Friday 9 November 2012

One Man Went To Mow

So the trouble with having a lawn is that eventually you’re going to have to actually cut the damn thing, otherwise it’s not a lawn, it’s a meadow.

Well, not a meadow exactly. That’s conjures up images of a bucolic idyll: sepia-tinted sunlit uplands, grasses gently undulating and susurrating in the alpine breeze, subtly but richly coloured wildflowers hosting softly floating populations of butterflies. Maybe a lonely shepherd lies back on a checked rug knitted for him by his beloved mother, a blade of grass tenderly gripped between his full and succulent lips. Eyes closed, he listens lazily yet attentively to the bees buzzing, the distant sounds of his flock grazing, and further off still the muted ringing of cowbells echoing up from the lower foothills.

He hears footsteps approaching and opens his eyes – deep dark eyes. Eyes the colour of burnished sapphire that all the village girls have drowned in a thousand times and would gladly do so a thousand times again, for all that he spurns their halting advances. All except one, for the figure approaching is the blacksmith’s daughter. Her step is nervous and hesitant, yet the flush colouring her freckled cheeks betrays an unspoken yearning. The pace of her tread increases as she nears him; the merest zephyr lifting her strawberry blond tresses to dance in the sunlight. She walks barefoot, the grass brushing her ankles and calves, hints of more as the lowering sun pours its rays through the folds of her faded gingham skirt.

He props himself up on his elbow to better observe her advance. She stops. She’d hoped to approach him unawares with the parcel she carries in hands trembling almost imperceptibly, though in the confused mists of her heart they sway as wildly as the tops of the tallest pines in the most terrible of the storms that howl up the valley every winter. She looks down, at the package, past it to her naked feet, all the while feeling his gaze on her face. Wanting him to stop and turn away and spare her this, wanting him with every fibre of her being not to stop, not to turn. Not now nor ever.

She looks up, clear hazelnut eyes locking with the boy’s abyssal blue. Her lips part infinitesimally as his do the same, and they both know that all is lost, here, now, and forever, as an eagle circles high above giving voice to the urges from the very centre of its soul. Far below the grasses sway and part and close again and only the birds shall ken.

That’s not my lawn. As of late it’s looked more like a 1960’s porn star’s pubes. While I didn’t want to get rid of it all, of course, it could sure as hell have used a good trim and a bit of pruning. Tidying up a bit, like, and for that we needed a lawnmower.

Unless you live way out in the sticks, Japanese gardens tend towards the small and functional. And if you do live out in the sticks then people tend not to have gardens so much as paddy-fields, which would certainly add an unexpectedly Club 18-30 feel to any trysts between village girls and farmhands. I’d love to have a traditional Japanese garden, all bonsai trees and gravel paths and languidly dripping water features, but those things cost a fortune, are complete bastards to maintain, and are even rarer here than traditional English cottage gardens are back home. Also far less compatible with small children.

The gardens of most Japanese houses consist largely of grit. A few square metres of grit, with some stones and sand and, if you’re lucky, mud. Much like the school playing fields really, only far, far smaller. Easier and cheaper to maintain, sure, but just so grimly utilitarian. I know I’ve previously bemoaned the Japanese obsession with form over function, but counterexamples keep popping up in the most unexpected places. Almost as though they’re real people like back home, with all the inherent inconsistencies that entails, eh?

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about Zen rock gardens. I really do mean patches of dirt. Lawns just aren’t that popular. Fair enough, I guess. I’ve seen enough newbies complain that Japan is expensive based on the price of meat and bread. Obviously it is expensive, but if you’re going to insist on eating exactly the same stuff as at home then you’re going to get that double. If you want to eat economically you’re going to have to learn to like rice, and if you aspire to a garden containing more than the colour brown then it’s probably better to draw inspiration from the local environment instead of sticking rigidly to your cultural preconceptions of what a garden ‘should’ look like. Introducing alien organisms to indigenous environments rarely works out well.

Still, they do have grass and lawns here, there just nowhere near as big a deal as back home. Your options for lawn care are similarly limited. The range of lawnmowers it’s possible to purchase back home is just vast. Look here, 33 models available from one company alone. Hell, it’s even possible to get children’s toys modelled on lawnmowers, so Junior can get practice in and be ready as soon as possible to start actually earning his summer pocket-money –

The choice of mowers available in Japan is smaller, as are the mowers themselves. We finally bought one of the damn things the other week and this is what we ended up with –

Yep. I can’t help but feel that this rather undermines the whole ‘I am man, hear me roar’ thing. Still, could have been worse. I could have bought the Doraemon gardening gloves as well.


  1. We started off with a really nice, weed free lawn only to wake up one morning to a scene that looked like the Somme. Yeah, that's right, we had moles. And they excelled at their unrelenting trench warfare.

    We hit them with everything. I mean everything. A phallic shaped sonic vibrator requiring several fist-sized batteries (we nick-named him 'Hedgehog'), flooding, poisonous pellets, mothballs, carbon monoxide, chewing gum, more flooding, vigilance, even more vigilance, and prayers laced with profanity. Finally, we set traps and caught more than a dozen of the bastards.

    When our grass started to really grow, we ended up using an overpriced, embarrassingly modest-sized (for here) push mower.

    We had two or three good seasons before the weeds took over. Eventually we decided to grow more edibles.

    Then the monkeys showed up...

  2. I hate lawn! I hate it so much. Why do people have it? Especially front lawns. They had a load of maintenance for what? To look pretty? No one ever uses them. If you want to go loll around on the lawn, you'll go to a park. If I owned this house,I'd pull it all out and get a Japanese mud and rock garden.

  3. My British father transplanted himself to suburban Canada, and since once the son of urban shopkeepers he went nuts with the opportunity to tend a quarter acre of lawn and gardens. He inflicted much of the work on his three sons. We learned to loathe it, and none of us work on our own: two of us live in cramped urban quarters, and the rich one has the work done for him at his urban brownstone and country house.

    Even after the housing crash starting in Toronto works itself out and the J-wife and I buy when we return, fuck a house with a big yard. I'm smarter than my father: if winter doesn't kill everything, arid Augusts will. Toronto's climate only works for bush.

  4. "Also far less compatible with small children."

    Instances of children skidding in the gravel and smashing their skulls on stone lanterns and then drowning in Koi pools are probably pretty rare ;)

  5. Thanks all. The unanimity of the anti-lawn vote is slightly unexpected, I have to confess. This was basically a hideously bloated set-up to the punchline that my lawnmower looks like a child's toy, I wasn't prepared for quite this level of backlash. Or any backlash at all, come to that...

    Will - So far we've been relatively wildlife and weed free. The couple of times I've had to mow it have certainly been less hassle than the constant weeding it needed before. Could you not train the monkeys to catch the moles? Seems like a missed opportunity there, if I'm honest.

    Kathryn - Does the garden have a shed? Every house I've rented that had a garden also had a shed that only the landlord had a key too. I've spent far too many drunken nights with housemates speculating at what kind of depraved secrets might be hidden right under our noses.

    Ant - That's what kids are for though, right? It's character building, I'm led to believe, though what kind of character is never clearly stated.

    Chris - What could possibly give you the impression that it's damage to the kids I'm worried about? Koi are easily startled and getting blood out of stone is notoriously difficult ;)

  6. Our garden not only has an unlocked shed, it has a bungalow (also unlocked). The landlords do have quite a lot of junk stored under it though which freaks us out because it's so snakey. I've rented places with locked rooms though... that's creepy. Don't even go in the locked room!

  7. I miss lawns a lot. The lawns at university were great to have lunch on and spend some free time on too.

    I assume you are using pesticides to keep everything in check. I have a little spot out in the country for some basic veggies and so forth, but in summer time is it all out war with the grass, vines and whatever other shit decides to grow. Rain season might help your potatoes grow or whatever, but I've never seen weeds grow like that in my life.

    1. Nope, all organic so far.

      Well, I say 'organic'. What I really mean is that I've been too lazy to do anything to it other than run the hose over is a few times for the first couple of weeks, then give it a couple of trims.

      We had some vegetables in pots but since the birth of the second the watering schedule has been a little slapdash and they've not fared well. Still, more stuff for the compost so it's not a complete loss.