by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
A good garden tool should be simple, strong, effective and easy to maintain. This also goes for forestry tools.
Working with good-quality, well-crafted implements in the tranquil setting of the garden (or a woodland) can give a real sense of contentment – a pleasure enhanced by the knowledge that you are handling something whose design has remained virtually unchanged for centuries.
While there are many more modern designs of gardening and woodland management tools about nowadays the old ones that are centuries old in design, more often than not are still the best, as they have proven their worth over those times.
A good tool should be simple, strong, effective and easy to maintain. If well cared for it should last a lifetime or longer still, so always get the best you can. Cheap, more often than not, equals poor-quality materials and workmanship, equals spades that bend like cutlery having been rubbed by Uri Geller.
Some tools you can actually make yourself even, whether from natural wood, reclaimed wood, waste wire or other waste materials. In general, however, buying will remain the only option and then it is definitely you get what you pay for – at least in most instances.
When it comes to the proper tool kit for the garden what should it include, as a basic?
Many people suggest as first a wheel barrow but this very much, in my opinion, depends on the size of your garden and also as to how you garden. Personally I would concentrate on other tools first.
Your tool kit and what's going to be in it depends on how big your garden is and on how you (intend to) garden, and also on what you (intend to) grow.
The most basic tool kit should be:
Trowel: I personally doubt you can do much without one – or better still a couple of them – and the trowel is one of the most versatile and most used garden tools. Check for quality though as many modern ones have rather bad spot welds.
Secateurs (aka pruning shears): Good sturdy secateurs are also, like a good sturdy trowel, essential for working in the garden. My recommendation here would be those made by Loewe in Kiel, Germany, who are the mother, so to speak, of the secateurs once made and marketed under the “Rolcut” brand in Britain.
Loppers: For bigger branches where secateurs, aka pruning shears, will not do a pair of sturdy loppers will be required and such tool should also definitely be included in your tool kit. Once again at Loewe you will find what you need. Loewe still makes their tools in their own factory in Germany from German (Solingen) steel.
Pruning saw: For even larger branches and the best kind that you can get is the Silky range.
Digging spade: When it comes to spades – the large digging spades or the smaller border spades – quality is, as always, what counts and in this case I recommend one brand specially, as the digging tools are still made at their forge in Wigan, and that is Bulldog Tools.
Digging fork: For digging forks and their smaller cousins, the border forks, the same as above applies.
Hoe: Depending on how you garden you may require a large – that is to say an ordinary – hoe or a hand-held one. When it comes to the standard size hoe you also have options but the most common one that is being used is the so-called Dutch hoe. But there are also many others and it is all horses for courses. If you want the ultimate hoe, however, then I can but suggest the Cobrahead Hoe from the USA and the same goes for the hand-held version. Nothing will beat this one.
Rake: For creating a good tilth nothing is as good as a proper metal tine rake and the choice is, again, legion. I suggest you look for a good one the head of which should be fixed via a “shoe” to the handle rather than, as seems very common nowadays, pushed into the wood of the handle.
Weeding tool (Wire Weeder): When it comes too weeding by hand, as there is very little chance of doing it any other way, a wire weeder is probably one of the best tools that you can use. You can, obviously, purchase a so-called Wonder Weeder but you can also easily make one yourself (see here) or employ a hoof pick for the same task.
Pruning knife: Here I recommend a good all-purpose single blade pocket knife rather than a dedicated pruning knife and the best choice, in my view, is the humble Opinel #6.
Wooden dibber: A dibber is essential for accurate placement of seeds, seedlings and small plugs and you can buy a turned wooden one, a hand carved one, or you could as easily, with a little time on your hand, whittle one yourself.
This is but a very basic tool kit for working the small garden, especially for vegetable growing.
People often believe that, in order to work a garden, they need an armory of tools but this is not the case, really. It all depends on what you grow and how and how big your garden is as to what kind of tools you require to accomplish the tasks.
I grow vegetables in “grow bags”, as the Americans would call it, which are repurposed builders bags (ton bags) and thus I do not need a large hoe or rake and I generally recommend this way of growing veg as it is a “no dig” method and you never step on the “beds”. Thus, as I do not dig and just fork over the “beds” before planting with a border fork, and then rake it with a rake specially adapted to the task, I also do not, per se and in general, require a digging spade or digging fork (though I have got one or two).
I grow everything in containers and found it a much better solution than digging compacted soil every spring and every autumn or whenever and it also makes it possible to move some stuff about (not the ton bags though). Growing stuff in this way reduces labor and need for (large) tools.
But whichever way you garden the tools should be sturdy and right for the job.
You can find good quality tools frequently secondhand at flea-markets and such like and it is always a good idea to have a good look at what is there when you happen to be in the vicinity when such markets are on.
Knowing a good quality tool from the opposite is important when buying secondhand as much as when new. However, most old tools were much better made than those today and that is the very reason that they are able to end up for sale.
Everyone of us gardens differently but tools, regardless, should be simple, strong and sturdy, effective and easy to maintain.