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The Flat Cap on ... Lawns

With springtime not far away The Flat Cap has been looking to improve the look of his back garden, and in particular the grassed area. The Flat Cap loves a nice lawn to sit out on during the summer, but he isn’t very fond of the work needed to keep it looking great. He would never have made a grounds-man at Wimbledon or a green-keeper at St. Andrews. The Flat Cap is too bone idle. However he did get the bus to his local DIY superstore where he browsed their lawn seed and lawn feed options. And this in turn got him keen to learn a little bit more about our grassy spaces and our fascination with them.

Despite his indolence and general lawn languor The Flat Cap was eager to see if there was a quick fix for his tired looking grass. Lawn feed is invariably marketed as some modern miracle. One where the best scientific brains have come together to produce a cocktail of chemicals and / or organic compounds so powerful that even the least green fingered numpty can have a surface like a bowling green. These claims are usually accompanied by photographs of impeccable gardens and testimonies from amateur gardeners. “My lawn has never been so lush” - Mrs. W of Wisbech, “Where once was hardcore we now play croquet” - Mr. B of Barnstaple. You get the idea. The idea being that if these people can work wonders by merely watering in a box of stuff that looks like cheap muesli then anyone can. Feeding a lawn is meant to be as easy as feeding a baby; easier in fact, and not as random. When feeding a lawn the likelihood is that the feed goes only where you intend it to.

The first grass lawns didn’t come about until the seventeenth century. Before then it was up to livestock to keep the grass at a reasonable height. This was alright but it left the fields looking a bit scruffy. Also there was always the risk you could step in something unpleasant. This wasn’t any fun if you were wearing your best clothes and wanted to look presentable; like say at a church service or on a first date. Also back in the 1600s if you were an aristocrat there wasn’t a lot to spend your money on. Sports cars had still to be invented and without electricity there was no call for televisions, washing machines, or a decent sound system to adorn your living room. This lack of luxury consumer goods turned rich peoples’ attention to what could be done outdoors; and lawned gardens became the obvious choice. With lots of unemployed peasants lolling about in villages the wealthy aristocracy realised they had a cheap and convenient source of labour. In return the peasants benefitted from lots of fresh air, and some extra cash to spend in local shops and inns. After a quick course in scythe and shears safety off they went.

The more astute peasants soon realised that if they didn’t spend so much of their hard earned wages on grog and other fripperies they could actually buy their own plots. In turn they were able to build their own, albeit modest, homes and begin laying their own gardens on these parcels of land. Gardens now became not only allotments but also places of beauty to be enjoyed, and where families could put their deck chairs, barbecues, and paddling pools. Unfortunately paddling pools and scythes didn’t make a good combination and after a spate of accidents the lawn mower was invented. Safer than a scythe it led to a reduction in lawn related lacerations and made its inventors and manufacturers substantial fortunes.

Whilst waiting for his bus home The Flat Cap spoke to a man called Patrick who had been buying some moss killer and learned some very useful lawn related facts:

  • The world’s first lawn mower was invented by British engineer Edwin Beard Budding. Not content with that Budding went on to invent the adjustable spanner

  • Lawn feed manufacturers spend almost £800 million on television advertising every year

  • Noise pollution from lawn mowers accounts for 3% of all diagnosed hearing loss

  • In his nineteenth century journal turf grass scientist Dr. George Tuft cited four key elements to any successful lawn: watering, feeding, mowing and aeration. However artificial lawns just need a stiff brush

  • In 1989 EU bureaucrats proposed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by limiting the sale of sit-on lawnmowers to people with gardens of one hectare or more

  • In the USA alone there are more than 80,000 lawn mower related injuries per year. This equates to over 17 million injuries worldwide (when adjusted for poorer nations , and those countries largely made up of a lot of desert or mountains)

  • Lancelot Brown, more commonly known by his byname Capability Brown, was the world’s first celebrity gardener. In 1760 he earned more than £6,000 per year (roughly £750,000 in today’s money). This is of course only a fraction of the money earned by today’s television gardener Alan Titchmarsh

  • The word “lawn” derives from the sixteenth century English word “laune” which was used to describe any open space that could be used to host a charity cricket match on public holidays

  • A “supergrass” is someone who informs on others, and it is also the name of a Brit-pop band from the 1990s. The band’s founder, Gaz Coombes had one of the best kept lawns in Oxford and it required four people to keep it neat and tidy whenever he went away on tour. Coombes was once arrested by the police for possession of cannabis. Coincidentally “grass” is a slang term for cannabis

  • Welsh heart throb Tom Jones had a number one hit in 1966 with the song “Green, Green Grass of Home”. Born Thomas John Woodward he changed his name in 1963 to avoid being confused with a local undertakers business of the same name

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