A Man And His Grass
I worked with a talented, experienced landscape gardener named Lisa, some years ago. We were running through possible designs for remodelling my small back garden. She had given me some options, asking me to be open-minded.
She sketched gravel options (practical, with a dog). She sketched an explosion of wild flowers inspired by Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (impractical, as I didn’t have the time and passion of Ms Hathaway, who spent seasons leaning on the gate, awaiting William’s return). And she sketched a vegetable garden (compelling, but alasno; though my wallet was green at the time, my fingers were not).
When Lisa and I came together I decided to fess up. Forget all the fancy alternatives, I explained. I want grass.
She nodded with acquiescence, and began sketching what this might look like.
‘Men need to have grass’, she commented. ‘Try as I might to change things up in garden design, men always insist on their grass. Perhaps it’s primal.’
Certainly, by the state of gardens on the back roads of Monaghan and Cavan, where I have been cycling today, men are having their way with grass.
I took to noticing how it works: there is pride in the shade, height and evenness of their lawns, some of which are the size of half a field. There was little evidence of the machinery which helped the men of Monaghan and Cavan accomplish this task. Nor did I see any gentleman working in his garden.
But I feel fully sure that, in this regard, I know a man’s handiwork.
These herbivorous thoughts were, perhaps, planted in my brain by a Dublin friend who has been posting lovely pictures to Facebook all week, narrating each in French.
Perhaps this is his new, Covidian way to travel.
His lunch party yesterday afternoon looked spiffing, with smiling people and rosé wine all around the garden table, as Dublin relaxed in a comfortable 20 degree balm.
At the base of the picture, he added the requisite French phrase to his post.
‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe’.
By the time I saw it yesterday evening, I was sweltering in 30 degrees of heat in my newly constructed hotel room, and in poor mood.
Safety regulations, I was Reception-splained, demanded that the architects allow the windows to open wide enough to fit a pack of Tayto, but no more.
Reading the post, I passed a bitchy remark to myself regarding my friend’s language skills. A momentary lapse due to swelter.
That’s not French!, I murmured with some satisfaction.
(In this regard, I rely on his never reading this essay. Which, when I look at my readership stats, seems entirely reasonable).
In French, ‘l’herbe’ describes grass which grows wild in the Pampas, or on a pasture in the Auvergne.
The French language draws a distinction between grass of Nature and that of man. The latter is called ‘la pelouse’. Though composed entirely of grass, it is never named so.
Interested as I am in the detail of things, I did some reading on the etymology of ‘la pelouse’.
The word comes from Provençal, deriving from the original Latin, ‘pilosus’.
Now what can that mean?
‘Pilosus’ means ‘hairy’.
According to the French, grass, when tended for length and shade and thickness, resembles coiffed hairiness.
By extension, when a man cuts his grass to perfection, he is engaged in a performative, primal shaving ritual. His grass speaks to his essence.