

Washington didn’t need to plant more crops, however. He could set some land aside just for show. Again, nature acts as a primary source. It tells us about a person, a place, and a time. The bowling green tells us something else. Who kept the lawn so neat? There were no lawnmowers at that time. Enslaved people dragged rollers across the lawn. Then they used a blade to cut the grass.

Mount Vernon's bowling green is a large, trimmed lawn.

a view of Mount Vernon from above

Learning from the Land

When I visited Mount Vernon, I looked closely at the gardens. Yet, the gardens are only a starting point! I could also have looked at the fields, orchards, and river to get more clues.

Primary sources come in many forms. Now you know how nature can be used to glance into the past.