For the last 20 years my lawn have been maintained by a variety of lawn mower men. You might say I’m an expert in using and losing lawn mower men. Some were franchised, many were independent, two were uni students, and my current bloke is the son of a former lawn mowing man. They all have one thing in common, they have stories to tell. From tyre-like snakes to the ubiquitous naked housewife, they would arrive from their last job, either wide-eyed or totally unmoved at what people do or generally don’t do in their gardens.
An interesting fact, little documented, is that lawn mowing men are commonly escaping the grind of an intense and soul-destroying job. They like the fresh air, the physical aspect, their own timetable and the odd cash in hand. I have heard about their families, their weekend activities and their apologies for why they have to charge me more for trimming the edges. I’ve given up querying those five minute extras. Some have used a whipper-snipper over the whole garden and one modern man used a ride-on mower. The noise and the results were equally bad but they didn’t come back. Which is a blessed relief. You can read about my suburban garden in Garden Notes.
In the beginning I used to offer these men a cold drink on a hot day but increasingly I have noticed they bring their own beverages. Once I offered a craggy old fellow a yoghurt ice-cream on a stick, thinking it would be cooling, but he refused telling me he didn’t like that sort of stuff. The stories are real but I have used pseudonyms throughout so let’s call him Doug. Doug had experienced “that sort of stuff” before. Without yoghurt but involving a Naked Lady.
Doug was mowing the front lawn when he glanced up and saw the homeowner standing naked in the front window. She was unperturbed but he was flustered. At the end of his job, Doug went to the door and it was flung open before he could knock. The now scantily clad homeowner ushered him inside, offered him coffee, sat close on the sofa and introduced him to her girlfriend. Apparently they wanted a baby together and he seemed the perfect candidate. Doug was a happily married grandfather and “wouldn’t have a bar of it”. In other words, the answer was “no”.
The Egg Basket was one of Doug’s more humorous stories. Doug was mowing the back lawn of a regular customer, being careful not to scare the free range hens, when he came across fresh laid eggs. He picked them up and placed them out of harm’s way in the peg basket swinging on the clothes line. Next visit, the homeowner told Doug “the funniest thing had happened” and his “chooks must be acrobats” because they laid their eggs in the peg basket. Doug laughed and explained what he had done. The homeowner was relieved since he couldn’t understand how the hens had balanced.
Lawn mowing men are wizards with a mower but rarely are they trained horticulturists, arborists or landscapers. The same goes for a sub-branch called treeloppers but that’s another story. Some mower men are billed as gardeners but often become vague about availability when you ask if they can weed the back garden. Or even more vague when you ask if they have time to remove a pile of garden waste. Their astute move with garden waste is to tote-up how many other householders want rubbish removed, coordinate the same day collection, slug each of us the disposal fee and do a one-stop drop at the council tip.
One thing I have noticed (apologies, I have yet to see a female mower person) is that, to a man, they have their mobile phones in their top left pocket, button undone ready to take calls. They don’t write these calls down so, inevitably, at some point they have to ring the caller back to confirm appointment details. The good ones leave a business card in my letterbox with the next mowing day and the more lax ones fade away.
On the subject of workwear, I have observed that lawn mower men do not go in for burdensome things like high visibility vests or safety glasses. On the plus side, they do wear working boots with heavy khaki socks which match their heavy khaki shirts. Accessories include cheap sunglasses and, depending on the age of the wearer, a sweaty cap or straw-weave hat. Protective gloves rarely make an appearance and I can only put that down to the subtropical heat.
Wally certainly needed all the help he could get. He was always keen to lend a helping hand (even building our budgie aviary) but he had an obsession for removing wasps and spiders. We told him that the big spider over our driveway was our pet and he was to leave it alone. But Wally took a dislike to a wasps nest and attacked it until he was chased around and around the garden, flyspray can in hand. I was on the side of the wasps. And Wally didn’t know it but I had seen him surreptitiously snipping bits off my conifer tree because it got in his way.
Once Wally told me about a customer who came outside complaining because he was using a leaf blower instead of a broom. He also told me of clothes left hanging on drying lines for months, barbecue crockery left out for weeks and large rocks abandoned in strange places. Regarding rocks, Wally had flicked up stones which had broken windows. The best way to identify a novice lawn mower man like Wally is to watch his attention to detail. Does he bring in your empty wheelie bin? Does he shut the gate? Does he make sure nothing has been missed, e.g. palm fronds on the path? If the answers are “no” then you can assume he is experienced; the old hand creating a tsunami of leaves in the far corner of your yard.
Another sign of the more experienced lawn mowing man is the Second Job. Usually this is unrelated, like the chap who hinted that my balcony railing looked unsafe and gave me the number of his carpentry business. Go with your instincts. In this instance, I should have taken note because a year later the carpenter who subsequently did the job was pretty slap-dash and cost me money. On the subject of money, let me tell you about Enrico.
Enrico’s customers are a mixed bag when it comes to paying the bill. Those who live in big houses with big cars take months to pay. There are customers who pay him online and he’s never met them. One customer paid him with lots and lots of coins, and another disappeared owing money. Sounds like an average business day to me. Enrico has three pet peeves. First, the bossy client who dictates how they want the job done then stands with hands on hips to watch. The second is chatty old ladies/men who want to follow him around. And third, the classic Neighbour Across The Street who asks for his business card then angles for a “good” deal.
I think of young Johnno as more of a wildlife ranger. He always had a tale to tell about an animal encounter, from guinea pig wrangling to accidentally letting dogs out, to scaring a goat. One day he was requested to do a garden tidy for a couple who had taken ill. He recommenced where they had left off and scooped up a large pile of leaves and twigs. It wasn’t until he had disposed of the bundle in his Ute trailer that he realised it was full of black fuzzy caterpillars. And they were on his clothes. He did a war dance and hosed himself down but still came up in a rash wherever they had crawled, mainly down his neckline.
Johnno by far had the biggest snake encounters, from a python asleep in a veggie patch to a green tree snake in my begonia hanging basket. One morning he saw a big brown snake sunning on our driveway and he took a spade to it. I was horrified, first because he wanted to kill it but second, because he sent it under the fence into the children’s play area. It was never found.
I believe a lawn mower man does not appreciate the pressure he puts the lawn mowee under. We have to lock up the dog, do a poop patrol, clear away any washing and raise the Hills Hoist, pick up toys, cover the budgies (in case of those flying rocks) remove fallen branches and make sure the area is free of trip-and-fall hazards. It is imperative that I place my herbs and tender potted plants in a safe place and have learned from bitter experience to build a fortress around new shrubs. My prize pomegranate was lopped off at the base and has taken years to reassert itself.
In conclusion, I would say that most of the lawn mower men I’ve employed seemed happy with their work. It’s an early start and early knock-off, and their weekends are free. They seem fit and healthy, none I’ve known have ever set foot in a gym. Of course, sunstroke taught them to drink plenty of water. I am sure I have contributed to their holiday funds in a positive way and they, in turn, have allowed me to walk across my lawn without using a machete.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
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