“Gardening and laughing are two of the best things in life you can do to promote good health and a sense of well being.”
Asurvey came out a few years ago about what jobs in the household were assigned according to gender lines. It found that in the vast majority of the homes of those who responded, men were responsible for mowing the lawn. (Men were also largely the ones who had to get things out of high cupboards and investigate strange nocturnal noises, while women were tasked with remembering birthdays and anniversaries, buying presents and treating children’s head lice.)
Now I mention this merely in passing. I do not want to imply that mowing lawns is “men’s work” because – obviously – it’s not. Men and women can and do mow their own lawns, berms and verges. I am usually the one who mows the lawn at home. I do not believe in a grass ceiling.
However, I do think that the love of lawns is a polarising issue. Not to start a turf war, but it seems to me some people care passionately, hand weeding out dandelions and pursuing even stripes and an ever finer fescue. While others are not that bothered and just push a mower around every now and again to keep it tidy. And based on my own entirely personal opinion, the first group are 100 per cent likely to be men.
But since this is a reputable magazine, and not prone to wild and unscientific claims, I decided to also canvass the views of a couple of notable gardeners with whom I am lucky enough to be acquainted.
First off I called our Ashburton columnist Alan Trott, who maintained immaculate lawns at his previous property Trotts’ Garden for years (it’s now operated by a charitable trust). Alan is an unashamed lawn fan.
“I always say that, if you haven’t got a good lawn, you haven’t got a good garden,” he told me. But he wasn’t convinced there was a gender divide. His wife Catherine, he says, “is like me, she likes a good lawn, although I do maintain it. But it’s not a big job to maintain a good lawn.”
But Fiona Eadie, head gardener at Larnach Castle, thinks there is still a male and female split. Men and women both like lawns, she thinks – she is a fan herself, although she has plumbed for biodiverse lawns in the castle gardens now to minimise sprays. But the upkeep of lawns, in her experience, was still mainly done by men. “I suppose historically doing the lawn was seen as ‘heavy’ work – men did the lawn and the vege garden because that needed to be dug over. But I’m not sure why it persists. It used to involve heavy machinery but now it’s easily handled.”
(Fun fact: the first push lawn mowers, invented by British engineer Edwin Beard Budding in 1830, were made of cast iron and so heavy they took two people to move. Budding got the idea for his wheel-and-blade contraption from the cross cutting machines used in the textile mills. The basic idea of a lawn mower today is pretty much as he envisioned it, although of course now most boast an internal combustion engine or battery power.)
(Bonus fun fact: The concept of lawns had been around for a while before Budding though. In the 17th and 18th century “tapis vert” – literally green carpet – was an aristocratic status symbol. Keeping the grass short involved a combination or scissors, scythes and stock. Sheep were the most common choice, although wallabies were used to crop the turf around the first Government House in Sydney. It is recorded that their grazing created a perfect surface but they were prone to nibbling on the ornamental plants.)
Who cuts the lawn at your place? A man? A woman? A wallaby? Are other garden chores divided along gender lines? Let me know. And wishing you all a great November in the garden!