The Alternative Guide to Garden Tools
The pandemic’s strict stay-at-home restrictions have spawned a golden age of gardening. Many of us have turned to the natural world for distraction, solace, and respite, whether as a hobby, wellness, or as a way to grow food.
There has also been a noticeable change in the appearance of our green spaces and the way we will garden. Both are evolving rapidly to reflect a wider awareness of environmental degradation and the extremely negative impact of pesticides. These can easily be avoided, and smart craft tools can help with the strain.
As a widely traveled botanical writer with an eye for material and many years of experience as a head gardener (currently in a certified organic private garden and cut flower business in Wiltshire), i have developed an extensive but carefully curated collection of international gardening tools products. These reduce the physical demands of chemical-free gardening, look good, and age gracefully by my side.
It feels good to invest in well-designed ergonomic tools. I first noticed the ingenious details of premium gardening tools during a year I spent in Japan as a Daiwa researcher and much of my capsule collection is of Japanese origin. If you’re ready to turn away from the dark underbelly of horticulture and switch to organic farming, maybe it’s time to update your toolkit and reassess your plot’s green credentials.
The large size and awkward appearance of this wide two-handle fork prevents it from being an instant sale, but I urge you to persevere, watch an online tutorial (actually quite entertaining) and give it a try. The fork allows light work on rough, uneven ground and neglected edges. A low steel crossbar holds long tines in shape with a parabolic curve that facilitates easy rolling motion. When the handles are lowered, the tines lift up through the ground.
Although this is a very physical process, the width of the fork and the ease of movement make it a pleasant way to set the stage. It is ideal for use in heavier soils, to loosen and aerate compacted areas before planting, and can also be used to lift root crops. It is a good alternative to a rotavator, causing less damage to soil structure, organisms and microbial life. It is also less polluting and less expensive.
Oscillating hoe in bronze
Also called a stirrup or swivel hoe, it is the most effective tool for weeding a vegetable patch or cut flower and gravel areas. Newly sprouted weeds are the easiest to deal with and a sharp hoe worked shallowly through the surface sends them effortlessly. A two-sided sharp blade pivots on its pivot and slices the roots both forward and backward, making this beautiful tool a clever combination of a Dutch hoe and a pull hoe.
The flat sides of the square design protect the foliage from surrounding plants, with the swivel facilitating precision and agility. Used regularly, copper tools deter destructive slugs and snails.
They are precision pruning tools that are essential for well-maintained and healthy trees and shrubs. Designed to cut on the pull stroke, the blade will be under tension during the cutting stroke and therefore will not get stuck or tilt. Clean, smooth cuts encourage plants to heal quickly, reducing the risk of disease entering through a pruning wound.
My preference is for Silky Saws, made in Japan and distributed worldwide. The Pocketboy range is compact and lightweight, slipping easily into your pocket for convenient storage and easy mobility. They are ideal for lightweight sizes. The teeth with four cutting angles allow a clean and fast sawing, therefore less vibration and less effort required.
A simple and sturdy hand tool that originated in the farming villages of Korea. Mainly used for cultivation and weeding, but also for breaking up lumpy soils and mixing them with compost. Used on the pull stroke, it consists of a short wooden handle and a wide hand forged steel blade. The curved blade has a sharp tip which (with practice) is very useful for thinning seedlings and pulling out tough weeds.
The edge is good when working on heavy soils, but you can choose to keep it dull if you are gardening on sandier soil. It’s compact and sturdy yet surprisingly light to cut through the ground, so it’s gentle on your joints.
Sometimes referred to as a floor knife, this is a versatile, sturdy, and must-have update to a trowel. Essentially three tools in one – a knife, a hoe, and a trowel – it’s much easier to use even in the heaviest clay soils. In Japanese hori means digging and the thick steel blade has been used for centuries to stuff edibles. True to its name, it is primarily useful for effortless spot weeding (a recurring theme in organic gardening) and for planting.
The combination of the semi-blunt tip and sharp sides extend its uses to cutting through tough roots and marking furrows for sowing seeds. Traditional styles have a wooden handle and a holster to secure it to your waist.
Think of a sickle as a compact scythe. Used with one hand, it has a short, curved blade that can be smooth or serrated, attached to a medium length handle. A pan-global tool of ancient origin, it is useful for cutting brambles and tall herbaceous grasses such as nettles. A short-handled model is invaluable for cutting herbs; grab the dry stems and cut them into a single slice. A mini sickle is ideal for delicately weeding between paving slabs and for harvesting vegetables.
The sharp shears are suitable for delicate garden work. Light pruning, cutting flowers, harvesting fruit, and the never-ending dead-head task require skillful hands and narrow blades. Available in different designs, those with longer pointed blades are great for reaching tight spaces and cutting soft stems; or choose a blunt curved blade for quick harvesting with limited crop damage. The most popular Japanese shears are forged from premium Izumo Yasugi steel that is high in carbon and traditionally used for samurai swords.
Sharpening and cleaning
If you’ve invested in tools you love, it’s easier to make maintenance a regular habit. Extend your hygiene rituals to include tools and clean them after each use. This prevents the spread of the disease. Sharpening takes practice and concentration, but if you’re sharpening regularly, it should only take a few strokes. A hardened whetstone is the best choice for thin blades, a coarser diamond file ideal for rougher or slightly damaged tools.
When cleaning, consider the issue of plastic waste. Biodegradable seedling pots make planting easy and there are many eco-friendly alternatives, including terracotta terracotta pots and sturdy plant fiber pots that biodegrade in five years when composted.
Where to buy your shears, shears and secateurs
Blackberry Lane Tools is a small family business based in Devon with an impressive catalog of internationally sourced tools. It imports Korean ho-mi and stocks a hand-forged, UK-designed fork with ash grips, available in two lengths.
Broadfork Newtimber Forge, £ 197.60; small ho-mi with wooden handle (available in right or left version), £ 11.40; blackberrylane.co.uk
NiwakiThe slogan of “Great stuff from Japan”. He has a brilliant array of tools and work clothes.
Niwaki hori hori with canvas case, £ 24; hori hori forged with rolled carbon steel, £ 89; mini sickle with 6cm blade, £ 12; niwaki.com
The online provider Implementations sells a range of handcrafted bronze gardening tools made by boilermakers in the EU. Its handmade tools are durable, practical and glamorous.
Houe Hydra in bronze (available from late June), £ 106; implementations.co.uk
Okatsune is the place to go for premium Japanese shears, shears and secateurs. They have red and white handles, an upbeat combination that symbolizes “happiness” in Japan.
Harvesting shears 301, £ 11.94; floral shears 304, £ 12.86; Whetstone 412, £ 12.86; okatsune.co.uk
Founded in Herefordshire in 1995, Silky fox imports a premier line of Japanese folding, pole and hand saws. Their website is great for finding the saw that best suits your needs.
Pocketboy Folding Saw with 170mm Medium Teeth, £ 30.40; silkyfox.co.uk
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