Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Mountains out of Molehills

What with Wimbledon coming up, coinciding with the annual hose-pipe ban in rain-sodden England, there was an argument on the radio between two gardeners this morning, one of whom hated lawns and the other who loved them.

It made me wonder as to what the British obsession with them is all about, and how on earth (geddit???) it ever came about, so I Googled it to find most of my suspicions were correct.

I suspected that the notion of 'An Englishman's home is his castle' had a lot to do with it, and I guessed rightly. The only inland castles that exist in the USA were either built by wealthy industrialists (or are real ones, shipped over stone by stone from here) or the Disney Corporation, so the dog-day phenomena of Joni's 'Hissing of Summer Lawns' in the wealthy suburbs is more to do with an obsession either caught from too much golf, or a hankering after the Old Country. The proof that weedless lawns are an obsession can be seen in the genuine billboard at the top! The climate of most U.S. states is not suitable to a moss-free swathe of grass, hence Joni's hissing - and Astroturf. A famous U.S. baseball player was once asked which he preferred - Astroturf or grass, and he replied, "I don't know. I've never smoked Astroturf."

In Elizabethan times, back here in old Blighty, most lawns were made from fragrant herbs like Thyme or Camomile and the only person in the whole of the UK to still maintain a large Camomile lawn is the other Elizabeth - our present Queen. That one is tucked away at the back of Buckingham Palace.

During Elizabeth the 1st's reign, pretty much all grass lawns were specifically made to play bowls on - like the famous one used by Sir Francis Drake down there in Devon, as the Spanish Armada sailed up the estuary in popular folklore. Then - in quick succession - two things happened. The playing of bowls was prohibited for the lower classes, and the fortification of private houses by anyone was forbidden under pain of death.

When these two draconian statutes were finally lifted, every man and his wife thought it their God-given right as English citizens to grow a six-foot square patch of grass in front of their newly-fortified, semi-detached, two-bedroomed house in Surbiton.

There you have it - an Englishman's home is his castellated dormitory, and if he wants to rip up the grass outside it and lay down a concrete pad on which to park his Nissan Micra, he damn well will!


  1. I admit, I am one who has to have weedless grass. It costs me fifty a month for the peace of mind. But, I learned something from you today about the thyme. What a good idea in a space where there was no foot traffic.

    Nice post with not a mention of a candle holder.
    BTW, Wimbledon started yesterday.

  2. Sorry about the candle-holders. It's because I live in town and have no garden - or lawn. Wimbledon started today? Well well. I obviously don't have an obsession for tennis either.

    Actually, the whole point of herb lawns was that the foot-traffic released the scent as you walked through. 'Dr Who and the Time-Lawns'.

  3. My parent's last home in Sussex had an almost exclusively moss lawn (over sand).. it was beautiful.

  4. I sown Clover up at the plots as a green manure. It has crept into the grass paths and the orchard grass and gives it all a lush green feel even when covered in chicken poo which no doubt helps the grass grow even more.

    Interested in the Camomile lawns thing. If you don't need to mow it I might have some under my beehives.

    Please stop with the f**ing puns Tom!

  5. I've just realised that it MUST be Wimbledon right now. We can expect comments from Groucho at any time of his day or night as he stays up to watch it on TV.

    I much preferr moss lawns to grass, Cro. Why do people hate moss so much? Does it send the bowl off-course?

    Which particular fucking puns are getting your knickers in a twist, Chris? Don't you realise that unless I make a feeble play on words at every opportunity, I may never attract the attention of the features editors of sunday magazines, who insist on them? You've really done it now - I'm going on a pun-fest just to get rid of you, having stupidly promised not to bar you.

  6. P.S. -It's going to be a lot of 'PUN' (geddit???)

  7. my lawn has bulldog toilet training patches of earth dotted all over it.... places that nothing will grow (including bacteria)

    it makes for an individualised lawn to say the least

  8. chris
    can you post photos of your clover patches!
    I would like to see them.....

    (make of that what you will thomas

  9. This is what happens when you threaten to kill kitties to get comments - crazies like me come a knocking on your blog door.

    No one can hold a candle-stick to you when it comes to puns, Tom, so you only have yourself to flame... (Oh for fucks sake I'm doing it now, thanks a lot!)

    John, I'll post pics of my clover patches if I can angle the camera correctly...

  10. Hubby is obsessive about his weedless lawn. My patio has the step-upon thyme and it is lovely. Wish I had it in more areas.

  11. Yes tom, we are so territorial aren't we? However much we assure people that we are not, we do like our own little space - lawn, flower bed, tarmac patch etc. and we defend it with our lives sometimes.

  12. Took out my lawn after I got fed up of trying to mow clay. Replaced it with raised beds for vegetables and an extension to the patio. (Which has tubs of herbs and strawberries and salad plants etc) Yummy, easy-care sun trap!

  13. Love the idea of a thyme lawn. I could care less how many weeds grow in our little patch of grass, it's all green stuff as far as I'm concerned.
    I'm the only one here who encourages the moss to grow between the paving stones, must be the Englishwoman in me. Everyone else power washes them and fills with sand...looks so institutional!

  14. I'm wondering what the threat of the fortified private houses was?

  15. Oh actually, I've just realised what you are wondering about, Mise - I think the fortifications to the Surbiton houses were trying to keep the neighbors out. (Sorry, my long-lost cousin has turned up. I haven't seen her for 35 years or so, so I am a bit distracted. You think I have an expensive obsession with candlesticks, you should see hers. In fact you will on the next post).

  16. It's not candlesticks - it's DOLLS. She has spent the weekend in Bath at a doll-fest. I will show you her purchase tonight (and indiscreetly tell you what she paid for it...).