The garden tools the experts use
Do you find yourselves reaching time and again for the same tool as you head into the garden? We asked six experts to reveal which tool they couldn’t garden without
There is a sense that the tools you use in the garden say something about who you are as a gardener and your approach to the task in hand: practical and spontaneous (it takes a strong will not to get distracted by a stray weed spotted out of the corner of your eye) or more methodical and carefully planned? The more you garden, the more familiar you become with your tools and learn to love their feel and their function. What should never be forgotten though is that tools do need a little care and attention. After each session in the garden, clean and dry your tools and where necessary keep blades sharp and mechanisms oiled. This way a quality tool will last years – if not generations.
Garden experts' key tools for the garden
Folding pruning saw
The tool I couldn’t be without is my folding pruning saw by Silky. I was introduced to them when I was training at RHS Garden Wisley as a student some 14 years ago and immediately bought one, and now could never be working in the garden without it. There is nothing more satisfying than making an accurate, clean, good-quality pruning cut, and I find this is the answer. The blade tends to last me around a year and then it can easily be replaced. I use them for all manner of pruning, such as shrub pruning, dead-wooding and lifting the lower branches of trees. Their shape and style means you can get into the smallest of places, while still doing a great job, and the blade can lock into a second position that almost bends back on itself for the most awkward of spaces. To date, I’ve never bent or snapped the blade which can happen with some pruning saws – a sure sign of a quality pruning saw.
Here's our pick of the best pruning saws
Carbon blade scissors
I have a gardening bumbag with labels, pens, string and most importantly my florist’s scissors. I don’t go out for even five minutes in the garden without it. I can’t bear to waste time looking for a tool, so I do almost all my gardening with these carbon steel florist’s scissors. They are strong and sharp (carbon steel takes a better edge than stainless steel, and can be sharpened up again). With the points together my scissors root out dandelions, tease out seedlings to be replanted, or extricate weeds from between gnarled roots. Holding them flat to the ground and scuffling them back and forth, you can use them as a mini-hoe. They will cut almost anything a pair of secateurs would, up to about 5mm. For anything bigger I have to get the loppers, so it often doesn’t get done. Before I organised the bumbag, I used to have them in my hip pocket (your leg won’t bend far enough back for them to poke you). The important thing is having them to hand.
I first saw it in use many years ago on my first visit to Japan, being used to cut rice crops in the paddy fields
We are on heavy clay at Great Dixter, and even though the ground has been gardened for more than 100 years, border work can turn into a slimy mess at the turn of a cloud. Crushed horticultural grit comes to the rescue, making the soil easier to handle, as does dollops of compost, which increases the friability of the soil allowing it to take more abuse from feet, knees and tools in wet weather. But total protection comes from boards. These spread your weight and allow access into the borders without putting too much pressure on the ground. They also cover up areas that have been opened up prior to planting, deflecting the rain, and allowing you immediate access to the soil without waiting for the ground to dry. We have wide ones, thin ones, long ones and short ones, all raided (with permission) from skips and left over from building works. Some hang around for years and become recognisable by their ragged edges and become favourites. I can’t imagine gardening without them.
Japanese rice cutter
My favourite tool is a Japanese rice cutter, a hand held tool comprising a light wooden handle and a curved steel blade, the inner edge of which is sharply serrated. I first saw it in use many years ago on my first visit to Japan, being used to cut rice crops in the paddy fields and I was fascinated by the ease with which the blade sliced the rice stems. One of my Japanese companions persuaded a harvester to part with his blade, which I managed to bring home in my hold baggage. I’ve since seen them for sale in agricultural suppliers, garden centres even. I found an immediate use for it in my garden when removing dead or unwanted top growth of perennials, especially those with leathery, prickly or otherwise obstinate growth, such as the dead leaves of dieramas. As with all such cuttings tools I wipe the blade clean after use and apply a thin coat of oil to protect it against rust.
Don't miss our round up of the best garden knives
This is a tool that I learned about while guest gardening at Chanticleer, in Pennsylvania, USA about ten years ago. The thing that impressed me the most was its versatility; it can be used as a trowel for normal weeding but it’s also very strong and so is perfect for more robust weeds, such as ash seedlings and brambles. Because it is quite narrow, it is also useful for planting plug plants and weeding in paving cracks or between rocks; and the serrated edge makes it useful for sawing through roots when dividing perennials. After using the tool for a month at Chanticleer, my host must have seen what fun I was having with it and so kindly gave it to me as souvenir. At Gravetye Manor in Sussex with an extensive kitchen garden, herbaceous borders, meadow and orchard area to look after, I have probably used it almost every day.
The cutting garden at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire comprises one third of the three-acre kitchen garden. The string-line is a vital tool to ensuring that I plant my flowers in rows in a similar style to the vegetables being grown in the rest of the kitchen garden. I usually plant into 1-1.2m wide beds, so a post will go into the ground at each end of a bed pulling the string taught and giving me a straight line to plant along. I then move the line along until the bed has been filled with three or four rows, depending on the ultimate size of the plants. This particular string-line was made by my colleagues years ago out of two metal stakes that originally formed part of the Chatsworth garden sign posts. The baler twine usually lasts a good few years before needing to be replaced – something that needs to be done this year before the next planting frenzy begins.
Don't miss our round up of all the best garden tools and more
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