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The essential garden tools and accessories

Val Bourne / 03 June 2022

Drawing on her years of experience, gardening expert Val Bourne shares her list of essential gardening kit.

Warley Fall watering can from Haws
Birmingham-based Haws make some of the best watering cans on the market, including the Warley Fall two gallon metal can (pictured)

Everyone acknowledges that the greenest thing you can do in gardening is to grow your own vegetables and flowers. However, the second most important thing is to invest in quality tools that will last for decades. They won’t end up in landfill after a season’s use, and they may well outlive you. I, for instance, have gardened for sixty years and I have only owned three lady’s gardening forks. My present one is over 20 years old and it’s in use all the time. My stainless-steel spade is a similar age and there’s years left in both.

Prioritise quality

There’s a problem, though. Many garden centres tend to stock cheaper garden tools that are designed to last for just a season or two. They have built-in obsolescence, so the customer has to keep coming back to rebuy them regularly – which is why they stock them! It’s a false economy, of course, in the long run. Cheaper secateurs, costing between £10 and £15, don’t work well and generally have to be replaced every couple of years. A quality pair of secateurs, which can cost between £50 and £125, will last forever and save you money in the long run. They will also work far more efficiently and be a pleasure to use. Many of them are being made by established British firms: others are made in countries such as Japan – where the art of pruning is key.

Garden centres are also full of cute products that don’t really work. The watering can with a painted sunflower on the side, or the bird box with the wrong sized hole, or the floral gloves that don’t allow you to feel, or the watering gun that falls apart after a season. Avoid the cute and the cheap and go for the practical tools and equipment made by specialist companies.

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Tools for topiary and pruning

The best secateurs

These are indispensable to the gardener and you should always have a pair with you when you’re gardening, so investing in a holder, that clips onto your belt, is also a great idea.

Bypass secateurs are the most useful. They work like a pair of scissors, so they are ideal for cutting stems that are between 10 – 15mm thick (up to 5/8 of an inch).

Less-popular anvil secateurs resemble a like a knife on a chopping board and they crush thicker deadwood. Most gardeners don’t need a pair of these.

Best bypass secateurs for garden use – Felco model 2

Felco make the best bypass secateurs at an affordable price and they do different sizes. The compact model 6 is perfect for smaller hands and it’s the most user friendly. Most professional gardeners opt for number 2s. They sell left-handed secateurs too and they all have red handles so you can spot them if you lose them. They also sell spare parts and maintenance kits. Check out their website for discounted prices and promotions – they average roughly £50.00 - £60.00 and there are often good deals to be had on this website – www.worldoffelco.co.uk

Japanese super products

The Japanese are famous for their highly manicured gardens and precision-cut pruning and there are two suppliers I really rate, when it comes to clipping, pruning and cutting.

The best precision secateurs – Niwaki

Niwaki precision tools are designed for long-term use and there are lightweight secateurs and clippers that stay sharp, because the blades are an easily sharpened high quality carbon-steel. They keep their sharpness far longer. There are many to choose from and prices range from £39.00 – £245.00. The most popular model, the GR Pro at £72.00, is well-balanced and many professional gardeners opt for this model.

Niwaki also produce a range of stable tripod ladders in aluminium, in varying heights, all made by Hasegawa. www.niwaki.com

The best folding pruning saw – ARS

For many years Felco’s plastic-handled folding saw was a gardener’s essential, but the ARS Folding Saw, winner of the BBC Gardeners World “best buy” folding saw category in November 2021, is a superior product because the casing is metal. It’s used for pruning thicker wood on roses, shrubs and fruit trees and it can also be put into a pocket so that it’s handy to reach.

ARS tools, made in Japan, have been stocked here for roughly ten years so they’re not as widely known. They are more expensive and garden centres rarely stock them so they have to be ordered over the internet. The ARS range includes saws, polesaws, secateurs, telescopic pruners, shears and loppers. They’re very functional and the blades are very sharp, because the high-quality steel is thermally treated and finely ground and hardened. The tools also look good. www.sorbus-intl.co.uk

The best one-handed shears – Jakoti Hand Shears

Stocked by many people (at between £35.00 and £40.00 typically) these are by far the best one-handed shears for cutting back or edging, because the carbon steel blades cut cleanly and stay sharp. These Greek-made shears, originally sold as sheep shears, are sold all over Europe. They measure a foot in length, with 6- inch blades, and there is a holster too priced at £16.95 and you can buy both at £54.95. I couldn’t function without mine! www.harrodhorticultural.com

The best two-handed hedge shears – KR-1000 shears made by ARS

Forget those heavy wooded handed shears that you have to put down after a few minutes because you’ve got blisters and arm fade and opt for the multi-ward winning ultra-light and sharper ARS KR-1000 shears with curved handles and wider high-carbon blades at the cutting end. There are replacement blades available too and the large screw fitting (that allows new blades to be fitted) can be adjusted. The handles have built-in shock absorbers. These retail at £96.13 – but all parts are replaceable – so they will last for decades! www.sorbus-intl.co.uk

The best loppers – Spear and Jackson Razorsharp Advantage Telescopic Ratchet Anvil Loppers

Garden loppers have to be light, but robust, and they should have telescopic handles so that you can reach taller branches on fruit trees etc These have a five-stage mechanism that allows you to cut thick, tough wood in a series of stages – by squeezing the handles and releasing them. The carbon steel blades, which are non-stick and rust-resistant cut smoothly and easily with minimal effort. The rubber grips on the handles stop your hands from slipping and the handles extend from 72 to 104cm.

Spear and Jackson fork
Stainless teel Spear and Jackson forks and spades cut through soil easily.

Digging and weeding

Shiny stainless steel cuts through the ground really well and it doesn’t rust. You need to avoid plastic handles and go for weatherproof hardwood handles: these are long-lasting and far more comfortable on the hands. The handle should be in one piece, but split to form a wishbone shape at the upper end. A good fork or spade should also be well-balanced and not too heavy in the hand. Border forks are smaller and very suitable for most women gardeners, but taller people and most men prefer larger spades and forks.

The best stainless spade and fork sets – Spear and Jackson Spade and Fork sets

The Sheffield-based company, Spear and Jackson, have been making steel tools since 1760 and Amazon stock many of their products at good prices, including wooden handled spade and fork sets in two sizes. The smaller border spade and fork set retails at just over £50.00 and the larger Traditional Stainless Steel Digging Fork Bundle is almost £54.00, but all four can be bought separately. 

The best trowel – The Wooden Handled Transplanter (endorsed by the RHS)

Burgon and Ball, also a Sheffield-based tool company, make very good stainless steel trowels and hand forks. Go for wooden handles and remove any leather thongs threaded through the handles, because they aggravate the hands. This slender trowel (£12.99) is engraved with depth markings, especially useful when planting bulbs. The tang (or neck) is precision forged to the perfect angle for ergonomic working, and uses a different composition of steel for optimal strength in this important area of the tool. www.burgonandball.com

Or go for a boxed Passiflora set containing a trowel and fork @ £25.99. It’s engraved with a quote from Gertrude Jekyll - "the love of gardening is a seed once sown, that never dies." Both garden tools carry a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects. Bulldog Tools are also producing beautifully gift-boxed stainless steel Pedigree hand tools with a V & A floral design. A set of two costs £48.98 from www.marshallsgarden.com

The best rubber rake – Bulldog Premier Wizard Rubber Rake

Rubber rakes remove debris and leaves without damaging the plants, so they are an invaluable piece of gardening kit, especially in autumn and winter. This ash-handled rubber rake will collect leaves from grass or a gravel drive, or tidy up the lawn or border, without doing any damage. Prices range between £30 and £40. www.bulldoghandtools.co.uk

The best hoe – Bulldog Dutch Hoe

A wooden handled hoe makes short work of weeding, but it also creates a fine mulch on the soil’s surface and that helps to retain water. This simple wooden-handled hoe has an angled, carbon steel cutting edge measuring six inches across. There are also four- and five-inch blades available and prices range from £30 - £40. www.bulldoghandtools.co.uk

The best wheelbarrow – Lasher Ecobarrow

This 100% recyclable wheelbarrow, which comes in dark-green or vivid orange, features an ergonomic handle frame manufactured from Nylon. The well-balanced design is easy to push, due to the pneumatic wheel, and it’s lightweight, extremely durable and easy to clean with a 70 Litre capacity and a five-year guarantee. You do need to assemble it though. This retails @ £99.95 www.harrodhorticultural.com

The best watering tools

The best watering can – The Warley Fall Green, Two Gallon

Haws, a Birmingham-based firm established in 1886, make the best metal watering cans and they all have good roses – the sprinkler part of the can. The Warley fall design, for greenhouse use, has hardly changed since Victorian times and, although this product is expensive at £74.99 the can and rose will last for decades. Haws also make good plastic cans as well, with good roses, and these retail at roughly £30.00. www.haws.co.uk

Water fittings and hoses – Hozelock

When it comes to hoses, watering systems, connectors and spray guns etc, those made from Hozelock outlast any others. There’s a new lightweight Pico reel, designed for those with small gardens, but there are also much longer runs that extend up to 90m. www.hozelock.com

Water Softener – Plant Surge

This clamp-on water magnetiser, which clamps on to a hose, softens the water and makes plants grow. The retail price is £29.95, And the new plastic version, which replaces the old metal one, won’t rust. www.plantsurge.co.uk

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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.