The Plant Man: the push reel lawn mower

By Steve Kawaratani

“Somewhere, a long way away, people are doing sensible things like mowing lawns and digging gardens.” 

–Michael Palin

The Plant Man Steve Kawaratani

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Courtesy of Steve Kawaratani

Steve Kawaratani

By summer of 1973 I had completed my college courses and I was resigned to working in the family business, mainly to a lack of other job opportunities. Although I never left until the nursery shuttered nearly 30 years later, assembling lawn mowers for my father, Pete, didn’t seem remotely related to my recently acquired liberal arts education. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

The Plant Man the push reel dogs

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Photo by Catharine Cooper

Dogs just want to have fun…on the lawn

Lawns reigned green during the early ‘70s in Laguna and beyond, as household water consumption was not yet a major concern in Southern California. Employing a gardener was a luxury, not a requisite as today, so a family (usually the less cerebral of the siblings like me) would mow their own lawn. In the era before big box retailers, our family nursery sold a sizable number of push-reel lawn mowers.

O.M. Scott and Sons, the venerable lawn and garden care company, shipped them to us. And we sold them, my minimum wage salary compensating for my relatively slow and less than enthusiastic production output. I am fairly certain that Baby Boomers like myself were partially a precursor for many American businesses outsourcing manufacturing and assembly overseas.

Over the ensuing decades, grass slowly evolved into less water consumptive landscapes due to concern with drought and climate change. For those who still dreamt of a green lawn, push mowers gave way to self-propelled lawn machines and then riding lawn mowers; and the grass shear became the weed eater and everyone hired a gardener so there would be more time to watch television.

And without tasks like mowing a lawn, our caloric expenditure declined and many of us became sedentary and gained weight (after the Black Death pandemic, many Renaissance paintings depicted naked fat people lying on couches). I’ve learned that history oft times repeats itself.

A 170-lb. individual can burn 224 calories by using a push reel mower versus 184 calories in 30 minutes by pushing a power lawn mower; or add 530 calories by consuming popcorn and watching a Netflix miniseries. (By the way, I strongly recommend The Lincoln Lawyer, which Catharine and I completed over the course of two late evenings).

The Plant Man the push reel lawn mower

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Courtesy of Steve Kawaratani

Scotts 14-inch push reel lawn mower

I needed to mow the lawn recently, as the gardener wasn’t able to do so; I vaguely recalled that I had bought a mower over a decade ago. Searching my mom’s garage, I re-encountered the familiar green and white logo of Scotts, on a 14-inch push reel lawn mower. Some minor maintenance was required, however, and 30 minutes later I had come full circle with a freshly mown lawn. Distant memories flooded back, my lifelong gratitude for the opportunity to work in a family business, learning to use a screwdriver and wrench and a renewed green consciousness. See you next time.

Steve Kawaratani has been a local guy for seven decades and likes to garden and drive the Baja Peninsula with Catharine and Loki. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 949.494.5141.