Right Tool, Right Task: My Gardening Favorites
By Cyndy Crist
I suspect every gardener has his or her favorite tools to use in the garden, and what works best likely evolves over time. My guess is that most of us start with one very specific kind of gardening – perhaps a flower bed in front of their house, or a small vegetable patch in the back – and the tools we use and value evolve as our interests grow and change. That said, I think there are a few tools that are likely essential for any gardener, at least anyone with a small, urban garden. Here are my personal favorites, divided into two general categories – hand tools and long-handled tools.
I prefer to do most garden tasks with small hand tools. I think the reasons are the same as those behind my infrequent use of gardening gloves – because I like to get “up close and personal” with my garden. I like to gauge the soil’s texture, feel the roots as I gently pull them apart when transplanting, and know how firmly I’ve pressed the soil when heeling in newly planted specimens. It does tend to wreak havoc on my fingernails, but it’s so satisfying.
My most used tool is a trowel. I probably have six of them, since I’m always looking for one that’s a little larger, narrower, or somehow different from (and, I assume, better than) those I already have. I’ve been disappointed in some that bent at the shaft when I worked hard soil. Others have simply not fit my hand well or felt clunky. My favorite is a Radius Garden 100 Ergonomic Aluminum Hand Trowel with a bright green handle and an angle that makes it ergonomically appropriate. It’s really comfortable to use and strong enough to get the job done.
The other absolutely essential tool in my arsenal is a good pair of pruners, or secateurs. Here, I don’t think you can beat Felcos, the Cadillac of pruners on the market. There are several options from which to choose, designed for specific tasks and hand sizes. I’ve had my #2, “The Original,” Felco F-2 Classic Manual Hand Pruner for many years. They’re definitely due for a sharpening, and if the blades ever get bent, they can be replaced. Felcos are pricier than other pruners, but properly cared for, they will last forever.
My third choice is a Japanese pruning saw. I use this tool less often than some others because I grow mostly herbaceous perennials, but it’s indispensable for heavier cutting. I like the way it folds up for safe and compact storage, and it offers balance, strength, and sharp, jagged teeth that make short work of pruning woody plants. My saw was made by The Rumford Gardener, but I was unable to find it via an internet search. There are however, other sources of very similar saws.
Much as I love to get “down and dirty” in my garden, sometimes my joints tell me that I would be well served to stay upright while I work in the garden. For those occasions, I have a few more favorite tools.
The first is a weeding hoe with a small, V-shaped head made by Goserud, often called a warren hoe. In the midst of so many British and Swiss-made tools, I’m proud to say that this one is made in Minnesota. Its sharp edges and small shape make it ideal for getting into tight spaces to remove weeds or loosen soil. Its light weight lets me use it for extended periods without getting fatigued from carrying it around. Mine is Model #60, and it’s a beautifully hand-made tool. If you cannot find the Goserud, Ames also makes a warren hoe that is of high quality; Warren Hoe 54″ Kodia
The second is a garden fork. When I was first establishing my gardens (our lot was almost entirely covered with grass and well-compacted soil), a sturdy spade was essential to removing the sod and loosening the soil. But now that I have turned all but about a 6X10 foot oval in the front yard into gardens and paths, I find a garden fork just as effective but more versatile. My current favorite is a Martha Stewart tool that I bought at Kmart. It’s sturdy but not too heavy.
My third favorite is a small bamboo rake. It looks like it could be a children’s tool, but it has an adult-length handle. It’s wonderful for removing mulch and leaves in the spring and for clearing out small spaces. It works well for tasks for which a larger, more standard rake would be more likely to damage tender plants or get caught on nearby shrubs. It’s diminutive, but a real work horse in my garden.
I want to mention one more tool with a much more limited role in my garden but which works beautifully when needed. It’s a Spear & Jackson e-series Edging Knife with a small, sharp, half-circle head on a sturdy T-handle. It makes the task of trimming the lawn along the sidewalk a breeze and it also works well to tidy things up along other edges in the garden. I love this little tool too much to leave it off my list.
Three Other Favorites.
Beyond tools, there are three other garden items that I find indispensable. One is a pair of Crocs. I’m a real barefoot gal, and these are perfect to slip on as I head out to the garden. They’re comfortable, sturdy, come in bright colors that make them easy to find when I leave them in the garden, and can be hosed off as needed. I keep a couple of pairs in a basket near the back door so that they’re ready to go when I am.
A second item I use like crazy is a garden kneeler and seat made by Step 2 Corporation; Step 2 Garden Kneeler and Seat, 21.8″ L x 10.8″ W x 16.3″ H, Color Green (5A0100). It has saved the knees of many pairs of jeans and provided impromptu seating when I need a little break anywhere in the garden. One of the things I like about this particular kneeler is that it has an opening in the middle of the “seat” which makes it easy to carry around. And since it’s plastic, it won’t rust or bend and, like the Crocs, it’s easy to hose off.
Finally, I need a good basket in which to put the detritus resulting from pruning, deadheading, and weeding. I want something with a strong handle and that is sturdy enough to “stand up” when set down (that is, not collapse). My favorite is a large, fireside-style wicker basket. Its large, almost flat surface can accommodate just about any shape or size of plant material that results from my garden work.
Finding my favorites took some experimenting. I purchased a few things that I thought I’d use but seldom did (who really needs a bulb planter when a long, narrow trowel works just as well but is more versatile). Other purchases proved uncomfortable to use or just weren’t up to the tasks for which I bought them. And I’m sure I’ve been dazzled by a few shiny new models that I really didn’t need but found visually appealing. These are the tools that lie buried in the bottom of my tool basket. But it’s easy to tell which are my favorites. They’re the ones that are dirty and scratched, well-worn and well-used. And I can’t imagine working in my garden without them.
**None of the products featured in this post were gifted or given to me free of charge in exchange for links or press. No part of this post was paid for by any company.