33: Spring 2014

Author: Brian Cromie

Favourite Garden Tools

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Favourite Garden Tools
Brian Cromie

Every now and again some media gardener is asked what is his or her favourite garden tool. They usually describe some inherited tool such as a well worn and much loved spade handed down from a grandfather of fond memory.

Such a gardening heritage doesn’t apply to my antecedents, whose practical experience was limited to keeping the grass cut, cultivating a few marigolds and horrid golden rod and trying to grow runner beans and easy vegetables in wartime. Accordingly, my favourite garden implements do not come with nostalgic memories, but purely from my own experience, which is not much more than the twenty years since retirement and moving to King’s Cliffe.

We started with a derelict field and gradually changed it into a garden. We introduced trees, flowers and vegetable beds but the indigenous weeds were never far away and we added to them by distributing our home-made compost, which never got hot enough to kill off the weed seeds. Thus, a good deal of gardening effort went into weeding and that hasn’t changed over the years.

I have a gardening partner in my beloved wife who tends to specialize in the veg beds but who also plays her part in the weeding. Our approaches are quite different. Heather is a speedy weeder, attacking the ground with a vigorous hoe and she sweeps round the beds in no time at all.

I, on the other hand, have always believed in attempting a cure rather than settling for symptomatic relief, so I get down on my knees and work slowly along trying to get the roots out. We are complementary weeders! As a primarily ‘kneeling gardener’, my favourite tools are small and hand held.

Of course, my trusty Felco secateurs are in my pocket and always ready to hand but my real favourite is my ‘weeding knife’. This is a straight, slightly hollowed blade with a red handle and it is absolutely ideal for prodding, exploring, and levering out pretty well all the common weeds with their roots intact. It is not unlike a shortened version of an ‘asparagus knife’ of bygone days. Needless to say it cannot always get all the roots out. Field bindweed is proof against all my efforts, but most deep rooted weeds such as dandelion come out cleanly.

The ‘weeding knife’ is marketed by Wolf and was initially sold as a gadget to go on the end of a long handle but I use it purely as a hand held tool. I would not want to be left without my favourite tool.

My second favourite for a ‘kneeling gardener’ is a hand fork which differs from most forks in that the prongs are round. With its round, smooth, steel tines and its comfortable wooden handle, it is a joy to look at and a pleasure to use. I use it for all the minor cultivating tasks carried out when kneeling but it is particularly suited to combing through old leaves and stems, such as the tired hardy geraniums, in the winter tidy of the garden.

I think that a number of manufacturers produce similar round- tined forks but mine is by Burgon & Ball and is available from many gardening mail-order catalogues.

I have concentrated on hand-held tools but I cannot leave the subject without mentioning a couple of larger items that have made my gardening life easier over the years.

The first is an edger. The ‘Bob Andrews Spintrim’ had a rechargeable battery and was held against the edge of the grass whilst walking backwards, trying to avoid anything noxious under one’s feet. Some years ago, it was taken over by Allens and the colour went to a darker shade of blue but was, otherwise, unchanged. Later still, Allens left the market and most of their machines were taken over by other manufacturers but nobody has taken on the ‘Spintrim’ and I am distraught.

When the garden was in its prime and we were nearer ours, we had nearly a third of a mile of edges and some mechanical device was needed to keep them cut and tidy. I could not use electric devices because of the distance and the more powerful ones with petrol engines tended to cut a new edge every time making the beds a bit bigger every time they were used. The ideal was the battery powered ‘Spintrim’ but mine is now very old and I can’t get parts any more so it is a real problem. Of course, I have now drastically reduced the beds and, accordingly, the edges but I still mourn the loss of one of my favourite garden tools.

My last favourite is self invented, designed and made, so there are no difficulties of manufacturers going out of business and spares are always available. This is just a simple freezer basket slung between the handles of a wheelbarrow. It is placed far enough forward so that it doesn’t hit your knees when wheeling the barrow and wired firmly in position. Into the basket I put string, wire, pruners, scissors, weeding knife, trowel, hand fork, pruning saw and anything else that I am likely to need before I venture out to work. Before I devised this wheelbarrow modification, I was always finding myself at the bottom of our large sloping garden without some essential tool and having to walk all the way back to the shed to find it. I am thankful for it on an almost daily basis, particularly as the years pass and the thought of slogging all the way back up to the shed to collect forgotten string or something else becomes more off-putting!

First published in the Rutland Group Newsletter December 2012
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 33.
© Copyright for this article: Brian Cromie

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2014. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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