Reel Mowers

I don’t have a lawn of my own any more. I borrow one at a local park if I want the experience of sitting on one (lawn right next to the beach is absolutely an amazing experience that doesn’t occur just anywhere). But I remember well the meditative state induced by pushing a mower up and down, over and around, a plot of grass. The unfurling of tidy rows, just the width of the mower; neatly clipped and smelling that unforgettable and quintessential green smell is part of the personal history of many of us. Even as a kid, mowing the lawn was no where near the worst of the chores I was required to do.

Progress is inevitable and once Edwin Budding figured out in 1830 how to mount a rotating set of blades on an assembly that could be wheeled around the property, it wasn’t long until someone else found a way to power the reel with a motor. While experiments with horse power and steam didn’t pan out, the advances in gasoline engines soon took the work of propulsion out of mowing lawns. Reel mowers gave way to the now ubiquitous rotary mowers, in the middle of the 20th century, with spinning blades that actually tear the grass off instead of snipping each leaf between the blades like a scissors. These days, mowing a lawn is therefore also accompanied by the stench of exhaust and requires ear plugs or protectors to maintain inner ear health.

Fortunately, Budding’s reel mower has also been improved on over the years and lightweight (his machines were constructed of cast iron) reel mowers are still available. Their popularity is on the rise again, as conscientious gardeners seek to reduce their carbon footprint and eliminate not only air pollution, but noise pollution as well. Reel mowers produce lots of nice clippings for the compost pile, too. And, if your current lawn seems too big to push a mower around every week, perhaps it’s time to convert some of it to less intensive, drought tolerant plants or a productive vegetable garden

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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