Friday, March 03, 2006

The green, green grass of home

The Englishman has a strange relationship with his lawn and after years of studying it I have had to conclude I am not, in this respect at least, a typical Englishman.

You only have to look at the summer advertisements for lawn growth products, weed killer, and the rival types of mower (it’s a lot less bovver with a hover) to realise that we are dealing not with a chore but an obsession. My neighbour uses a cylinder mower and has cut little channels around the edges, between the lawn and his drive, so that the mower is not obstructed by any paving and can cut right up to the edge. The flower beds are sunk below the lawn for the same reason. My lawn merges seamlessly with the part of the garden in which things other than grass grow (actually, things other than grass grow freely on the lawn too) and the edge is defined by either how tough they are or how much of a bollocking I will get from SWMBO if I scythe too far off the main track. I use the word scythe figuratively here but there is a full size haymaker’s scythe in my garage that is brought out most years in the spring when a combination of wet weather, rapid growth and procrastination takes the grass to a height the mower can’t handle. From the scythed state I use the mower, blades set high, to reduce the grass to a level that on a golf course would count as light rough – short enough to find the ball but needing a solid stroke to get out of. My neighbour takes his down to a height that, as a putting green, would rate about twelve on the Stimp meter. My cuttings go in a pile in a corner and over time degenerate into first class compost and get recycled. His go into a black bag and are put out with the rest of the trash, adding to my council tax. This last is a habit of modern suburban man that I despise as much as car washing with chemicals in the street. The water and soap go into the storm drain, thence to the river and are pumped back onto the fields and thus into our cereals, vegetables and milk. And do Friends of the Earth care? Not that I have ever heard of. They are more interested in fatuous schemes for generating electricity by covering the landscape in 100 metre high rotating aerofoils that are a danger to low flying aircraft and likely to be unproductive when most needed. But I digress, as usual.

The obsession with neatness of lawn is undoubtedly a bourgeois thing. It seems to infect those who have not enough grass to justify a self-propelled, sit-on mower, a trapping that those who have one, whether justified by much lawn or not, are only too happy to boast about, and is part of a strange compulsion to keep the garden tidy, along with tidying up the leaves in autumn, should trees that shed leaves be allowed to grow. The aristocracy, if Nancy Mitford is to be believed, are free of such chores, as modern politicians are of so many of life’s little obligations and petty problems, such as paying council tax or where to park at work. In The Pursuit of Love she observes: ‘gardens . . . a topic which was unknown at Alconleigh. The gardener saw to the garden and that was that. It was quite half a mile from the house, and nobody went near it, except as a little walk sometimes in the summer’.

I fall between the two. I have no enthusiasm for gardening and don’t have enough lawn to justify a sit-on mower but I can’t stop a sneaking admiration for someone like the Manchester City FC groundsman and his crop circle-like patterns. He must be from another planet though. That sort of enthusiasm for mowing ain't natural.

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