Friday 10 December 2010

Tools of the Trade

In common with most hobbies / pastimes (obsessions?), gardening requires a certain amount of equipment. In this post I'll show you some of the tools I use most often.

As regular readers will know, most of my garden is devoted to a number of raised beds (six, each 1 metre x 2.4 metres), along with a varying population of pots and tubs. Because of this, I don't have much need of big items of equipment like rotovators and suchlike, and I prefer smaller handier tools. I do have a spade and a fork, but they are of the variety called "border" - as in Border spade, Border fork. This is simply a tactful way of saying "small". They are designed for work in plant borders where you have to be careful about what you are digging. I generally don't do much digging - mainly it's when I want to remove / install a shrub, or distribute a batch of homemade compost. The actual tools are very nice ones though, with stainless steel blades and ashwood handles. They are made by Faithfull Tools. Jane won them for me in a competition. I would probably not have bought such high-quality items if I had had to spend my own money on them, but they are really nice to own! Here's a link to the supplier's website:

The Faithfull tools

There are some tools that no gardener can live without. I suggest that secateurs and trowel fall into this category. I have had several pairs of secateurs over the years, and most of them have been a bit disappointing - especially those of the "bypass" varieties, which never seem to stay serviceable for long. One pair though has lasted ages and done a huge amount of work for me. It's of the "anvil" type. This pair is not elegant, but very simple and robust, and cuts through some pretty thick stems. About trowels: what can I say? Perhaps the best advice is to buy one that is comfortable to hold, because you will probably be holding it a lot. Cheap ones are normally nasty ones! Mine has a nice soft rubber grip.

Secateurs and trowel

One of my favourite tools is an Onion hoe. I don't grow onions, so it is never used for its official purpose, but it is great for hoeing in confined spaces. Being short and held in one hand you can use it much more carefully, with less risk of damaging desirable plants as well as weeds. The swan-necked shape allows you to reach into awkward corners underneath plants. This is what it looks like:

Onion hoe

Perhaps my most often-used tool is a simple thing called a "Widger". It is simply a piece of stainless steel about 6" / 15cm long, thicker at one end than the other, slightly concave so that it can when required act like a spoon... Oh, what they heck, a picture paints a thousand words -- Widger on the left of next photo!

Widger etc

I use the Widger for a variety of tasks, like weeding, planting small seedlings, making "drills" for sowing seeds, dibbing etc. It's so useful that I never really put it away, I just keep it pushed into the soil in a place where I can easily get it. A couple of years ago my Widger just vanished one day - night, actually. I think some lads were probably mucking about in my garden in the middle of the night, saw this thing and just nicked it because it looked attractive. I have had several such minor thefts over the years. Not a major issue perhaps, but annoying nonetheless. In due course I replaced the Widger with another one (they only cost a couple of pounds), but in the interim I used some temporary stand-ins, e.g. the plastic and metal tent-pegs also shown in my photo above. They worked OK-ish, but lacked style!

One other tool that I couldn't live without is an old kitchen knife which has been relegated to new duties following the acquisition of some more upmarket knives. I use mine for for harvesting veg like broccoli and cabbages, and for a multiplicity of other little tasks (e.g. recently I used it for dividing my ferns). Since the knife is an old one I'm not overly concerned with its appearance, and like the Widger, when not in use it lives stuck into the soil in a corner of one of the raised beds. In my photo, this sits next to a couple of dibbers, one of them an old-fashioned one made of wood and one smaller, more modern one, made of plastic. I use them for dibbing! [To the uninitiated, this consists of making a planting hole for a young seedling (probably using the thick end of the dibber), digging up the seedling, carefully transferring it into the hole (with the thin end), and then firming the soil around it]. Obviously the wooden dibber is used for heavier-duty work than the plastic one.

Dibbers and knife

Finally, a mention of two tools used less fequently, but which are nevertheless indispensable. Long-handled loppers for pruning woody shrubs when secateurs aren't up to the task (mine have extending handles to provide a longer reach), and a very long-handled tree pruner (basically a set of secateurs on a 6-foot pole). The latter is used for pruning the high-up branches of the trees and shrubs.

Tree-pruner and loppers

Loppers with the handles in the normal position

Loppers with the handles extended

Now that I come to think about it, I have one other indispensable item of kit to mention - the Trug-tub. This is simply a large flexible rubber (or is it plastic?) container with handles. Very useful for carting stuff around in -- such as compost, plant prunings, fallen Autumn leaves, etc. Couldn't manage without it (in the past I used an old plastic washing-up bowl, but I've moved upmarket now!)

The "Trug-Tub"


  1. You can't beat the right tool for the job. I'm looking forward to getting hold of a pair of Felco no2 secateurs this Christmas. Trug-tub definitely one of my favourites for working around the veg plot.

  2. I have never owned a dibbler or a widger. I am inclined to use my fingers and hands. I ALWAYS have dirty fingernails. Not very lady-like! I am going to look for an onion hoe. That looks very useful. My favourite tools are my stainless steel fork and my wheelbarrrow.

  3. You just reminded me that I really need to get myself new secateurs, mine are a danger to plants now despite sharpening them! I do prefer bypass though... I also think a border spade would be a good addition to the arsenal, not least because of my tendency to plant everything too close together!

  4. I could use a few of those tools! Your post has reminded me I need to clean mine.

  5. This is so cool, I have been wanting to do a post like this since the beginning. Tho, my collection is much smaller


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