Mowing Past

As the grass cutting season picks up pace, I’ve found myself contemplating my relationship with lawn-grass, and after spending so many days of my life being paid to cut it, I have to say I’m quite torn – maybe I’ve had my fill. In fact, if I had a delete button for the lawn in my back garden, despite the beautiful green look it presents, I might well choose to press it and do away with the lawn completely. For me then, might my home lawn mowing days be nearing their end?

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Being around the middle of May, the grass growing season is racing away with itself, and so grass cutting of course is quite topical. Verges along roads and garden lawns have moved in just a few short weeks from being chilled-out to a state of relentless growth, and the variable buzz of mowers has once again returned to our gardens. Duty-bound folks with various contraptions are busying themselves mowing and chopping grass in order to keep up with the flow.

On mowing itself, I’d be fascinated to know how many miles I’ve travelled in the last few decades sitting on, pushing or being pulled along by mowers, thousands I expect. Valuable time spent calmly and methodically working my way around shapes and spaces, cutting and re-cutting areas repeatedly until the desired look was achieved.

Across differing lawns in various gardens I’ve plied my trade, working calmly and methodically, often knowing that all would need cutting again the next week, also knowing how important each lawn was to the accepted aesthetic of the garden. I’d try my best not to hit any exposed tree roots, or leave mohawk strips of tufty grass where I hadn’t sufficiently overlapped, and on countless occasions I’ve abruptly stopped on a sixpence due to a bee not taking its leave from a daisy or clover flower. In fact, I’ve also lived with the guilt of mowing the daisies themselves – although that may account for me loving and embracing wild flower lawn areas throughout my gardening years.

Now, to write about a mowing past without mentioning the mowers themselves, would be akin to referring to a formula one race winner without mentioning their car, and if you’ll pardon the pun; without a mower most gardeners just wouldn’t cut it. I can therefore claim to have played with, sorry, used a good few of the darn things over the years.

The most memorable mowing machines have for me been ride-on types. Top ranking models with cylinder cutters and three fast spinning sets of scissor sharp blades – ‘triples’ as we used to call them. They were usually a dream to use and easy to manoeuvre, turning on the spot with their rear wheel steering, although in contrast, it was very easy to scuff the grass ‘doughnut-style’ if care wasn’t taken. These machines were brilliant to use until, as often happened, a stone or random piece of metal jammed and chipped a blade – or possibly worse, when their heady diesel fumes were overtaken by the smell of dog dirt whirring through the cylinders – not pleasant at all.

Other ride-on machines featured cutting decks beneath the driver with rotary blades. I must say, these have been the most versatile machines in practice, being able to sort out grass should it ever get out of reach for the cylinder mower, which happens sometimes. I’ve bounced and bobbed along on a good few of these mowers and spent many an hour on the ground scraping sodden grass from blades and jammed belts, and by the way, if I do have green fingers, this is probably where they came from.

Many golden moments were enjoyed gliding smoothly across lawns whilst towed by heavy, wide and close-cutting cylinder mowers; machines built only for the purpose of shaving grass to within an inch of its life. Think sports pitches and large lawns with precise stripes, and quietly purring engines ticking over whilst big ‘buckets’ of powder-like grass is regularly upturned onto tarpaulin sheets.

Naturally, with all my words about mowers, it may sound like I’m obsessed with the machines themselves, but really I’m not. It is just that in most places, especially larger gardens where space is needed for recreation and play, expansive lawns often come as standard. To this end, mowers and mowing in the places I’ve worked have been integral to my life in gardening. At home though, things are slightly different.

It is slightly weird that in all of my home gardens, I’ve needed for practical reasons to adopt more humble methods to keep the lawns looking neat – it may well be the same for you. No ride-on mowers, I could barely afford them let alone get one through the gate. No four-stroke fossil fuelled strimmers or pedestrian mowers, they would be a little over the top. No, my home mowing machines are a little Webb push mower and a battery powered strimmer that serves a need over at the allotment garden too. The setup is simple and small scale, but serves perfectly for the few compact areas of lawn that I have.

But as fiddly as my home mowing goes compared to my professional mowing days, would I really go so far as to remove the lawn entirely? Could I genuinely give up the green that I look upon most every day? You bet I could!

Even though my back lawn is embraced and nurtured for the green and pleasing picture it provides, it can sit entirely wet all winter and bake concrete hard through summer, although those attributes certainly don’t stop me using the space. I do though repeatedly consider the options open to me, and never more so than when, like now, the grass just keeps on growing.

Maybe a mini beach of compacted stone and gravel chip from one herbaceous planted shore to another would be nice, with the odd Miscanthus or Verbscum here and there, that would certainly be useful and picturesque. Potentially, even a few interlocking paved sections with some planting pockets, or maybe even some decking, but definitely no fake grass. There are numerous options for surfacing that could still incorporate some greenery, and each of them could crack the drainage problems whilst reducing the mowing input necessary.

I think the starlings might have something to say though, foraging for cutworms as they do across the lawn each day, and their feathered friends who rely on the springy floor to cushion their landings. For me, the space might also lose a softness which despite the mowing, reliably soothes my view of the garden almost each and every day, and really helps toward my own green oasis.

No, I think that for better or worse, my wet-n-dry lawn is here for the foreseeable future whilst I continue to think on the pros and cons of digging it all up. Maybe after all, I shall continue to push my mower this way and that for the thirty minutes it takes and enjoy the exercise, whilst day-dreaming of the days when I swooshed across acres of well-drained, well-fed lawns. Maybe my humble lawn is safe, for the time being.

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