Here is the sentence you thought you’d never read on scytherspace: I’ve got myself a lawn mower.
This though, is no ordinary mower, it’s a Ransome’s Ajax push mower from the 1960’s with 12″ wide cutters, solid wood rollers and a heavy cast iron roller to the rear.
It has a steel grassbox, comes in gentlemanly green with racing stripes and is ‘by appointment to the Queen’! It needs a bit of tlc and it’s by no means a lightweight but it’s got heritage and was free so I’m not complaining.
So what do I want a mower for, no matter how sophisticated? Over the years of mowing, I’ve become increasingly interested in haymaking, traditional meadows and wild flowers. I’ve spent time in the mountains of Czech Republic and Transylvania making hay in flower-rich meadows, read about meadow management and discussed restoration projects with the North Pennines HayTime project. I discovered that Natural Enland has a ‘Wildflower meadow in your garden‘ booklet and started to learn about the cutting regime for traditional meadows. At the Somerset Scythe Festival last year, Dave Oxford gave a presentation on the new, lightweight breed of push mowers that are on the market and a project he did with them and Dorset council. I was impressed and immediately saw the potential in a scythe/ push mower combination for the ‘garden meadow’ idea.
To encourage wildflowers, the grass sward needs to be kept short in spring, traditionally by grazing with livestock. Around late May, the meadow is ‘shut up’ (the animals removed) and the grass allowed to grow until it’s harvested for hay in late July. In autumn, the ‘aftermath’ (grass regrowth) is again grazed off with the action of the beasts’ feet creating bare patches of soil for seed germination. Obviously, there’s no finer way to harvest your hay crop than by scythe but what about the spring and autumn short-cropping? Well, in skilled hands the scythe will cut this too. I well remember a group of National Trust wardens watching in amazement as my Oriental blade cropped the grass on their machine-cut lawn. For a lot of folk though, it can be frustrating and doesn’t give them the neat look they want. That’s where the mower comes in. Use it in the spring when you want a close shave lawn then sit back and watch the meadow grow until the end of summer when the scythe comes out for harvesting.
Of course, to have a flower-rich meadow where for years there was nothing but ryegrass and swingball takes a bit more effort than simply not cutting the grass so much. I’ve still a lot to learn myself so I’m continuing my studies and plan to organise some haymeadow training days in 2012. If you’re interested in these, please send me an email and subscribe to the blog to keep up to date with progress.
A comprehensive and practical guide to working with an Austrian scythe. Perfect if you cannot attend a course or as a reference guide following tuition.