Mowing Is Manicuring
By Tony Vanderwarker
If you’re a golfer, you want to play like Jordan Spieth; if you play tennis, you want to serve like Roger Federer; if you spend six hours a week on a mower, you want your lawn to look like Yankee Stadium. The field in the Bronx looks like someone mowed it with a computer, perfectly aligned rows overlaid with paths at a 90 degree angle so the field comes out looking like a Ralph Lauren-designed plaid diamond in two shades of emerald.
Now, I don’t have an exotic strain of grass seed imported from Oregon or a heavy-duty commercial mower like the crew at Yankee Stadium. I get along with seed from Lowes and a Kubota, but I’ve gotten good at mowing a pleasing pattern. And I pride myself on it.
There are a couple tricks to mowing a knockout lawn. First, you have to mow perfectly parallel, no swervy tracks or orphaned strips. And you need to mow to a vantage point, to a window that overlooks the lawn or a spot on the driveway where your house first comes into view. That’s how you get the WOW! factor, neat, perfectly parallel lines of two shades of grass that lead the eye right up to the house or off to the horizon.
Admittedly, my lawn doesn’t look like Yankee Stadium, more like a Triple-A field, but at least it gives you a degree of satisfaction after bouncing around on a mower for half a day. I like to drag my wife out to admire the painstakingly-striped vista and she grudgingly obliges, giving me a “Very nice, Tony” comment like she would to a kid showing her the crayon drawing he did in kindergarten.
Okay, mowing is a guy thing. To outsiders who don’t spend a good part of their summers mowing, a mowed lawn is just a lawn that’s been mowed. But there’s an art to it. Mowing is not doing the dishes or making a bed. You’re not mowing a lawn, you’re grooming it.
Peg, who mows lawns for a living, is so good at it that her lawns don’t look mowed, they look manicured. That’s why I have Peg and her crew do the weed-whacking after I mow. It’s kind of like a finish cut, trimming the grass in corners, along walkways and around gardens at the exact height of the cut grass. Too low and it looks like the lawn’s been scalped, too high and it looks unkempt. It’s a trick I haven’t mastered. Every time I take out the weed whacker, I find I can’t hold it steady enough and end up with it bouncing up and down, leaving the grass looking like its been chomped on by a bunch of goats.
There’s another trick to mowing masterfully–deciding how long to wait after a heavy rain. Too early and the mower wheels bring up mud, and instead of emerald strips, you get long brown lines. Ugh! And if you’re mowing on a slope, the soggy grass can give way and your mower can start sliding, tearing up the turf and leaving a bad gash in your lawn.
And if you delay cutting too long, you get endless clumps of cut grass that you have to spend hours blowing away.
A predicament in mowing is the zero-turn mower. While sitting on it makes you feel like a sultan in a sedan chair being carted around by a bunch of lackeys, it turns on a dime and if you rotate it too radically on turf that’s even slightly damp, it can easily tear up a divot the size of a handkerchief that you don’t find until you turn around and come back.
Time passes quickly when you’re sitting in your sedan chair, particularly since NPR is tootling away on your earmuffs, taking you to exotic locales and tutoring you on arcane subjects like the mating habits of crocodiles.
So the next time you see a mowed lawn, take time to appreciate it. After all, just like the Mona Lisa, it’s a work of art.