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The Reel Thing


If that's what it can do, I'll take 2. (my friend Gardening Jones made that up).

The Reel Thing

Published: 04/05/2011 by Janet

» Gardening in Zone 10b: (Almost) Tropical Paradise

I know that only people of a “certain age” are going to understand this, but here goes…


I have long had a fascination with old-time human powered reel lawnmowers; the kind our grandfathers used.  In the 1960’s I remember watching my grandfather cut the grass with a reel mower, already quite ancient looking.  Unlike the gas powered mower that my father used, Poppop’s mower was quiet; only gentle rhythmic scissoring as it passed over the blades of grass in the small lawn.  And unlike my father’s mower that belched out noxious gas fumes, the only scent in Poppop’s lawn was sweet scent of newly mown grass.  I was not permitted to be on the lawn while he mowed, such was the fear that the adults had regarding children, their fingers and the old reel mower.  I guess that the adults understood that the reel mower held a fascination that gas mowers didn’t.  No one had to be told to stay away from the gas mower.  Gas mowers are repellant; incredibly noisy, sputtering, dirty and frightening while reel mowers sounded like music, their motion mesmerizing and their smell like perfume.


In this era of “green marketing”, many Americans are inundated by products that are supposedly kinder and gentler to the earth.   At the very same time, warnings have been raised about Americans every expanding waistline.  It is with these two thoughts in mind that I ponder why there hasn’t been an all-out campaign to reintroduce the reel mower to the public?  Green + exercise!  Reel mowers are exhaust-free and calorie gobbling.  Someone besides me must have thought of this.  Right?  Is there something that I hadn’t considered?  Are they too difficult to use?  Heavy?  High maintenance?  What is the deal here?  I have one of those inquiring minds.  So I asked my Facebook friend, Gardening Jones (www.gardeningjones.com/blog) to take an informal poll among her fans (which number a few thousand) about their experiences with reel mowers.


For the most part, it seems that most people had positive things to say about their reel mowers, with a few caveats.  The satisfaction with the reel mower seems to goes down as the size of the lawn goes up (now for some phony math:  satisfaction = lawn size over MC squared).  Hilly lawns are out, rocky lawns are out, soggy lawns are bad, as are lawns with lots of twigs and debris.  It also seems that you have to know someone in your area who can sharpen and adjust the blades.   And you can’t let your grass get too long between cuts.  Other than all that…  people seem to love them! 


Almost everyone I know who is into gardening is following the trend toward less lawn, and more natural plantings/vegetable beds.   As folks scale back their lawn, it only makes sense that they would also scale back their mowers.  After all, a surgeon doesn’t need a sledgehammer (do they?).


So maybe reel mowers are too much of a niche product to warrant a big marketing campaign.  Perhaps that will change as water restrictions continue to tighten, and ginormous lawns become less and less fashionable/feasible.  But somehow, I can’t help but feel that with a little more exposure and hands-on experience, reel mowers would return to prominence, and another generation of kids might grow up to music and perfume on their lawns.