A garden is a beautiful space, full of sights, sounds and scent to cheer you up and boost health, but it’s also a battle ground. Every gardener needs tools. Soil needs digging, weeds need removing, hedges cutting back and the pruning can last for days.
Let’s look at the essentials.
If you are digging a border or a veggie patch then a garden spade is essential. Spades are available in different weights and lengths to suit, for example a ‘ladies’ spade weighs less than a standard spade. The difference between a border spade and a digging spade is simply size. Border spades are smaller and lighter, but if you’re digging a large area, it’ll be quicker with a digging spade.
Carbon and stainless steel versions cost more but they are lighter and sharper in general. Choose one with a foot protector along the head so when you press down it doesn’t hurt your foot. I find the Y-shaped handle easier to use but you may like the traditional T-shape better.
A long handled fork is also essential for a border or vegetable garden. Garden forks are designed to turn over earth, aerate the soil, shake out roots and spread manure/compost. They are lighter than spades and more versatile. You can turn a compost heap with a fork for example, or use it to aerate your lawn with puncture holes. Choose one to suit your height as this will cut down on back ache.
Hand Forks and Trowels
It’s worth buying these in a bright colour so you don’t lose them in the border. How many times have I walked around swearing because my hand trowel and hand fork have vanished? They have a number of uses, such as removing weeds, fluffing up soil flattened by pigeons, and making holes for smaller plants.
If cats use your garden as toilet, buy a cheap plastic trowel to pick up the mess; don’t contaminate your glorious hand trowel.
Hoeing is carried out to remove weeds when you can’t dig the soil. So when your seedlings pop up you can use a hoe to chop down weeds between the drills and loosen the soil so more water can penetrate.
In a flower border a hoe is useful for any chopping weeds between large plants. If you hoe when soil is dry, weeds can be left in place to dry out in the sun. If it’s wet they are likely to re-establish.
Hoes are very useful and often over looked back-savers. They are available in different styles. Here are the two most common:
A Dutch hoe: this has a shallow angled cutting blade for chopping weeds. They have Y-shaped heads and are very useful tools if you grow vegetables.
A draw hoe: this is a broom with teeth. They are used for chopping downwards into the earth to push or pull it away from you. They are better on tough, hard grounds.
Garden Loppers are long-handled cutting devices. Use them to cut back woody stems and branches under three cms thick. A tough pruning tool for tall buddleia or a hedgerow that’s looming over your patch, they save you balancing on a chair with hand shears.
Garden Shears are large short-handled scissor-like tools for clipping grass or small stemmed hedges. You can clip large box or other topiary with these too. They are essential for edging the lawn and make short work of the Chelsea chop.
If you have small box topiary use some ‘sheep shears’ instead of garden shears. These are one-handed clippers that take small pieces of foliage away.
It’s worth buying a decent pair because cheap secateurs are stress creators. Imagine yourself in a pyracantha bush trying not to bleed, you reach forward on one foot to clip, and the closing mechanism gets jammed on your bargain secateurs. Cheap secateurs make pruning hard work. They are great Christmas presents if anyone is looking to treat the gardener in their life.
Oil secateurs after use and don’t put them in your back pocket in case you trip or sit down heavily for a cup of tea.
There are a lot of weeding tools out there. The first step is to choose whether you want to kneel down with a short handled weeder or stand up with a long handled version.
- Corkscrew weeder – Good fun and easy to use. Place the corkscrew attachment over the weed and screw it down, then pull and the weed is removed with soil attached. Great for deep rooted dandelions and dock.
- Weeding fork – A two-pronged hand trowel assault on any weed.
- Weeding knife – a blade that can slip between paving stones to dig out intruders.
- Weed puller – push the teeth-like claws of a weed puller into the soil and pull up the weed in one go.
- There’s always the option of sending a fireball of flame onto a weed if you don’t like repetitive weeding or weed-killing chemicals.
A leaf rake has fan-shaped spikes to collect leaf fall, whereas a garden rake has a straight edge to push soil around and remove bits like stone and roots. A straight furrow of garden rake marks is extremely satisfying.
This is essential.
Chose one with a rose attachment for seedlings and take it off for plants and shrubs so you don’t wet the foliage and create mildew. Aim for the roots only with a single spout of water. Choose a watering can as heavy as you can muster because filling it is pretty boring.
Other bits you’ll find helpful in the garden are a pencil for writing on plastic tags, an open topped bag to chuck weeds in, a bucket to chuck stones and roots in, garden twine, scissors and gloves. If you prune roses or thorny shrubs get some gloves with leather protection. If you just dig and pottering then the softer gloves are fine, they protect your hands from blisters and keep dirt from your nails.
Buying Gardening Tools
It’s worth spending the money on good quality basics. A cheap garden spade will probably snap, when you lever out a root and fly back in your face. I’ve been through a lot of tools and learned my lesson.
Car boot and plants sale are full of tools. Some of these can be excellent quality. Check handles and wooden parts for any splits and look for sturdiness. I’ve picked a dandelion remover and a lawn edger for a few pounds, it’s worth getting up early because you’ll probably find a good deal of plants for sale too, all lovingly raised by keen gardeners for few pounds. Even if that vintage tool is heavy and you end up reaching for your modern carbon version, they still look great in the shed.
Before you invest in a tool, spend some time in your garden figuring out what you actually need. If you don’t have trees and high hedges then loppers are a waste of money. At the very least you will need a hand trowel and hand fork with some secateurs and garden shears. If you choose good quality tools and look after them they’ll last for a life time.