Stereotypes and Superstitions Associated with Lawns and Gardens
A lawn is a land area sown with grasses or other herbs that are kept at a small height and plied for artistic and recreational purposes. Lawns are mostly composed of purely grass species whose green color is maintained, and which are regularly mowed to maintain the wanted height. However, lawns can also consist of such plants as windflowers, sedges, low herbs or groundcovers that people can tread upon. Lawns originated in the 16th century in northern Europe and were associated with aristocracy. Currently, lawns are located near houses, estates, in private or public parks where they serve esthetic and recreational purposes. This paper will critically discuss cultural stereotypes that are at play in insisting on having a green lawn. It will also uncover various superstitions about lawns and gardens in different communities.
In the United States, a perfectly maintained lawn is a symbol of moral integrity whereas a poorly maintained one is a sign of moral corruption. Therefore, an individual whose lawn is well maintained creates a sound image to his neighborhood. Therefore, the green space nearby one’s house in the exurbs is a measure of moral integrity, which, in turn, fosters neighborly and community relationships. Members of the society would want to associate themselves with people of high moral integrity, whose measure is a well-maintained yard. Those individuals whose lawns are poorly maintained are likely to have a poor neighborly and community relationship, which can be reflected in the number of friends they are likely to have.
The issue of social gender construction has a close correlation with the maintenance of lawns. The reason here is that most adverts on lawn care equipment have been directed to men over the decades. The role of men was to take care of their lawns whereas women viewed lawns as part of the household. The role of women further extends to encouraging their husbands to maintain their yards for the sake of the family’s reputation. Lawns are private pieces of land sown and maintained privately, but the whole neighborhood enjoys their beauty. In the 1960s maintaining a lawn was seen as the responsibility of the husband as well as a pleasure hobby when he gave up work. In the suburban homes in the United Kingdom, a green lawn surrounding a house implies that the man taking care of such a lawn is healthy.
Controlling weeds and maintaining strict boundaries of the lawn is an indication of man’s desire to control nature and have full control of their lives. A well-kept lawn is an indication that the man who maintains it is stable and invulnerable, hence the measure of one’s manhood. In fact, in the 20th century it was argued that a poorly maintained lawn, especially the one that is not mown looked as bad as an unshaved man. A door yard that is well taken care of is a symbol of orderliness and industriousness in a man. It therefore, follows that an untrimmed lawn is an implication that the man in that particular home is very lazy. Men who keep their lawns mown are nice and responsible in the eyes of the community. Such men take care of themselves, their property and families as well as exhibit a good character of their individuality and their homes.
Lawns are symbols of uniformity as they create an integrated social and physical community especially in the suburbs. It is therefore a requirement for a man to work hard on his lawn in order to achieve uniformity with the neighborhood. Lawns also reinforce class and societal norms simply by keeping out those members of society who cannot afford houses with front yards in the suburbs. The uniformity achieved here is for the upper-class, who can bear the expense of houses with yards in the suburbs, where all houses have yards. Since maintaining lawns is very expensive, only affluent families can afford this symbol of status. In the aristocratic northern Europe, for instance, having a yard symbolized the status of aristocracy and gentry. In the same way, a well-maintained lawn in the United States is a symbol of affluence, recreation, and contentment.
My friend in the United States tells me that the presence of an excellent lawn is a demonstration of the nature’s beauty. They believe that a well mown green lawn is a reflection of God’s purpose to create man to take care of the environment. The purpose of the lawn in this case is purely aesthetic to both the individual owner of the yard and the community. The presence of green, uniform and short grass on an American lawn is what brings out the desired aesthetic. A green lawn is visually pleasant to look at, hence the majority of Americans enjoyed and valued green grass surrounding their houses at the time the lawns were introduced. The healthy and well trimmed lawn was particularly appealing to the majority of Americans. Lawns add the craved natural beauty to the homes, especially when the grass is healthy and well trimmed, just like it was in the past.
Despite the esthetic and social value that yards and gardens have, they are associated with a number of superstitions. My friend from Thailand tells me that a species of the papaya tree known as Carica papaya cururabitaccae should not be grown near the house. The reason is that this tree does not have bark and can be easily uprooted, perhaps by wind. In the old days the Thais used the unripe fruit of this tree for food, but they never ate the ripe fruit. The unripe fruit has a strong butter-like smell which the elderly Thai generations disliked. Despite the introduction of new varieties whose ripe pawpaw fruits have a less strong butter-like smell, superstitious old Thais still stick to the belief that it is not good to have such a tree near a garden.
The same man tells me that the Canna sp. (commonly known as Phutaraksa in Thailand) should not be grown in the yard. Instead, it should be planted in the boundary as an enclosure because this beautiful plant with its flowers helps keep evil spirits away. Perhaps this is why this species of plants together with their flowers are widely used in religious ceremonies in Thailand. Because Phutaraksa in Thai means the “protection of the Buddha”, it is planted as the fencing so that it can offer a wide range of protection for the home.
Thai superstitions dictate that a plant named Zizyphus jujube, commonly known as Phutsa should not be grown near the house. The Thais believe that the last syllable “sa” of the word Phutsa means to shrink or to die down. Therefore, having such a tree in one’s garden is a taboo because their fortune in trade will die away. Lack of this tree in the garden, therefore, means that the owner is free from bad luck in trade, which they believe is brought about by the tree. The second reason as to why it is not advisable for people to grow such a tree in their gardens is because of the nauseous smell of its flowers when they bloom. My cousin in India tells me that the thorny branches of Phutsa are useful in blocking the passage of evil spirits when a mother gives birth. Therefore, Phutsa’ thorny branches are used for protection of a new-born from the evil spirits.
The Lunthon flower tree, commonly known as the temple flower tree should not be grown near one’s house or in the garden. The reason is that the word Lunthon resembles the Thai word Ranthom whose meaning is sorrow. The Thais associate the temple flower tree with death, hence this tree attracts death to the home. They also believe that this tree is a place of residence for the spirits of those who passed away but never lived a good life while alive on earth. The tree therefore harbors bad or evil spirits and its presence in the yard or garden means the presence of evil spirits. For this reason, the pagoda flower tree is grown near monasteries where according to the Thai superstitions, anything evil or unlucky will be deprived of its bad outcomes.
The star gooseberry, commonly referred to as the Mayom plant in Thailand, is not grown near the house by some people. The tree is associated with the God of Death, hence the Thai superstitions prohibit its cultivation. The tree branches are only used by monks during sprinkling of hallowed water on people or places for the purposes of purification. By using Mayom’s branches during purification the monks imitate Yama who holds Yama Dandha, the staff that he uses to beat evil spirits. The Thais believe that evil spirits will make a quick exit upon seeing such a staff. The tree’s branches are therefore used for exorcism by the monks, who are the holy religious people according to the Thai superstitions.
A relative from China told me that when a tree in the garden flowers, it is a symbol of rebirth and growth with regard to wealth. A blooming plant on the New Year’s Day brings a sign that the year ahead is healthy and affluent. Therefore, a home is lucky when a tree in the garden flowers on the New Year’s Day, but unlucky when the tree does not flower. A garden full of flowering trees during the New Year’s Day in a particular home indicates that the home has a higher probability of acquiring more wealth.
My friend from Ireland tells me that fairy rings on turf were initially associated with acts of witchcraft. The Irish people for a long time held the belief that the fairy rings were brought by leprechauns and witches who danced in circles. The same case applies to the Dutch myth, which states that the fairy rings show where the devil laid his milk churn. Up to date, fairy rings on turf are still considered a curse by many people in Europe and America. In Western Europe, for instance, fairy ring areas on turf should be totally avoided as they are thought to be dangerous since they are associated with bad luck.
The Koran prohibits Muslims to eat garlic since it sprang up when the devil touched the earth with his left foot after being expelled from Eden. When he was excommunicated from Eden, the onions also sprung from his right foot. Onions and garlic according to this religion are therefore considered evil, as their origin is associated with the devil. Therefore, those who eat garlic should not go to the mosques, since it is a taboo according to the Koran. Taoism, on the other hand, teaches that onions are harmful to the lungs whereas garlic is harmful to the heart. It is therefore difficult to find onions being cultivated in Muslim and Taoists’ gardens. In China, garlic is not only considered harmful to people, but also harmful to such animals as dogs.
Therefore, people insist on having a green lawn as a symbol of order, control over nature and class. Green lawns also represent the natural beautiful environment and create man’s relationships with the society. However, specific plants are associated with superstitions in some communities. Different communities hold different beliefs regarding some garden plants, hence they are either recommended for the gardens or not. Those that keep off evil spirits are planted at strategic points in the yard or in the garden. Some varieties of papaya, for instance, are not supposed to be planted in the garden or near houses in Thailand due to cultural beliefs attached to them.