Take a Look at the Greatest and Greenest Lawns in America

No landscape element is more American than a pristine green lawn. Here are some of the most beautiful from sea to shining sea.

©Photo courtesy of the Biltmore Company

©Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

Photo By: Richard Sexton copyright 2005

©Photo courtesy of Central Park Conservancy

©Photo (c) Mick Hales, courtesy of Kykuit

©Photo (c) Bryan Haeffele, courtesy of Kykuit

Photo By: Dr. Gene Burch

©Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens

©Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens

©Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens

©Photo courtesy of Central Park Conservancy

©Photo by Jim Allen, courtesy of Filoli

©Photo by Jim Allen, courtesy of Filoli

©Photo by Eric Long, courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens

©Photo by Lisa Roper, courtesy of Chanticleer

©Photo by Lisa Roper, courtesy of Chanticleer

©Photo by Richard Brown, courtesy of Bloedel Reserve

©Photo by Richard Brown, courtesy of Bloedel Reserve

©Photo courtesy of Middleton Place

©Photo courtesy of Middleton Place

Biltmore Estate

The Vanderbilt family motto might well have been “Go big or go home.” The railroad dynasty’s western North Carolina estate, the Biltmore, features a lawn as grand as the massive 250-room mansion. Composed of 90 percent tall fescue and 10 percent bluegrass, the lawn takes two staffers about two hours to mow, using focal points of the house as visual guidelines to place the stripes.

The White House

America’s most famous lawn receives its tender loving care from the U.S. National Park Service. Shown is the lush South Lawn, where the White House holds its famous annual Easter egg roll, and where current First Lady Michelle Obama has installed a vegetable garden to promote her healthy eating initiative.

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation, a national historic landmark in Vacherie, Louisiana, epitomizes the bygone look of the antebellum South. Beautifully manicured grass grows under a quarter-mile canopy of 28 live oaks, each more than 300 years old.

Central Park Sheep Meadow

This 15-acre emerald-green meadow is now one of New York City’s favorite lounging spots — but it was actually home to a herd of sheep from 1864 to 1934. Both sheep and shepherd were headquartered in a nearby Victorian building, which is now better known as the restaurant Tavern on the Green. To preserve the gorgeous turf here, all Central Park lawns are closed in winter, when the grass is dormant and can’t easily recover from traffic stress, according to John Dillon, Central Park Conservancy’s director of turf care.

Kykuit

It rhymes with “high-cut” (Dutch for “lookout”) and it’s the Hudson Valley estate of the famous Rockefeller oil family. Against the ornate facade of the house, the velvety front lawn — surrounded by a tightly clipped hedge — gives the eye a calm place to rest. The estate is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and tours of the house and grounds are available to the public.

Kykuit Putting Green

Kykuit, the Rockefeller family’s estate in New York’s Hudson Valley, uses its ample lawn areas to display a famous outdoor sculpture collection, including the pieces shown here on the property’s putting green. Former U.S. vice president Nelson Rockefeller, the last family member to live in the estate when it was still private, installed the collection anticipating that Kykuit would one day be a public garden.

Manchester Farm

You can’t have a discussion about American lawns without mentioning Kentucky bluegrass. Even though the grass isn’t actually native to Kentucky — or America, for that matter — it grows happily there in horse country and thrives in cool weather. Shown is the historic thoroughbred nursery, Manchester Farm, near Lexington’s Keeneland Racecourse.

Longwood Gardens Cow Lot

Healthy lawns are a vital part of the visual scheme of Longwood Gardens, one of America’s premier public gardens located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. This area, called the Cow Lot because it used to be a pasture, is treated every year with a growth regulator. This slows down top growth, reducing the need for mowing and giving the grass a healthy root system that carries it through periods of drought. (You can’t buy this stuff yourself, but a good lawn care company can apply it for you.)

Longwood Gardens Main Fountain Garden

Shawn Kister, who leads the grounds division at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens, says building up good soil is the key to fabulous grass. “Get that right first,” he says, “and the rest will fall into place.” When tests revealed that Longwood’s soil already had plenty of potassium and phosphorus, the staff actually switched away from an organic fertilizer (which included both) to small amounts of a controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer. “It’s actually more efficient and better for the environment because we’re giving the lawn only what it needs,” Kister says.

Longwood Gardens Conservatory

Think growing a lawn in a balmy conservatory environment is easy? The staff at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens makes it look that way, but it actually comes at a cost: the grass struggles in the shade, and every two or three years it must be stripped out and re-sodded to control weeds. No herbicides are used because of all the sensitive plants inside the conservatory walls. “Longwood is known for growing ordinary plants in extraordinary ways,” says grounds leader Shawn Kister. “We usually don’t take the easy way out.”

Central Park Great Lawn

First opened in 1937, this lush 55-acre expanse was restored in 1997 after excessive traffic beat the poor grass entirely to death. Now under the oversight of Central Park Conservancy’s director of turf care, John Dillon, the grass here receives all the elements of proper lawn care — which Dillon recommends for homeowners as well: core aeration, overseeding with a high-quality bluegrass/fescue mix (don’t use anything labeled “contractors mix” and be sure to rake seed into the holes left by aeration), fertilization, irrigation, and elimination of foot traffic when the lawn has gone dormant in winter.

Filoli Sunken Garden

A neatly clipped lawn is a great companion for exuberant flower plantings. Filoli, a garden and National Trust for Historic Preservation site in Woodside, California, uses that scheme in its Sunken Garden, where annuals and perennials are frequently changed out for visual interest alongside the reflecting pool.

Filoli Lawn

Filoli, a historic garden south of San Francisco that was once a private estate, boasts a sumptuous green lawn in homage to British gardening style — very unusual in that arid part of the country. But true to its California roots, the lawn also had its 15 minutes of Hollywood fame: Warren Beatty played football on it in the movie "Heaven Can Wait." Shown here is a peacock who adopted the estate as his home, caring for the grass in his own leisurely way.

Smithsonian Castle

Enid A. Haupt Garden, a public garden in Washington, D.C., is part of the Smithsonian Institution museum complex — when you’re walking along the lawn paths, you’re actually standing atop the roofs of three subterranean museums! Here’s a tip from Sean Jones, irrigation engineer for Smithsonian Gardens: “Remember that irrigation is a watering supplement,” he says. “Don’t overwater your grass. Give it time to become thirsty; this will help build a healthy root system because the roots will grow deep looking for water.”

Chanticleer Croquet Garden

Chanticleer Garden is one of the country’s most fascinating botanical installations. Located near Philadelphia on a former private estate, Chanticleer’s adventurous plantings are interspersed with swaths of lawn — some formal, some casual. Here, in the house’s former croquet garden, the fescue and bluegrass lawn is cut short to two inches for a sleek look. Mowing patterns are changed weekly to keep the soil from becoming compacted.

Chanticleer Serpentine

This area of lawn at Pennsylvania’s Chanticleer Garden is perfect for relaxing; it’s cut fairly high, at just over three inches. From this set of low-slung chairs, you can enjoy the view of the Serpentine, an undulating set of garden beds planted with a changing rotation of visually appealing crops, often edibles. Here, the beds are stuffed with contrasting colors of kale.

Bloedel Reserve

This public garden near Seattle is a woodland paradise punctuated by stretches of flowing green lawn. No herbicides are used anywhere on the estate — the staff horticulturists mow frequently and keep a handheld weeding tool tied to the mower, so it’s easy to stop and pull any unwanted plants they see.

Bloedel Reserve Checkerboard Lawn

Lawn areas at Seattle’s Bloedel Reserve, a forest preserve and public garden, are used to create contrasting textures with the surrounding woodland. Here, concrete squares are used to achieve a soft checkerboard effect in the property’s Japanese garden. Staff members mow once or twice a week during peak growth season, but they use one of four alternating patterns each time and never cut more than one third of the grass height.

Middleton Place

This historic South Carolina garden, one of America’s earliest, still has a set of formal turf terraces put in place in 1741; legend says it took 10 years to carve them out. Seen here from the air, the terraces were designed to lead down to the river below in a gesture of welcome to visitors arriving by boat. Roughly ten feet wide per step, they’re covered in a combination of centipede grass and Charleston (St. Augustine) grass.

Middleton Place Octagonal Garden

The octagonal garden at South Carolina’s Middleton Place is part of the original 1740s design. Lawns in that era were supposed to be focal points, not accessories. This one was intended as a formal area to contrast with the sleepy, swampy landscape beyond; you can just see a flooded rice field peeking through a wall of live oaks on the far side.

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