Lynda Hallinan’s Blog: Lawn and order

Lynda Hallinan gets off the grass and gets behind the wheel of a ride-on mower for the first time.

When I left home at 18, there were two things I vowed never to do as an adult. First, wash my car. And second? Mow the lawn. (Actually make that three things. As an adult, I no longer feel obliged to eat every scrap on my plate, whether I like it or not. If my eyes are bigger than my stomach in a cafe, I’ll take a doggy bag of leftovers home to treat our dogs, or the chooks, or the ducks, or the pig.)

As a teenager, I got my fill of washing cars during school and sports club fundraising events. It wasn’t fun then and it isn’t fun now.

Plus it’s an exercise in futility when you live in the country. We have a long driveway with potholes deep enough to dunk a labrador. Were I to wax my wheels and polish my chassis with a chamois cloth, it would be back to its mud-splattered, off-road-rally-car look before I’d even driven past the letterbox.

As for mowing the lawn? I’m a feminist but that’s a man’s job, right? Through a combination of wit, sloth, cohabitation, animal husbandry and horticultural ingenuity, I have managed to avoid this task for nigh on 30 years.

One woman went to mow, went to mow a meadow…

Before I was married, I’d let the grass grow under my feet until former partners took pity on me or paid a mowing contractor to pop around. Once, I turfed out my inner-city lawn altogether and sowed a mini field of barley to malt in an old clothes dryer for my homebrew; another time, I sowed wildflowers and called it a beneficial insect meadow.

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Eighteen months ago, when we bought the wee colonial cottage beside Camp Adair and started doing it up, the chattels included an old petrol mower. But I’ve never cranked it up; I figured it was far simpler last summer to slash the lot down in one go, turning it into 180 bales of hay.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love a perfect lawn. Ten years ago, we got married on ours and the wedding photos immortalise its verdant immaculacy and weed-free splendour. It looks too good to be true, like the synthetic TigerTurf my city mates are increasingly installing in their urban backyards.

The green, green grass of Lynda’s home, circa 2011. Lynda and her husband Jason held their garden wedding on this perfect sward.

A month before we got hitched, we blew megabucks on instant ReadyLawn and rolled out the green carpet for our guests. I chose ‘California Green’ turf, a wide-bladed, dark-green, rhizomatous, perennial tall fescue that suits northern climates, staying green even when it is hot and dry all summer long.

That was then and this is now. Ten years and no herbicide sprays later, my sumptuous shagpile lawn has been infiltrated with creeping buttercup, dandelions, daisies and self-sown clumps of annual rye (Poa annua), blighting its once-perfect visage with a rash of golden pimples, white spots and pale-green pox.

Last year, I abandoned all hope of restoring it to its former glory and fenced the entire lawn off for the kids’ Ag Day pet lambs to graze instead. They were later joined by a hand-raised clutch of ten ducks and nine chooks, after which came a drought and then Covid-19. In all that time, the lawn has only required mowing – by my husband – once.

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One woman went to mow, went to mow a meadow…

However, with no pet lambs to nibble it down this spring, our lawn suddenly sprouted thigh-high, so two weeks ago I sought help via our local community’s Facebook grapevine page. “Ride-on lawnmower recommendations, please. Asking for a lazy friend.”

The names flowed in thick and fast – King Cat Cheetah, Cub Cadet, Kubota, John Deere, Masport, Husqvarna, McCulloch, Hustler – along with strident opinions on side shooters, back shooters, catchers, mounts, model numbers and the pros and cons of zero-turn levers.

Halfway through the conversation, in chimed a bloke called Aaron Johnson who lives up the road in Hunua. “Hey mate,” he wrote, “I’m at Woodbine Services in Whitford. We’re a John Deere agent and I’m happy to do a demo if you like.”

“Hey Aaron,” I replied quick-as-a-flash, “I will be your mate if you actually mow my lawn while demo-ing.”

Aaron later admitted that he’d assumed he was talking to a fella, and the next morning, when he pulled up in our cottage paddock with a brand-spanking John Deere mower for me to trial, he was. Dad was only too happy to offer fatherly advice on the merits of two-pedal hydrostatic transmissions, rear-discharge decks and 12.9 kW Briggs and Stratton engines.

Lynda’s father, Jock was on hand to offer his fatherly wisdom, which mostly consisted of “slow down!”

He knows that when it comes to machinery, I’m not a details kind of gal. All I need to know is how to switch the damn thing on and off, and which page in the manual I turn to for troubleshooting tips.

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Our dogs, however, were instantly sold on the X166R. While I was practising puttering around in the paddock, mowing this way and that, they sat at Aaron’s feet, lapping up every word he said, along with the entire packet of dog treats he’d tucked into his pocket.

(Aaron is launching his side hustle, an artisan dog treat company called Cronch Co., at our local Hunua Village Market Day on Saturday 21 November. I’ll be there too, with the Fossick & Furnish Caravan of Collectables in tow.)

You can teach an old dog new tricks. As Aaron Johnson bribed Lynda’s dogs with his artisan Cronch Co. treats, she made short work of the long grass – yes, that’s her front lawn – around him.

Scottish actor Peter Capaldi (of Doctor Who fame) once described the sound of a lawn mower starting as “the sound of death approaching”. “I absolutely hate mowing the lawn,” he said. “When I hear the mowers starting, I want to kill myself.”

I know how he feels, however whenever I hear the sound of a mower starting up, I feel quite smug and can’t help but congratulate myself for my cleverness. Having bought my first ride-on mower, I now have no occasion to actually use it, because I can’t seem to get my husband out of the driver’s seat.

My lawn, and my domestic life, is in order.


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