Thinking about a Christmas present for a gardening friend? Or perhaps you’re anticipating a gardening gift voucher and fancy treating yourself? Flo Whitaker suggests some essential hand tools that won’t break the bank.
The pages of gardening magazines are currently filled with adverts for expensive gadgets promising labour-saving luxury. Hmmm… I predict most gardening gizmos will be used twice, then flung into a dusty shed corner to join the pile of gardening paraphernalia from previous Christmases’, whereas some well-chosen hand tools will last a lifetime and be in constant use. Now, that is money well spent.
Take your time when choosing tools. Don’t be rushed. Hold different types to decide what feels best for you. It may be a beautiful top-of-the-range model, but if it doesn’t sit comfortably in your hands, you’ll seldom use it.
A hand trowel and fork duo are essential workhorses in the border. Ensure they are of strong, one-piece construction, made from single pieces of metal - not sections riveted/welded together, as these cheap versions invariably break at the join points. Fork tines come either flattened or rounded. For general use, rounded tines are easier and slide through soil with minimal ‘snagging’.
A small-headed hoe is a really useful tool as it fits into awkward spaces. Some have straight profiles, others come with ‘swan’ necks or serrated blades.
I gazed in suspicion (and trepidation) when first encountering a knife-like Japanese implement known as a Hori Hori, (translated as Dig! Dig!) This ruthlessly efficient tool features a concave blade with razor-sharp edges. It chops like a billhook, swipes like a hoe, uproots weeds and excavates like a trowel. I cannot over-state how sharp a Hori Hori is. Store it in a protective holster, away from children and pets.
At the other end of the scale, a little folding penknife has endless uses; from taking cuttings to opening compost sacks - and everything in between. Inexpensive, lightweight and compact; keep one in your pocket and you’ll be surprised how many times you reach for it.
There are two types of secateurs to choose from. ‘Bypass’ secateurs behave like scissors. Both blades move, cutting as they pass across each other. They are suitable for all garden tasks - if you only have one pair of secateurs, choose these. ‘Anvil’ types have one static and one moving blade. They give a less precise action and, instead of a ‘clean’ cut, are inclined to crush or shred, so are not ideal for pruning.
However, they exert tremendous force and are particularly useful when chopping up woody material for the compost heap or clearing overgrown areas.
Finally, invest in a sharpening steel or stone. Blunt tools are miserable things that make extra work. Trowels and spades also benefit from some judicial sharpening. You doubtless know the phrase “got an edge”, meaning to have a competitive advantage? Well, that term is derived from ancient horticultural references - the sharpest tools are always the fastest ones.