Lawn Care & Grass Cutting

The mowdown on grass cutting

A brief history of the lawn mowers of yesterday, today and tomorrow  

Once only the provenance of the wealthy, the garden lawn emerged as a seventeenth century status symbol amongst wealthy landowners using local workers to keep the grass around their country houses cropped with scythes, the original tool for lawn cutting that we’ve proudly adopted as part of our Green Reaper logo. While a long way from the immaculate stripes of today’s well-tended suburban garden, it was the start of a trend that has become part of British vernacular, with mowing a weekly ritual of simple pleasure that is a welcome contrast to our sedentary, desk-bound lives. And while making this connection to a more pastoral existence seems timeless, the machines that we now use to mow our lawns have certainly developed over nearly two hundred years. Here we trace the fascinating history of the lawn mower, looking at not only how different types of mower came about but what the future holds with even more environmentally-friendly ways to keep your grass greener over the next decade.

Patented during the height of summer on August 31st 1830, the lawn mower was a British invention by Edwin Beard Budding who claimed it was “a new combination and application of machinery for the purpose of cropping or shearing the vegetable surface of lawns, grass-plants and pleasure grounds”. Ironically, it was the industrial revolution that led to the conception of a grass-cutting machine as Budding was a mechanic looking after the equipment in the local mills, and specifically cross-cutters used in textile manufacture which he then repurposed.  Made of wrought iron, his first mower was pushed from behind with gear wheels transmitting power from the rear roller to the knives on the cutting cylinder, with a further roller raised or lowered to alter the height of cut and the clippings thrown forward into a rudimentary tray.

Although cruder in appearance, Budding’s invention was in many ways not dissimilar to today’s timeless cylinder push mowers, such as our ever-popular AL-KO 38.1 HM Premium which at £119 is both easy to manoeuvre and gentle on the lawn while being compact to store with a fold away aluminium handlebar. The AL-KO illustrates that if you want an environmentally-friendly option for a smaller lawn, a basic lawn mower can still be brilliant.

For the next seventy odd years, the use of lawn mowers grew at pace with many different types of machines made with varying degrees of success – including the first steam powered machine designed by James Sumner’s Leyland Steam Motor Company which later became synonymous with the British car industry. It was at the start of the twentieth century though, that the step-change to petrol mowers occurred and took lawn mowing to a new level of ease and efficiency. After Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies of Ipswich produced the first combustion engine mower in 1902, many manufacturers started to compete with ever better models and production soared post WW1.

Today petrol still has its advantages as it enables bigger mowers with definitive power to cut through tough grass in any weather conditions for hours at a time. Our best sellers at The Green Reaper include all different kinds of fuel-driven machines to suit every budget. For example, from just £300 you can choose one of the machines in the hand-pushed Cobra RM range, all featuring rear rollers to produce the classic ‘striped lawn’ look and perfect for the changing conditions of the British lawn, with the blade powered by a choice of Cobra's own brand engines, as well as ones from well-established manufacturers such as Briggs & Stratton, Honda, Kohler and Subaru.

Cobra RM46SPBR Self-Propelled Rear Roller Petrol Lawn Mower

It is also a petrol engine (the Honda GXV390 four-stroke) that drives the most rugged of machines such as our Little Wonder Hydro BRC-26 field & brush mower, designed to cut through overgrown vegetation with ease and featuring a unique automatic transmission with a variable, clutchless speed selection up to 4.2mph so you can cut your own path, at your own pace.     

Most of our best-sellers for domestic lawn-cutting also benefit from technology first developed in the 1950’s which saw the introduction of the rotary blade as opposed to a cylinder cutter. Essentially, a high-speed horizontal blade spins at speed, cutting the grass through impact with  slightly raised edges to deliver a continuous airflow and suction that ‘chops’ the grass before delivering it to a rear collection box. Perfectly suited to all shapes and sizes of mower, a rotary blade is always used on our bigger ‘ride on’ mowers for larger lawns, due to its efficiency, such as our ever popular Lawnflite Optima MiniRider 76 RDHE (image shows 76 RDE) that perfectly suits the ‘step up’ to a sit-on with a compact design, electric start, automatic transmission, five cutting heights and a floating deck that allows you to get closer to edges.

Undoubtedly, we should also mention the electric mower revolution that began some fifty-plus years ago with brand such as the classic 1970’s Flymo ‘hover’ mower based on hovercraft technology. Using a fan so that the mower effectively ‘floats’ above the grass, it is a design that continues today with the self-mulching Cobra AirMow 51 80V and arguably it is still the best way to deal with undulating gardens or slopes effectively. The AirMow is also the world’s first cordless ‘hover’ mower available in the UK, reflecting how much the electric mower market has now moved on from plugging in a lead and the constant vigilance associated with it, whatever type of mower you choose. Indeed, the advantages of the latest lithium batteries for mowers are many fold, including being smaller, lighter, quicker to charge and longer lasting.

We particularly like the way in which manufacturers such as Greenworks ensure that many of their machines come with 2 x 24v batteries to not only power the mower but be interchangeable with their strimmers, chainsaws and hedge trimmers. And if you want even more power, The T3 Awards which recognise category innovation has just voted the Greenworks GD60LM46SP mower a top buy for not only its good looks, long-life steel cutting deck and brushless motor, but the mower’s big 60V battery power that provides the endurance to tackle tough tasks in the garden with petrol-matching performance.

So what’s next in the evolution of the lawn mower? Well perhaps the future has already arrived with the new generation of grass-cutting machines taking robotic form which in theory means that you’ll never need to worry about mowing the lawn again. Sit back and relax with the ultimate mowing status symbol such as one of the machines in the Cobra Mowbot range.

Sleek, stylish and even available in a range of customisable colours such as camouflage and floral, the Mowbots use Bluetooth technology so you can control the ‘little and often’ mowing technique it uses, or return it to its base station from your phone or tablet. Why not check out this mowing vision with a video that introduces how the Mowbots work, and the programming you’ll need to do before this permanent feature of your garden becomes your AI lawn-mowing friend.   

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about mowers and how they have evolved since the first hand-cut lawns of the privileged few. With more options for lawn mowing than ever before, we think that the grass may really be greener on the other side. Why not have a look at our latest range and find out for yourself whether it’s time to upgrade your machine. After all, as a wise gardener once said “A beautiful lawn doesn’t happen by itself”.    

How green is your grass?

The eco-friendly guide to a lawn that you and nature will love

From Pimm’s on the lawn after a lazy Summer afternoon, to the hum of the mower and smell of freshly cut grass, there’s nothing like a lush green space as the centrepiece of your garden. These days though, we increasingly appreciate that good gardening is also about the husbandry of native insects and minimising our carbon footprint. So can we still define the ‘perfect’ lawn as neatly manicured stripes, reminiscent of a Wimbledon court, which often takes chemicals to maintain?  Lawn care has now entered a new era, and at The Green Reaper, we’ve got some easy and eco-friendly ways to keep your grass green in every sense of the word.

Lawns can have a positive environmental impact

Although they’ve sometimes had a bit of a bad rap environmentally, a lawn is a positive on many counts. For example, unlike paving or hard surfaces, grass actually absorbs both carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide while producing oxygen as ‘clean’ air with an average-sized lawn providing enough for a family. It also reduces erosion from storm water runoff and traps harmful dust and particles. Urban areas with lots of trees and grass also tend to be cooler as well as reducing noise and benefitting our well-being.

To mow or not to mow?

There can be no doubt that mowing less is a good idea for a number of eco reasons. By letting your grass grow a little longer, the blade will be bigger and the photosynthesis that takes place and feeds the roots will be increased. Secondly, the shade of longer blades both protects the soil underneath from drying out and means that ever-present weeds are not exposed to sunlight that helps them grow. And even if you can’t resist your weekly mow, just make sure that you keep your height adjustment at a reasonable level so as not to ‘shave’ the grass which will then be desperate to grow back and use up valuable nutrients from the roots to do so.

Another great idea is to support insects in Spring and Summer is to join the re-wilding revolution and create a section of the lawn which you don’t mow at all. This still allows you to have practical areas for child-play or pure aesthetics, while creating your own mini-meadow of wildflowers which often grow naturally in patches left to their own devices. Daises, speedwell, buttercups, clover and even cowslips are just some of the delightful possibilities when we change to a less controlling approach. At the end of Summer, ideally in September, just cut the wild patches down to a few centimetres and remove the debris or clippings so that tough wild grasses don’t take over.

Feeding, weeding and watering

Perhaps one of the simplest but most significant ways to make your lawn care more eco-friendly is the kind of feed and weed killer you choose. We are huge fans of the Viano range which is totally organic and available from The Green Reaper as a slow-release fertiliser and moss killer called Mo Bacter which improves the soil as well as feeding the grass. Endorsed by the RHS, it doesn’t leave the black debris of dead moss (as this eaten by the bacteria within the product), is animal-safe, will not harm borders or stain patios and even eliminates the need for scarifying post-treatment.   

As our summers seem to get hotter, another concern is often the amount of water required to keep a lawn looking green. If you want to maintain your regular watering routine, why not invest in a water butt which now come in a more pleasing designs and will actually be a feature in your garden. Our favourites are from Owl Hall and include ones with modern styling as well as a more traditional barrel effect with a 250 or 500 litre capacity. Buying a water butt pump will enables you to water the grass more easily and Hozelock do a sturdy and cost-effective range.     

Equally though, there is the simple option of not watering as much on the basis that brown grass is simply dormant and will come back to life with the inevitable arrival of rain. Even watering deeply once a week is, in fact, far more beneficial for your grass than a blitz with the sprinkler every day, as it gets moisture deep into the roots, especially if done in the early morning when temperatures are lower.        

Push mowing for a cleaner cut

Now let’s turn our attention to choosing a mower with greener credentials. There’s actually a good range of more environmentally-friendly options these days. If you have a small to medium lawn, then there’s always the option of a hand-propelled push mower which have come a long way since your Dad walked one up and down the garden in his drainpipes. Now lighter and often with stay-sharp titanium blades, they cut the grass cleanly and save on fuel as well as being free from maintenance such as oil or spark plug changes. Plus you’ll be keeping fit while mowing in noise-free peace, listening to the birds early on a Sunday morning rather than upsetting the neighbours with the roar of a rotary. Some push mowers, such as the classically shaped Webb, have a grass collection box while others just distribute the clippings back on to the lawn where they act as a mulch, restoring nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium back into the lawn. And if stripes are still all-important, just choose one with a cylinder.           

Charge of the battery brigade 

Cordless and lithium battery-operated mowers offer another alternative to fossil-fuelled machines, especially for medium or even larger gardens. While batteries still need charging, the latest lithium-ion ones last much longer and the electricity we all use to charge them is increasingly coming from more renewable sources such as wind. Because model range is so extensive, a good rule of thumb is to choose one with a battery running time that covers how long it takes you to mow the grass. For example, if takes under 15 minutes to mow your small lawn, opt for one with battery power of 2.5Ah (amp hours), while average lawns that take around 30 mins to mow need a 4 or 5Ah battery. Finally, a big lawn space that takes you over 45 mins to cut, ideally needs a 7.5Ah version. A great all-round mower that we recommend is the zero emissions GreenWorks 48V Push Cordless Lawn Mower that comes with two on board 2Ah batteries that double the power, a twin charger and extra environmental credentials by having a mulching option as well as a bag, so you can redistribute clippings and add nutrients back in into the lawn.

Minimise your carbon footprint

Even major players in the petrol mower market such as Hyundai are starting to take their carbon footprint seriously, planting a young sapling with every power product bought in 2020, towards their overall target of 100,000 trees. There’s no reason why all of us can’t put something back environmentally and planting trees is one of the easiest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and releasing oxygen back into the air. So with your more eco-friendly lawn, why not create an area shaded from the Summer sun, sitting under some newly-planted native alders, bird cherry, crab apple or dogwoods with a mowed path between your trees and wildflower patches. Sounds absolutely idyllic doesn’t it?  

There are so many options to create a more eco-friendly lawn that the grass really is greener if we make even a small effort. As no less a figure than Francis Bacon, the English statesman and philosopher, once said ‘nothing is more pleasant to the eye than green grass kept finely shorn’. There is indeed a unique beauty to a lawn and looked after with a little more thought means it will not only look just as lovely but you’ll be caring for the environment too.       

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