In my last blog I tried to pare down the tools I keep in the shed to something more manageable – which is so much easier said than done. This week’s aim – of sorting out the hand tools – shines a thinning autumnal light on just how hard.
In my shed I have uncovered what can only be described, in collective terms, as a waste of weeders. Packed untidily into a mucky plastic box I found six weeders and even more hand forks, not one of which I would use for choice. So why are they still there? In case they come in useful. Ah, you say, just in case half a dozen volunteers popped their heads over the garden wall and offered to help doing a little light weeding. That is just not going to happen. If I’m really lucky the husband will help, as long as the sun is shining. So two weeders really is more than enough. It’s pretty much the same story with hand trowels, something I hardly ever use except, perhaps, for bulb planting and sometimes not even then. Why would you? Generally if I’m filling pots or trays I pick up a small handful of earth in my hands or scoop from the sack with a plastic pot. If some serious digging is required a spade is what I take.
The essential hand tools
Despite the last paragraph, I reckon you do need one small trowel and one small fork. You also need a good weeder, one good spade and fork, a dutch hoe and a couple of rakes. Beyond that it’s up to you and your garden. Below are the tools that I use, year in year out.
1. Joseph Bently bulb planter
Bad bulb planters are not worth the money and, sad to say, many are rubbish. I’ve had several in my time and ended up never using them because the cutting edge was so thick that I ended up pogoing on the ruddy thing in an attempt to break through the turf/soil. This one is the best I’ve had and so I do actually use it. That said, I always wait to plant after rain when the soil is more pliable. This definitely saves time and wrist pain.
Joseph Bentley Stainless Steel Long Handled Bulb Planter on Amazon
2. De Wit two pronged weeder/Rose fork
I don’t use this with roses particularly but for wherever the earth needs light going over. It’s an unusual tool and very handy for stubborn weeds, getting in between plants in the border, lifting and turning the soil. I like the fact that it’s lighter than a normal fork but with more reach than a small trowel or weeder.
3. De wit ladies fork and border spade
A good, ashwood handled fork and spade that are the right height for me with a carbon steel blade that’s a joy to use and demands loving care (see below). I have to admit that I wish they were just a bit lighter. I can feel my back after an hour of hard forking or digging hence I continue to search for the perfect lightweight fork and spade that is strong enough not to snap under pressure.
4. Wolf Garten multi heads
Now I’m very anti pointless gadgetry and when I first came across these multi headed tools I smelt gimmick but I’ve been using the same one handle with a variety of different heads (soil and leaf rakes, dutch hoe) for over a decade now and they haven’t broken or given any grief. So I say: good idea, people from Wolf Garten. These are especially helpful for those with not much space. (Choose from aluminium or wood handles.)
5. Rubber rake
The Bulldog Wizard rubber rake was recommended to me by our garden writer Val Bourne as one of her most used and favourite tools. So, of course, I had to get one. Autumn is exactly when you want this – because its sturdy rubber tines you can rake leaves off beds and lawns without causing any damage. (Comes with choice of fibreglass and hardwood handles.)
6. Niwaki hand hoe
This is my latest favourite weeder. The key to its success is the exceptionally sharp blade (so very Japanese) while the length of handle allows extra reach into the border. It also enables you to use a kind of chopping action which is great for hoiking out tough roots (dandlelions etc) without straining my hands. It can also be used with a raking action to lift out shallow rooted weeds. A really good tool. Highly recommended.
7. Haws 4.5 litre outdoor metal watering can
Now, watering cans come in just so many forms that you could fill a house with them but after years of using all sorts the one can that I still have and still take pleasure in using is a galvanized zinc can with a round brass rose and it’s made by Haws. Yes, plastic is lighter, but I just can’t be doing with red and yellow plastic in the garden. Call me fussy but why spend all that time making a beautiful garden if you’re going to spoil it with a nasty plastic can? Haws makes great cans (yes, they do plastic too). Their indoor cans are also wonderful.
8. Wet stones and sharpeners
Few things give such reliable pleasure to the gardener as a good blade whether it’s when you’re cutting flowers or pruning edges. And good blades come with careful sharpening. I’ve been carrying a neat little tool from Darlac – a twin tungsten and diamond sharpening kit - that fits into one. Perfect for a quick sharpen in between jobs. Between the two sharpeners you’ve pretty much everything covered.
For serious sharpening I’m much happier using a wet stone, which requires forward planning (the stones have to be soaked in water) and care (drop the stones and they break). For this I use Japanese Gouken stones which come in three grades, depending on the job in hand. These are a real joy to use, so very satisfying with a great finish. (From niwaki as above.)
9. Garden trousers
Okay, here’s a confession. All my life I have scorned people who wear special kit for walking and gardening. What is wrong with that old pair of jeans and jumper full of moth holes? Now I have to eat my hat; completely. I have been given a pair of gardening trousers which are actually designed for the job. Oh my goodness there really is a difference.
1. They have padded knees. This means no more lugging around a kneeler or fiddling about with knee pads. It also means no more wet, sore knees.
2. They come with a toughened pocket designed to hold secateurs so no more holey pockets or stabbed thighs.
3. They are warm!! Really warm. And soft, and comfy when you kneel for hours.
4. They have lots of pockets.
5. They are quick drying, stretchy and showerproof.
There is one very serious drawback: I have actually started wearing them not just for gardening. This is bad bad bad.