The perfect lawn is a thing of beauty for many gardeners. It is lush, manicured, a shade of brilliant green and perhaps even has a few stripes thrown in for good measure. But, for Gardeners' World host Monty Don, it is the stuff of nightmares.
In an interview with Radio Times, Don called for men to ease off their "obsession" with mowing the lawn, claiming that the process was damaging to wildlife and burns too much fossil fuel. The 65-year-old adds that this habit, which tends to be male, is really about "control".
This male lawn obsessive is a well-worn character in books and film on both sides of the Atlantic, and a form of shorthand for suburban small-mindedness. We've seen him many times: an uptight Ned Flanders figure, perched behind the wheel of his ride-on mower, or on his hands and knees with a measuring tape in hand to check the height of his grass.
But does this obsessive really exist in the UK? And, crucially, does he exist in 2021? David Hedges-Gower, the UK's leading lawn expert and author of Modern Lawn Care, believes not.
"Let's get one thing clear," he says. "Mowing a stripe into a lawn is not obsessive and everyone is entitled to have their own version of a perfect lawn. I work with people who love lawns and I've yet to see someone obsessed."
Hedges-Gower has been in the lawn care industry for 41 years. "Monty hates lawns because he doesn't know enough about them. I'd like to see him name three species of grass and what they do for the environment."
This is not the first time that The Royal Horticultural Society tutor has been stung by Don's comments. "In 2016, I tweeted a picture of my daughter Tara's lawn which I sowed with a mix of native fescue, bent grass and dwarf rye grass. Monty commented, 'that's just a manicured lawn'. There were no chemicals used and I haven't mown it yet."
In the 1990s, Hedges-Gower looked after one of most-manicured lawns in the UK, the Oxfordshire Golf Club. "Things have changed in the lawn industry since then," he adds.
"You can now get robotic mowers that don't use any fossil fuels and there are hundreds of organic feeds on the market." Hedges-Gower plans to release his own organic feed made from food waste, a product line of three - True Grass, True Yield and True Bloom - in 2022.
"Taking care of a lawn takes no more maintenance than Monty's flower meadow," he adds. "Which, of course, he probably has a team of gardeners look after for him."
For Hedges-Gower, grass is a super plant. "Fescue and bent grass cover 99 per cent of our country. It's truly amazing how it evolves; when we have a heatwave it goes brown, has a siesta, and comes back. It's been evolving for thousands of years - Monty should know, he's been around that long!"
Hedges-Gower goes on to say: "Grass, whether cut or not, still does incredible things for the environment. The amount of carbon dioxide it takes out of the air, the soot and dust and pollution, lawns are worth having."
According to Hedges-Gower, misinformation about lawns being bad for the environment is thrown out every year by Gardeners' World. "Their horticultural researchers still advise to use a fork to aerate the soil, which is total rubbish and a complete waste of time. It's also not true that you need tons of water to keep lawns healthy. That just proves how much these 'researchers' know about lawns."
Sports club greenkeeper and business owner Keith Smith, who rose to fame in 2018 for spending 273 hours mowing his lawn for the Allett Mower Creative Lawn Stripe competition, is also, unsurprisingly, pro-lawn.
"Mowing my lawn is my relaxation time," he says. "I'm not taking advice from someone like Monty Don, though he's entitled to his opinion." Smith's client base in Birmingham are still fans of perfectly mown and striped lawns but balance this with wild flowers in the borders.
"I come home and mow my grass and that has been a real comfort to me during the pandemic as I'm sure it has been for many men." Smith believes that there is still a place for lawns if managed sustainably.
Hedges-Gower has the last word: “It’s a strange world, isn’t it? Monty Don is vocal about grass lawns, but won’t sign my petition to ban plastic grass, which Carpet Right now sells. That, to me, says everything."