Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Simple pleasures of tending to your lawn

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

I have always liked lawns, despite having been made to push an ancient and heavy Suffolk hand-powered mower around in my earlier years. This was before my father, in a wonderful act of generosity, purchased a self-propelled Ransomes mower, a sort of green monster (the cattle trade must have been booming at the time), which required constant firm management, almost like long reining a wilful, half-broken horse.

Starting it meant careful grasping of the cord before pulling it to turn the engine. Often it would kick back and if gripped incorrectly could severely damage your thumb.

Once started it throbbed noisily and energetically as if aching to get going and when the accelerator lever was pushed forward it took off at high speed. Many were the flower beds and shrubs that suffered until I grew strong enough to control it properly.

In those days lawn mowers all had a cylindrical drum of blades which cut grass beautifully, and still do, but could not quite manage to cut the seed stems or 'thraneens' as we called them, whenever they emerged. Nowadays we have rotary mowers that cut just about everything, but back in the 1950s, if you wanted a nice flat smooth lawn, thraneens had to be pulled out by hand.

Try it some time and you will find that they have properties similar to those of wire and require a good sharp tug to remove them cleanly. When faced with many hundreds of them on a grass tennis court, the task was daunting.

My bachelor uncle, on the other hand, viewed lawns as a total waste of potentially good grazing land and despite living in a fine old property with extensive lawns, he managed to move the fencing so that the cattle and sheep did the mowing for him. The problem with this of course was that when children chose to play and tumble on the grass, the aftermath of the presence of livestock created some serious problems.

Our numerous TV gardening experts all seem to want a pristine carpet of perfect unbroken green and promote all kinds of sprays and fertilisers to achieve this ideal.

Being a good REPS farmer, I object to this approach and prefer to allow nature to take over with mosses, daisies, buttercups and dandelions. To me, fertilising a lawn just means extra mowing and the sight of goldfinches feeding on seed heads is adequate compensation for the slightly untidy appearance of my lawn areas. I like the more gentle approach and with the help of a large ride on the mower I find that I can keep an extensive area relatively tidy with the minimum of effort.

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Modern gardening equipment makes maintaining a garden a pleasure rather than a chore and with motorised edge trimmers, hedge clippers, strimmers, rotovators and mowers with hydrostatic drive and battery powered ignition, the laziest of us can still enjoy our gardens without the hardship and drudgery associated with the past.

Even emptying the grass box is simple these days and can be achieved without ever getting off the comfortable seat. The clippings, when mixed with fibrous material such as leaves and stable bedding, make wonderful compost so that we can grow great vegetables organically and the fertiliser is free. We have taken this a step further and now have a composting business on the farm which turns the by-products of landscaping and hedge maintenance into great soil conditioners.

Having started out by working on the principle that nothing in nature is ever wasted and the by-product of one activity becomes the input for another, nature is now providing a cash dividend. Material that formerly went to landfill is transformed into valuable peat-free compost that is purchased by nurseries, landscapers and private gardeners all over Ireland.

Recently I decided to extend the lawn area at home to include a section where I had unsuccessfully tried to grow foliage for sale to florists. Frost had wiped out the less hardy species so having cleared the dead shrubs and sprayed off the grass with Glyphosate, a local contractor then created the perfect lawn with an amazing machine that produced a fine and level top soil and buried the stones, all in one pass. He then sowed and rolled it and the ride-on mower looks after the rest.

Modern equipment has certainly removed the endless toil from farming and gardening. Perhaps we were all fitter and healthier in the old days, but somehow I don't regret the change.

Indo Farming