The Greening of America: the Past, Present and Future Story of the Green Industry Taking Root

Once upon a time, beautiful flowering gardens and expansive landscapes were mostly reserved for public squares, parks, and the upper class. But the last 70 years have seen an evolution in the ways Americans experience and practice gardening and green landscapes — and the coming years will see even more changes.

1. Returning Veterans Become Homeowners: Following World War II, The Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944 — also known as the G.I. Bill — provided veterants with a range of benefits, including low-cost mortgages. For the first time, millions of lower and middle-class men and families had the opportunity to own their own homes. Previously, single-family homes were exclusively for the rich. 

2. The Front Yard Rises: In the 1950s and 1960s, William Levitt, the inventor of the Cape Cod concept, spread the idea of modern suburbia when he began developing neighborhoods to meet the rising housing demands associated with the G.I. Bill and moved the homes away from the sidewalk to give each a front yard. Neighbors began competing with neighbors for having the best-looking yards, and Do-It-Yourself industries were born as legions of new homeowners began maintaining their homes and yards.

3. Flower Gardens Grow from Fairy Tales: Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, featuring a beautifully landscaped Mickey Mouse face made of flowers at its entrance. To publicize the park, Walt Disney created Walt Disney Productions, which broadcasted shows on television starting in 1954. Walt Disney's Disneyland started in 1958 and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color debuted in 1961. Every week for decades, Disney shows started by panning across the park's incredible floral landscaping, reaching more than 12 million viewers. Families across the country were inspired to add flower gardens alongside their grass, trees and shrubs.

4. Beautification Hits the Highway: President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Highway Beautification Act in 1965 under the encouragement and leadership of his wife, Lady Bird Johnson. Lady Bird was a staunch advocated for beautification and landscaping, believing that cleaning up parks, planting wildflowers and screening junkyards would improve quality of life. She also linked green spaces to mental health and well-being. "The subject of landscaping is like a tangled skein of wool. All the threads are interwoven — recreation and pollution and mental health and the crime rate and rapid transit and highway beautification and the war on poverty and parks ... everything leads to something else."  

5. Green Building Gains Momentum: The Natural Resources Defense Council spearheaded the founding of the United States Green Building Council and began developing its LEED Green Building Rating System in 1993. Energy efficient building practices became more and more prevalent.

6. Science Shows Benefits of Urban Forests: The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) — a rating program and comprehensive toolkit for developing sustainable landscapes that puts ecosystem services and human benefits from greenspaces at the forefront of landscaping — was first launched in 2005 as more and more studies showed that urban greenspaces reduce stress, increase school performance, improve mental health, reduce crime and provide clean air, among other benefits. 

7. Individuals Become More Green: Individuals begin making greener decisions and adopting more green behaviors as they realize the benefits from green buildings, infrastructure and spaces and concern over global population growth and the effects of climate change mounts. Landscaping expands from homeowners to apartment dwellers as urbanites eat produce from their own community gardens and invest more in plants for their small spaces. Landscaped and greenspaces become requirements for productive and competitive businesses, schools, meeting places, shopping malls and more.

8. The Growing & Landscaping Industries Unify: As urban markets grow, technology brings the disparate factions of the nursery and landscaping industries together to create a more sustainable and effective supply chain. With technology, industry stakeholders can collect and share data, analyze market trends, avoid shortages and wasted materials and fully calculate and communicate the actual dollar value of plants, allowing homeowners and businesses to insure their landscapes and invest more greatly in their environments.