The Tyranny of Lawns
I live in a village and mowing the lawn with a gasoline powered push mower takes about one hour fifteen minutes. I’m guessing that most people my age would purchase a riding mower. Why do we spend so much time, effort and money on lawns. How did this obsession with mowing the lawn come about?
Lawns weren’t always cut by machine. In the mid 1970s, I probably witnessed the last of the scythe artists. In a small hamlet, there was a gentleman cutting his lawn grass with a scythe. The lawn looked like grass would now about a week after power mowing. He was good. After he moved, the new owner used a riding mower.
I’m a late war-baby, so my personal time scale is somewhat limited. When I was young, I remember helping my father mow the lawn with a hand pushed reel mower. That house lot was probably 60′ x 100′. My job was to pick up twigs that had a habit of stopping the reel. Also, when we visited his aunt and uncle, we again mowed with a hand pushed reel mower. This one was of earlier vintage and was a work of art. It was easier to push, especially when kept sharp and properly aligned. At least mowing pre small motors was exercise and of necessity a limited area
Back then, my grandfather lived in the place I now own. There were cousins closer by and they cut most of the area I now mow with a hay mower a couple of times a year. Manicured lawn was kept to a minimum.
The other side of the family were farmers. Their lawn (where cousins and I played) was also cut with a hay mower. Their home was located on a hill back from the road. The area between the lawn and the road was cropped. The family has since moved off the farm and the holding was acquired by a semi-retired professional. The entire area from the house to the road is now lawn and is machine mowed. In a half century, the crops changed from food or forage to just mowed lawn.
On a motorcycle trip through the centre of Newfoundland, I saw people importing earth to create a lawn on an otherwise rocky lot. Why? You don’t have to mow rock.
This obsession with manicured lawn is somewhat weird, especially in rural areas. I have seen modest homes situated on large lots where the owners mow over five acres. That’s a lot time of sitting on a noisy machine doing a very boring routine task.
I’ve also seen rural (but not farm) homes where the owners mow and bag the grass then set it out for garbage pick up yet in at least one case, they were using parts of the edge of the lot (a leveled lot on a hill side) to dispose of brush.
And the exercise portion of the work is fast disappearing. How many times have you seen a bare molson muscle jiggling between the seat and steering wheel of a sit on lawn mower/tractor?
Wikipedia has an entry on lawns that is as good as I can come up with. Lawns were first meeting places, then for the very rich and finally sold to us by good advertising. Post WW 2 with rising income and time off saw a growth in perceived importance of lawns. Much of the perception was due to advertising. We’ve been sold on the idea of the manicured lawn.
About 20 years ago, a Ministry of Environment higher up addressed a conference I was attending and his opening statement stuck. “There are two major contributors to environmental degradation. The Engineer’s obsession with standing water and the English Country Garden.” The “garden” is artificial, treated, manicured and mowed. Maybe a little less emphasis on lawn could be part of our attempts to slow the harm modern living is doing to the planet.