Brian Edwards Media

Won’t you lay me down in the tall grass and let me do my stuff.

It’s been interesting following the great Auckland berm debate. To mow or not to mow. The argument seems to come down to this:

*The council owns the berms, so they should mow them. Isn’t that one of the things we’re paying rates for?


*It’s a small patch of grass outside everyone’s house that  makes the street look good. Show some civic pride, stop whining and mow the thing.

But this summary fails to convey the vehemence bordering on outrage that seems to characterise most of the letters to the papers. Proponents on both sides of the berm are incensed!

Our daily walk suggests that most of the berms in posh Herne Bay – as one might expect – are being mowed by the householders. One must, at all cost, keep up appearances. But a few stout souls have resolutely refused to conform. I’m with them. But I’m also with house-proud Judy who refuses to see us shamed in the district and mows the berm herself while I mow the large lawn at the back of our property and trim the hedges.

My objection is not to the berms per se, but to grass itself. Grass, in my philosophy,  is good for feeding animals but nothing  else. That was of course its original purpose – grazing livestock. But then some smart aleck in the middle ages noticed that when the animals had cropped the pasture it looked quite nice and a primitive version of the lawn was born. ‘How many times do I have to ask you to go and scythe that pasture?’ wives would complain to their husbands before the lawnmower was invented in 1840.  It was the beginning of the grass scourge that would plague mankind (meaning men) from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.

Grass is now everywhere – on berms, lawns, village greens, playing fields. And wherever grass is, it must be mowed. And it must be mowed regularly. And there will be no end to its mowing. Grass is forever and ever, amen.

Some people have built a hugely expensive house in a street near us. But what is an expensive house without an expensive lawn? So they got the ‘ready-lawn’ people to roll out a lawn at the front, side and rear of their new home. I don’t think they watered the lawn enough, because it looks brown now and is full of weeds. They must be very upset. Grass can be vengeful when it feels neglected.

A friend of ours discovered a firm that sows grass on a bed of wool. He complained to us that the grass, which was admittedly very green, looked patchy and was pulling away at the edges. Since I know nothing about grass, I thought I should give him some advice. He shouldn’t cut the grass so low until it was well established. It was probably an American invention and the Americans let their lawns grow very high.

He took my advice and the lawn looks great, but he’s still not happy. He keeps pulling at bits of the grass to see if it will come away.

I heard a story that some years ago The Warehouse imported some lawnmowers from the States. Customers almost immediately started bringing them back. Their lowest height setting was apparently 3 inches. You might still be able to get one second-hand on Trade Me. Ideal for berms, I would have thought.

I realise that I’m rambling now. The real purpose of this post was to curse the inventor of grass as a decoration. You have been responsible for untold human suffering which, until this post, has remained untold. Your invention has spawned the push mower, which makes a pretty summer sound, but wrecks the backs of men, and the motor-mower which pollutes the air with fumes and noise, and the weed-eater which pollutes the air with fumes and noise and never works for more than 30 seconds before the line jams, and the leaf blower which blows the mown grass from here to there and destroys the peace and leads to madness.

Lay concrete and, if you must, paint it green. The world will be a happier place.

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  1. 1

    Peter Haynes Candidate

    Brian, You haven’t (unusually) got to the roots of the problem. (Couldn’t help that; must be because I wish we were discussing long-term issues like reviewing the CCOs.)

    The removal of this service is seen as inextricably tied to the rates increases and therefore patently unfair to many people in my area. As former Auckland City Council ratepayers we have inherited very little in the way of “legacy projects”; indeed, we are suffering from decades of infrastructure under-provision. So while we watch as other parts of Auckland are on a legacy spending spree, we’ve also seen our rates rise (in Albert-Eden by more than any other area on average). Mine rates went up 22% last year (albeit capped at 10% so that I get three years of 10% increases).

  2. Lawns are the bane of the relaxing class!

    My other is always cranking on about mowing the lawn so I went out and bought her a mower with an electric start and let her go. She’s as happy as a pig in pooh walking around in ever diminishing circles!!

    I am fortunate that as I live out in the country, I don’t have a berm to worry about!

  3. I live in the Wairarapa, a place where lots of new arrivals buy a property up a gravel road, a 4WD ute (and chainsaw), and then ironically demand (given their ownership of said vehicles) that councils should pave the road for them. I personally love gravel roads edged by long grass and look forward to the day when we stop paying about half our rates on district roads and instead let them go to seed. In this New World, some poeple will make a living out of herding animals (goats, cows, maybe sheep etc) along the verges for free to keep them down and make a living from the milk, meat, wool etc.

  4. We have a large berm outside and despite having a reasonably large section we have no lawn – hence no lawnmower or weed trimmer. Last weekend it was mown (I suspect by one of the neighbours). We are a bit peeved as we would need to pay someone to do it.

    I did listen to a guy on talkback the other day who has been contracting to the council for 20 odd years. He said the reason for grass berms was to soak up rainfall and if we didn’t have them then our storm water and sewage would overload and spill into the harbour.

    However, after today’s news of council salaries I am more inclined to tell them to shove it!

  5. We live in the Howick area and were completely unaware that some berms were council mowed. We just see it as part of our lawn. What a lot of whinging has gone on. But I do agree Brian that lawns are a lot of work and maybe there is a better alternative.

  6. An entertaining story Brian but surely the essence is this. Householders don’t own the berm so shouldn’t be (automatically) expected to mow them. That the vast majority do is a tribute to civic pride and a desire to have the house looking good at least – which is not necessarily the same thing. We live in Ponsonby but have a concrete berm so we’re alright Jack! Regretably we can’t rely on all householders to uphold the standard of good housekeeping. So the council has to do what a minority of householders will not do – mow the damn berms. And lets get the cost in perspective. I think I saw it would cost $15m per year to mow all the berms. Based on Total Council income of $3B per year that $15m represents half of 1% – a small price to pay to have our city looking good. And it would no doubt be less than that as many of us will continue to mow our berms – just like we did when the council were mowing it.

    Let’s move on to something really important – like how long will Lorde stay at the top of the Billboard 100 chart!!

    • Too right about Lorde. I understand she’s 16 going on 17 and her album is soaring like her single, Royals, now top of the American charts. I have two questions: Does she ever smile? And how will a 17-year-old deal with the international fame that is now engulfing her?

  7. Mow your berms I say. Most of the rest of NZ does so.
    We were told that it is written in the Local Bodies Act somewhere, that each householder shall be responsible for the frontage out to 5 metres.
    Must be something in the waters in Auckland that they should be so painfully reluctant to do their bit for their community. If you are too lazy to do it yourself pay someone to do it for you.

    A Chinese family living near us in a suburban home turned every bit of their land around their house into a vegie garden. Good idea. They might have been willing to do the same for their berm. Incidentally the local Council had planted paspallum in our berm to ha ha keep the grass looking nice and green even in a drought. Trouble is you cut it today and it is waving in the wind tomorrow. Idjits!

  8. You could replace your berm with concrete, or with weedmat and gravel, and then it would never need mowing by anybody. How would the Council react to that?

    • I suspect they’d react by sending you a summons. By the way, I seem to remember the Council taking issue with someone who planted a couple of shrubs on their berm with the outrageous intention of making it look nicer. It would be interesting to see what would happen if you turned it into a vege garden.Go on – dare you!

  9. My wife loves mowing lawn. A motor mower is to her what a pony is to a teenaged girl. Profound sexual significance!

    • Surely your mowing days aren’t over, Don!

    • So she has a ride-on then?

    • And I get my PSS from waterblasting our deck, outdoor table and chairs or whatever, very therapeutic – the only problem is that said waterblaster has gone AWOL, whether we’ve lent it to someone or some sneaky bugger has either jumped over our fence or swam up the creek behind our property to purloin it from our tool shed, but that’s not really answering the question. When we lived in Mt Albert before the advent of the Super City, hubby used to mow our berm when he mowed the lawn – it used to be mowed occasionally by the Council with a bloke on a ride-on which managed to miss most of the edges and around the trees to render the operation pretty much a failure. We now live in the beautiful suburb of Swanson [or Ranui to the Council] – whatever, and we don’t even have a berm. My real problem is why should something like this suddenly become such an important election issue – surely there are more pressing issues to be considered.

  10. mmm. Never mind the grass. Why aren’t you paying Dreamstime for that watermarked photo? Some young snapper has missed out on a modest commission.

    • I genuinely hadn’t noticed the watermark till you drew it to my attention. I’m known of course for trying to ‘do young snappers out of their modest commission’. This is the second time to my knowledge it’s happened in the four years the site has been running. Well spotted. And, as you say, ‘never mind the grass’. The cat and the grass in the replacement photograph are both copyright free.

  11. Rosie; sprinkle your lawn with whiskey it will come up half-cut!

    BE: Too right about Lorde. I understand she’s 16 going on 17 and her album is soaring like her single, Royals, now top of the American charts. I have two questions: Does she ever smile? And how will a 17-year-old deal with the international fame that is now engulfing her?

    Much the same as Hayley Westenra I suspect Brian.

    • 11.1

      That’s right. Hayley went totally feral before her breakdown and eventual suicide at age 27.

  12. Does anyone know anywhere else that councils mow their berm?

    Nowhere I’ve ever lived.

    • Actually this is proof positive that Auckland is another country – as if any was needed. This apparently world shattering debate has had no resonance of any sort in central Wellington where we don’t have berms, let alone lawns. It’s actually one of the reasons I live here having spent my childhood and youth in suburban Christchurch where having a lawn and mowing it is not just an option but an absolute moral imperative. So just to answer your question, Alan, I have a clear recollection from my childhood of the Council coming around and mowing the ‘berm’ (which was actually a word I hadn’t heard until now) with a mechanical mower towed by a tiny tractor

      • 12.1.1

        Funny, I also grew up in Chch – St Albans. And my memories are of my brother and I mowing all those lawns.

      • Actually Tony this debate has no resonance in most of Auckland – West, South, North – we’ve been mowing our own berms for ever. It’s just the central Auckland residents who live in this “other country”.

        And I get the impression that every journalist and commentator who comments on this issue lives in Auckland central too, as they seem to have no idea that “Auckland” is this big and varied place. Perhaps they should get out some more.

  13. BE:My objection is not to the berms per se, but to grass itself. Grass, in my philosophy, is good for feeding animals but nothing else.

    I find, that people who don’t like grass lawns, are the types who squirt out a full aerosol can of mock cream on to a ‘Budget’-branded apple pie, that has been defrosted as well as cooked, in a microwave. Is that a coincidence or what?

    • I hope you have a scientific survey to back up this calumny of grass haters since I intend to sue you for every nickel you’re worth. I have never owned an aerosol can of mock cream or eaten a ‘Budget’ branded apple pie. ‘Mock’ indeed! Lawyers at 10 paces, Sir!

  14. Forty years ago when I was growing up in leafy Herne Bay, it was my job to mow them, but then they were called “verges”. When did they become “berms”?

    • People were confusing ‘verges’ and ‘virgins’ with dire results. So a Council officer from Bermingham, where they have no grass, invented the word ‘berm’. Source: Shorter Oxford.

      • Crikey Brian! “He mowed down a virgin.” When she stood up was she still a virgin or did she verge on becoming a common berm?

      • 14.1.2

        I worked for a local authority in the UK many moons ago. One of the gardeners put part of his time down on his time sheet as “Trimming virgins.”

      • But surely as virgins have long disappeared from this country they could have continued to be called verges, which is what they were called in Christchurch when I was a lad, without any resulting confusions

  15. Anarchy rules happily in our little neck of the woods with not even a footpath to disturb a berm. People make rock gardens, trees, wild grasses, flower beds at will. No council mower ever touches these berms and children on their way to school and bemused tourists meander along dodging traffic and admiring the views.

    So we pay higher rates than you city slickers for no water supply, no rubbish collection, no footpaths, no berm mowing, few street lights and hugely expensive sewage systems. All part of our support for vast areas of unrateable “conservation” and Maori land.

    Do we get thanks? Nope, just whinges from the latte lapping, concrete hugging, pampered and hopelessly dependent urban chattering classes.

    • 15.1

      Is that damn sewerage system hooked up these days Alan? When I still lived there millions were spent digging up the whole town to lay pipes that then did nothing but lie in the ground whilst battles were fought over what to do with the potential contents of said pipes. There was talk of discharging it directly into the oyster farms of the Waikare Inlet, or pouring it in to the old manganese mines on Tikitikioure, or trucking it in 44-gallon drums to Kawakawa…

      • 15.1.1

        Hi, Warren. Yes, the disaster that was supposed to cost $3M and finished up at $20M+ to serve about 600 properties is operational and we pay an exorbitant special rate on its behalf. No one knows how long the bore holes will function but the oyster farms in Orongo Bay are fine unlike those destroyed in the Waikare Inlet by the Kawakawa system.

    • Your little neck of the woods sounds wonderful. We lived on Waiheke for 5 years and enjoyed a similar lifestyle. But, after paragraph 2, objecting to ‘whinges’ from others does seem rather ironic. Still, if it makes you feel any better, thanks for everything you’ve done for us “latte lapping, concrete hugging, pampered and hopelessly dependent urban chattering classes.” Don’t know where we’d have been without you.

      • 15.2.1

        It was ironic, Brian, particularly as I like my latte at least as much as any city slicker!

    • 15.3

      Damn!I agree with you; our berm is the same.

    • You are wrong about Maori land. It is rateable on exactly the same basis as any other land

      • 15.4.1

        Oh yes, it is rateable. You just don’t collect any money.

        • In which case the owners can be sued for debt just the same as any other. Although some people keep claiming so Maori do not have privileges under the law and more than old age pensioners do (because they get a pension that those under 65 don’t)


            How do you sue 50 owners for debt – when most if not all have no funds and the land is anyway protected by the Maori Land Court from forfeiture?

  16. Warren Loverige is incorrect. Hayley Westenra is live and well

  17. Shouldn’t “Why don’t you lay me down in the tall stuff and let me do my stuff “have a credit

    • From “Second Hand News”, lyrics by Fleetwood Mac, written by Lindsey Buckingham. And did you know that if you sing Happy Birthday at a party you’re in breach of copyright?

  18. “Grass, in my philosophy, is good for feeding animals but nothing else. That was of course its original purpose – grazing livestock. But then some smart aleck in the middle ages noticed that when the animals had cropped the pasture it looked quite nice and a primitive version of the lawn was born. ‘How many times do I have to ask you to go and scythe that pasture?’ wives would complain to their husbands before the lawnmower was invented in 1840. It was the beginning of the grass scourge that would plague mankind (meaning men) from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.”

    Hah, wonderful, Brian!

    I could not have put it better! Indeed in my early years in New Zealand, I asked this question to someone: “Why do people spend so much energy and fuel on mowing lawns in this country, is it not wasteful?”

    The answer was justifying this, of course, and I do not want to dare to try quoting the exact reply I got.

    Anyway, to cut all this “short”, I actually grew up on a farm in Northern Europe. We had lots of grass, and it grew well between spring and autumn. So use was made of it, as it is done on farms here.

    But the fact that so much of Auckland and other cities is full of strips of grass, and that is besides of the parks and golf courses, that really raises questions.

    What use is it for? What is the point of mowing it every week or fortnight, when nothing much is gained from it? Should it not be fed to cattle, rabbits, or other animals, should it not be harvested and turned into hay? No that may be silly. But honestly, why have all this grass along streets and roads. Some is ok, but why all over the place? What about replacing it with proper cycleways, where it will offer safe cycle lanes for those that wish to travel healthier and more environmentally friendly? In Europe that is the norm in most countries. What about planting some shrubs and other plants to grow there, which may need less maintenance?

    Indeed the fact that this “berm” issue has become a leading election issue, that concerns me. Should we not open up to new ideas and move on from trivial fights about who should mow what??? Stop the waste of mowing with fuel that will be a rare commodity soon. It will be better to be put in trains and ships, rather than lawnmowers.

    • 18.1

      You do realize that replacing grass with concrete enhances the urban heat island effect responsible for the increased global warming in the northern compared with the southern hemispheres?

      True Greenies should be planting grass on their roof as well as their land.

  19. A question of desperate social significance.
    On your daily walks around Herne Bay have you ever observed David Cunliffe mowing his berm?
    As the padding added to Admiral Nimitz’s messag to Admiral Halsey put it “The whole world wants to know”.

    • I know the answer to that question which is absolutely fascinating and is neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’. But, as they say, that’s for me to know and you to find out. Cheers.

  20. Send a demand to council that they mow their grass.

    Send further demands when they don’t.

    Inform them the grass is now a fire hazard as well as a public ‘elf ‘n safety issue with dog dung and possible hidden hazards and you will get it cut at their expense.

    Get a contractor to mow the grass and forward copy of paid invoice to council with a demand for reimbursement.

    Turn the matter over to a debt collection agency.

    Brace yourself for a bureaucratic counter attack on a number of fronts.

    Either that or get off your bum, mow the lawn and dump the clippings on Len Brown’s lawn if you feel that bad about it.

  21. Should the Council mow the berm?

    On this one the Council should be told to get off the grass.


  22. Happy Warren?
    By the way maligning “a paragon of sensible good living” is not my idea of a joke.

  23. Why are these campaigns so racist?