It depends what you mean by “before”.
The previous homeowner – or even the same homeowner, in a different stage of life – may have had a turf grass lawn. This was the dominant aesthetic in the 1950’s and the following decades.
In more-recently developed areas, what’s now a residential yard could have been farmland just a few years ago.
If the yard was a yard in the 1940’s, it may have held a Victory Garden. During World War II, growing vegetables in one’s yard was seen as a very patriotic thing to do.
In the early 1800s, when Europeans arrived in Wisconsin, they found prairies with grasses up to nine feet tall, and savannas where oak trees were interspersed with shorter prairie plants.
10,000 years ago, much of Wisconsin was covered by a glacier. What’s now a yard in Madison would have been under a mile of ice!