Green, green grass of home

The rampant ryegrass in my garden that grows so fast you can almost see it happening 
Me and my sister Tricia in our back garden in the 1970s. Dad used to cut the grass with a Flymo hover mower that was notoriously difficult to start

The house I live in now has recently had an extension added on to the side. Because of the building work, the lawn was ruined, so my landlord re-seeded the garden in the hope of repairing the damage.

Over time, the new grass established itself and the hour came for its first cut. It had grown very long by then, so I was looking forward to having a garden that did not resemble a young cereal crop.

I was delighted once the lawn had been mown, as it was so much tidier, and much nicer to look at. A week went by, and I realised the grass needed cutting again as it was already almost back to the original length. I assumed that must be what happened with young grass that still hadn’t matured. So we duly did the job, and spent the next couple of days admiring our handiwork. But by day three, the grass had visibly grown several inches, and by day seven, it was over our ankles again. This continued to happen week after week.

I was mystified, and informed my landlord that whatever seed had been sown was growing so rapidly that I could almost see it happening. He was skeptical, thinking I was exaggerating. So when he announced he was coming back to do more work for a week, I mowed the lawn as short as I possibly could on the Monday and, when he arrived, said: ‘Just wait until Friday’.

Sure enough, by Friday the grass was ankle-deep again, and the landlord confessed that it wasn’t your everyday ‘domestic’ grass that he’d put down. Never one to pass up a bargain, he’d been offered the mysterious seed for free by a helpful farmer who had too much. At the time he didn’t know what it actually was, but I have now identified it as perennial ryegrass, which is ideal for hay, silage and grazing, but not so good for a domestic lawn (unless you happen to own sheep).

He apologised and pledged to replace it with a more manageable grass. However, that was at the end of last summer, and before he got round to it, the weather grew cooler, the growth slowed down and it became less of a problem. More recently though, our bionic grass has taken off again, but with the current situation as it is, it might be sometime before we get a ‘normal’ lawn.

Thankfully, I have invested in a rather swanky lawnmower which is powered by a rechargeable battery. That means no petrol and no annoying electric cable, so it is very easy to use. It has certainly earned its keep since this grass arrived though!

According to my dad in his column from 28th June 1980, the lawn mower is a relatively recent invention and was the brainchild of a Mr Edwin Budding in 1830. Mr Budding was an engineer in the weaving industry and was intrigued by a machine that was used to trim the cloth’s nap. The machine had a cutting cylinder with a bladed wheel that rendered the rough woven cloth smooth to the touch.

His engineering brain realised that it could be adapted to cut grass, and if it was mounted in a wheeled frame and rolled across the surface of a lawn, it would be far more efficient and provide a much more satisfactory result than using a scythe, hand shears, or sheep, which were the alternatives of the time. Although these original machines were very heavy, the design is remarkably similar to many of today’s models. Significant developments over the years included adding an engine which could be powered by either steam or petrol, and in the 1960s Flymo introduced the very popular rotary hover mower.

I remember my dad’s 1970s Flymo and the struggles of trying to start the thing by yanking violently on a pull cord. It would tease him by sounding like it was about to catch, only to then fade and threaten to cut out. So Dad would pull furiously on the cord again and again until, after much persistence, the unwilling mower would finally burst into ear-splitting life.

As he says in his column, “I have had plenty of practice starting my mower, and sometimes I wonder if it should be in a museum.”  Well, forty years on, I bet that it is!

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 26th June and the Gazette & Herald on 24th June 2020

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