One man went to mow

Lawn with flowers

The Mower
The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

I’ve been lent some wonderful books while I’m at Benmore but one of the most fascinating is about plant hunters.

Just stop for a moment and list all the bits-and-bobs and general paraphernalia you take when you leave the house, for even the shortest journey.

These intrepid plant-hunting fellows, (I’m up to the 1850s in the book and so far they are all men) lace up their stout shoes, button up their tweed jackets, look in the mirror to see if their tie is straight and set off to the far flung corners of the world to collect plants and seeds.

Okay, there are some exceptions. Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820) apparently refused to go on one expedition because the wasn’t allowed to take his pack of greyhounds or his personal orchestra, but on the whole plant hunters seemed to have travelled remarkably lightly.

And, so far, they seem mostly to have come from Scotland.

However, to go off at a slight tangent, the book does say that it was an Englishman, Edwin Budding (1795–1846), who invented both the lawnmower (1830) and the adjustable spanner .

Leaving aside the adjustable spanner, the book says that Budding’s invention made it easier to cut the grass between the complex flowerbeds that were becoming popular, especially in suburban gardens and so soon replaced the scythe. Well, no surprise there.

Thanks to Budding, it was farewell to aching backs and biceps and… many, many years later, once his original person-propelled mower had been ‘improved’ by the addition of an engine… Hello, summer-Sunday-afternoon in suburbia noise pollution. Forgive me for being churlish because I wouldn’t want to cut my own lawn with a scythe but sometimes the cacophony of weekend lawnmowers does make me hanker for less mechanical times.

At Benmore they have benefited from the plant hunters and from Mr Budding’s invention. They certainly have no shortage of lawns… like this between the Redwood trees…

Redwood lawn

or this one beside The Courtyard wall…

Lawn with path

and they use a variety of machines, like this…

Blue tractor

and this…

Ian in tractor

and this…

Ian on mower

(No hedgehog was harmed in the taking of this photograph.)

… to look after the lawns and the many different plants growing throughout the garden.

Thanks to Ian who very kindly agreed to let me photograph him in the tractor and on the mower.

And I have to say I’ve met nothing but kindness since I’ve been at Benmore. No matter how busy the staff and volunteers are, they always make to time to answer my questions and help me when I need help.

The older I get the more I value kindness. And having mused for some while on that topic today I realise I can’t sum up better than Larkin, who concludes his poem, The Mower, with the following lines:

we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.


One thought on “One man went to mow

  1. When you’re back down south, check out the Marianne North gallery at Kew for the treasures brought back by one female plant hunter.
    As for scythes, I watched the neighbour use one to clear the next door plot a couple of years ago and so wanted to go and ask for a lesson. I keep the weeds along the bridal path under control with an inexpertly wielded sickle, giving the hedgehogs, feral kittens and other small mammals plenty of time to make their escape.

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