It’s easy to have a shed full of tools half of which you never use. I think of it as the horticultural equivalent of the dusty drinks cupboard which is stuffed full of sticky bottles that will never be drunk.
How often have I scrabbled through boxes and drawers in the half light of the potting shed searching for that one pair of secateurs that never tears stems or the spade I know isn’t going to ruin my back?
The only answer is a brutal clear out followed by a harsh whittling down until you are left with only those items that really work, and which you actually use.
So here, then, to save you all that trouble, is the my ultimate selection of tried and tested trusty tools. I wouldn’t garden without them.
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. Long handled 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. That said, I always wait to plant after rain when the soil is more pliable. This definitely saves time and wrist pain.
Stainless Steel Long Handled Bulb Planter on Amazon
2. DeWit 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. DeWit border spade
A good, ashwood handled 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 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.)
Multihead tool from Amazon
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.)
Bulldog Rubber Rake on Amazon
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.
Darlac sharpener from Amazon
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. The Hori Hori Japanese digging tool
I just love this tool, it’s so useful in all kinds of different ways. It is incredibly tough, never bends and has two sharp sides, sometimes both are smooth, on other models one side is serrated. This is the tool I’ll always grab because it’s just bound to come in use.
Use it to dig out weeds, or to dig holes for bulbs, to tear open compost bags, to split root balls, to winkle out moss or ivy. You could spend £400 on a beyond the top of the range model. Or just £18 for a tool like mine.
10. The best secateurs Felco no 2s
I’ve gardened with these for years and am still using my first pair. They’re beautifully made, you can feel the quality in your hands and there’s just so much pleasure to be gained from the cut. You do need to take care of them, cleaning with WD40 and sharpening with a diamond or ceramic stone.
When they get a bit the worse for wear you can even post them to the manufacturer for a restorative repair. On offer at £39.99 from Felco.
From www.worldoffelco.co.uk or at a discount from Amazon.
11. The best time saver: Robomow robot mower
This little robot mower saves me two hours a week during the growing season. TWO HOURS. That’s two hours to bake scones and then eat them or to actually sit in the bath long enough to read a magazine. No, its not cheap, but once you’ve bought and installed him this little chap mows three separate lawns without complaint.
If you are after perfect stripes this is not the mower for you, but if you’re just happy to catch the dandelions before they flower I cannot recommend more highly. In the long run this will be cheaper than paying someone to do the job for you.
Info and stockists from www.robomow.com. The RX12U is available from Amazon.
12. Handiest grass trimmer GTech
Because I use it every week. It’s lithium battery powered and I leave it charging so that it’s always ready when I want it. I have used mine for trimming the grass on the edge of the lawn, for battling nettles, for trimming around the fruit cage and for lawn edging (the head rotates 180 degrees.)
It’s got easily replaceable plastic blades, it doesn’t make so much noise or such vibrations that you finish the job feeling as though you’d just been pneumatic drilling the M1. And you get free blades for life (just pay postage). What’s not to like? (Nothing, just don’t expect it to strim a wild meadow. For that you need a bigger machine and a nylon cord.) £79.95
13. Easy wind up Hozelock Auto Reel hose
Now you may well know how the hose can be THE most frustrating tool in the garden. There are simply so many things that can go wrong. Your water pressure, just for starters. Too powerful and water spews out from the links, two weak and it won’t even reach the hose end. The pipe itself is annoying. They kink, they rot, they get knotted, they won’t wind up. They’re never long enough. Well, I am a new convert to the Hozelock Auto Reel.
The best thing about it is it reels itself up safely, without slapping you in the face, and without leaving your winder a mess. It’s also made from a specially strong yet supple material that prevents kinking (well, most) and is easy to move around the garden. My only caveats are that its wall mounting screws don’t look that strong. Other than that this is a piece of kit designed to make life easier. Hozelock Autoreel with 20, 30 and 40m hose.
From good garden centres or visit hozelock.com for suppliers, or get it from Amazon.
14. Darlac Flip Lok Telescopic lawn edging shears
Because a quick trim round the edge of the flower borders pays dividends and doing it with these shears is quick, painless and satisfying. There’s real pleasure in feeling the tough wavy blades slice through grass. Best of all these loppers are very light (they weigh just over a kilo) and come with adjustable handles so I never get back ache. Around £24.95
From good garden centres and online at Amazon.
15. Push along hand cyclinder mower
I’m ashamed to say that I treat this little mower outrageously. It has never complain – not once in 15 years - but just keeps on cutting swathes through the toughest grass. Occcasionally, I have to yank out the couch and once a year I give the blades a wipe and a sharpen and that’s it.
I used to use the collecting box but now I just give small areas the once over regularly and leave the short clippings on the ground. I love the fact that its hand powered. And I particularly love the comfortable rumble as it red blades trundle. Great bit of kit this. (No good for large areas, though.)
Mine is a Qualcast Panther 30 Hand Powered Cylinder Lawnmower but it says its discontinued on Amazon and recommends this Bosch alternative Bosch AHM 38 G Manual Garden Lawn Mower.
16. Best posh mower The Kensington Allett
Definitely the most serious bit of kit I own. I love this mower because it’s precision made, British and, as you expect, it can transform a rank mass of clover filled grass into a proper man-style lawn. And yet it is easy to use, though it does require someone with a bit of wrist strength to rip the cord that starts the powerful four stroke petrol engine.
It’s a cylinder mower so cuts beautifully but comes with extra cylinders which can be swapped about to provide a turf rake for dethatching and a powered scarifier and a bladed unit for opening up compacted ground.
It’s 51kg, so not exactly lightweight but it runs nimbly once powered up and is much easier to turn than you might expect for a beast this size. A real machine for real lawn enthusiasts. Allett Kensington 17K from £1049
17. 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.