Magazine article The Spectator

The Cutting Edge

Magazine article The Spectator

The Cutting Edge

Article excerpt

Like it or not, there are basic differences between the sexes. Apart from the obvious ones (women cannot remember football results for longer than it takes to cross the kitchen and silence James Alexander Gordon; men believe that a shopping list is. just a first draft, open to imaginative revision), there is also a marked gender divide in gardening. For so many men, and so few women, gardening has always meant 'lawning'.

For many decades, the care of the lawn has excused men from doing much else in the garden. So exigent were its demands that nothing more could be expected of a busy man. And, to tell the truth, we women were happy to leave them to it. After all, lawn maintenance meant grappling with mowing machines of obscure design and obscurer operation, impossible to start and even harder to stop, which seemed to us noisy, dangerous and polluting; machines which had minuscule grass boxes, needing repeated emptying on to mounds of clippings which heated and festered into a black goo; machines which required frequent bouts of tinkering, a full complement of spanners, and a broad agricultural vocabulary.

That was just the mowing. Care of lawns also seemed to entail a dreary succession of other tasks, such as 'spiking' and `scarifying', feeding and weedkilling, which were hard but not interesting labour, and were especially onerous at just those times of the year (spring and autumn) when we had more than enough to do elsewhere.

Over the last few years, however, something of a revolution has taken place in the world of the greensward. Most marked is the way that the rotary-bladed mower has largely eclipsed the cylinder mower as the machine for general use; 60 per cent of mowers sold now are rotary machines. The 'finish' that these produce is not so good as that of a cylinder-bladed mower, because it is impossible to cut so low, and the coarser types of grasses flourish at the expense of the finer; but we have learned to live with the compromise because these machines are lighter and easier to manoeuvre, and the whole business takes a great deal less time.

Lawn-mower engines, such as the almost ubiquitous Briggs and Stratton, start without brute force, and even sometimes at the first pull or turn of the switch. Many machines now run on unleaded petrol. Those people who don't want to wake the neighbouring dead, and have only a small lawn, can use an electrically powered machine, which affords the same sensation as vacuuming the sitting-room carpet. …

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