NZ Gardener - - Editor's Letter - Jo McCar­roll

“Gar­den­ing and laugh­ing are two of the best things in life you can do to pro­mote good health and a sense of well be­ing.”

David Hob­son

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!

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