The Lawn: a pretentious British middleclass anachronism

I like to inject a little culture into the blog every now and again so I’ll begin with a poem:

Spring is sprung

The grass is ris

I wonder where the birdies is


That’s enough, you know the one.

Spring is now very definitely sprung.  And the grass is very definitely ris.  (We’ll not get onto where the birdies is)

The warm sunny weather of the last week has dramatically accelerated growth in the garden.  Which as usual means that the weeds grow first and fast.  But this year the weeds are far more numerous having had their head all last summer while I was in Greece.   Weeds are a major unavoidable problem that owners of gardens have to live with.

The lawn, however, is another matter.  In the 10 days I was away up Norht it got to look very shaggy, loads of dandelions, daisies, plantains, celandines …. even the wrong kind of grass.  From now on it will need cutting at least once every two weeks.  And this is the cruncher, what on earth is the point????  And it is completely avoidable!!!!

There are probably more books written about how to care for lawns and stuff on sale to improve lawns than any other part of the garden.  Dr DG Hessayon, prolific author of ‘Expert Guides’ to many aspects of gardening devotes an entire book to The Lawn.

But what is the use of a lawn?  They just sit there looking a patchy, pock-marked green.  Once every 20 years or so, if the weather gets hot and dry, they look patchy, pock-marked yellow.  Most of the time if you walk on them they turn to slimy mud and if you habitually walk across them on the same line, say to get to the garage or the shed, you inevitably have to build a path.  Your or your neighbours pets pee on them and create bare patches surrounded by fairy rings.

Lawns need applications of weed killer, moss-killer, fertiliser, pH balancing, as well as mowing, edging and spiking for aeration, all requiring different bits of expensive kit.  Lawn mowers, strimmers, fertiliser ‘applicators’, spiking machines are needed which are so valued and cosseted that they have long-since displaced the car as the principle occupants and purpose of a garage.   I mean, lawns are so important to our middle-class, semi-detached life-style that it make sense to park the £20,000 car on the road so we can put the £200 lawnmower in the garage.

Be honest, how often do you use your lawn?  Probability is that it’s once a year when a warm sunny day happens to coincide with the kids being off school and you’re not all in the out-of-town-shopping centre buying a new lawnmower or some lawn-feed on a 2-for-1 offer.  You put your patio furniture on the decking, it’s only in period dramas that people sit on the lawn for afternoon tea.  Similarly with ‘traditional’ lawn-games like croquet.

Which brings me to the point.  ‘The Lawn’ is an inherited figment of British middle-class imagination.  A key feature of the Grand Garden Design for the upper classes pioneered by such as Capability Brown in the 18th Century, they were aped by the upper middle class and then from early 20th Century onwards, on the back of the ‘garden city’ ethos The Lawn became a feature of the burgeoning stock of semi-detached as well as detached houses.  Throughout this progression The Lawn got smaller and more futile, struggling ever more for survival as it became shaded by over-sized Leylandii hedges.

We used to have 5 lawns in our garden.  Two miniscule and totally useless ones in the front of the house.  We got rid of those very quickly after moving into the house in 1975 for purely practical reasons – I couldn’t get the inherited petrol lawnmower onto them.

Top, Middle and Bottom lawns at the back sloped down to the canal.  The Middle Lawn is simply the vestige of a much larger Bottom Lawn at the side of the vegetable garden we created.  It was and still is a pointless framework for the stone-slab path we had to build down to the hen-run as much trampling was in danger of creating a sunken way.  It won’t be there much longer.

About 10 years ago we decided to plant maple trees in The Bottom Lawn with objective of covering it with trees that would take it over and so be easier to look after in our old age.  This process was accelerated by fencing it off to let the chickens have the run of it.  It was soon reduced to bare earth or mud depending on how wet the weather was.  However when the chickens were re-homed before I went to Greece last Summer the weeds took over, flourishing with the benefit of years of direct manuring by the chickens.   Thistles grew to 6 feet high.

Now the Bottom Lawn is well on its way to becoming an, admittedly somewhat pretentious, ‘Acer Glade’, though I am having to fell the weeds and have an uphill battle with the Wrong Kind of Grass which survived the chickens.  Pretentious or not, in the Spring it offers dramatic, vibrant colours.  I shall plant more to fill in the gaps.  Much easier to look after than a lawn!  I think I may start a campaign to propagate this sedition – the Lawn Abolition Group.  And I’ll be the original Old LAG.


Another maple

... and yet another one

Looking over the Blue House to what was the Bottom Lawn

One of two particularly floriferous apple trees

Acer brightening up the gloom

Against clear blue sky

Copper maple in flower

This entry was posted in extreme gardening, Grumpy Old Men, Reflections, Spring. Bookmark the permalink.

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