The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The best gardening tools are not necessarily the most expensive

Photo: Kitchen garden

Photo: Kitchen garden

I’d cut down the rose bushes to large stumps and wheeled away about ten borrow loads of rose branches and quite a lot of bindweed roots.

John Coe cast an eye over the warzone border covered with hefty skeletal stumps.
“I can see what you mean. With this and the new potato border you will have a much more productive space for growing vegeatbles. Kitchen garden borders always fill up fast.”

He picked up my spade and stabbed at the biggest rose root.
“This’ll take some shifting.”
Within five minutes the base of the spade had snapped away from the handle. Poor John. It didn’t matter at all but he felt crouchy. It was a cheap stainless steel one. Beware. The metal that joins the business end to the handle may not be as strong as stainless steel. We stared at the triangular joint in silence – the metal joiner had just rusted away.

“I have a pitch fork if that will do?”
“Yes. Better than nothing.”
When I was in the barn my hand fell on a big shovel. John pushed open the barn door at exactly the same moment.
“Years ago I put a shovel in the barn.”

I handed John the shovel.

In fact I was pleased that the stainless steel spade had broken, it was a heavy cumbersome thing. I always used to buy stainless steel forks and spades. In the olden days these were recommended as tools for life. You invested hugely, ‘worked one in’ and it would probably see you out. You might need to replace a wooden handle once in a while but your finely honed tool would see you too the grave.

About twelve years ago cheaper stainless steel tools started to appear in the shops and garden centres. They looked exactly the same but they were of inferior quality to the old fashioned stainless steel for life range.  When a prong snapped on my fourth stainless steel fork I went out looking for a replacement. I decided to buy one that suited my size. I found a wonderful ordinary metal and wooden handled fork. Perfectly balanced for my height and weight. It didn’t cost much and I’ll buy a replacement spade  tomorrow from this range. It’s so easy to be dazzled by the virtues of stainless steel rather than chose a tool that works well for you.

A tool is an extension of your arms and hands. It is supposed to make gardening easier and give you added oompf. Test any potential tools out in the shop for weight and dexterity. Ignore the goggling eyes. The people who are staring are clearly just used to buying small hand tools or wishing that they had done the same when they replaced their tools last time.

Although when it comes to secateurs, always buy the best. I’ve invested in medium priced ones and regretted the move within days. Felco are the kings and go on and on despite being given rather poor treatment (mine have ended up on the compost heap several times in the last seven years and always respond well to a spray of WD40). Still giving good clean cuts with loads of wellie. If you invest in Felco secateurs always buy a pair of red handled ones. They are easy to see if they are dropped in the garden by misatke. Last year Felco resharpened my mum’s secateurs. They used to do this free for the life of the tool. I’m not sure whether they still do this service. There is no evidence on the website.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Gardening

    I have a set of those too. Extremely useful.

  2. Gardening

    The most useful tool I have is a thing called ‘Snapper’. It’s really a pair of secateurs on the end of a metre-long pole. It is excellent for pruning hard to reach shrubs, but, best of all, it holds onto the pruned piece so that it doesn’t drop into the surrounding plants. I wouldn’t do without it.

  3. Kristen

    I want to plant rose bushes around the edge of my house but my husband says the roots would grow too wild and be impossible to dig out when the time came. Is there any tool that would make the job easier?

  4. I’m a wolf devotee too, although I do have spades and forks of other makes, most of them bent or with tines missing.

    I’m going to invest in a good old vintage set this year – I spotted some in a little vintage gardening place on the outskirts of Bath, all beautifully oiled and shiny, so I’ll be buying them on a day trip in the summer.

  5. I’ve just emptied one of my compost heaps and found 2 teaspoons, 1 hook that kitchen implements hang on and my gardening penknife that I thought I’d lost.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Pickle

      We found a silver teaspoon and a sharp kitchen knife in our compost bin! Scary to think what else we have thrown away into landfill!

      I spent some time foraging on your site. Really interseting information on rhubarb. Thank you.

  6. I’m a devotee of my Wolf tools. I have handles in three different lengths, and lots of gadgets, since I got a grant to set up my veg box business, years ago. There are probably 4 – 6 that I use most of the time, but none of them is useless.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Jackie

      Your owm veg box business! I’m green with envy although I know that it must be hard, hard work and loads of seat of the pants stuff. I do admire you.

      Just trying to grow veg for us is so touch and go.

      Thanks for the tip about Wolf tools. We have a few too. Most useful is the ‘Plough’ tool. Three substancial prongs that literally plough a kitchen garden bed.

  7. Domestic Executive

    I’ve learned in life you pay for what you get. It’s better to invest in the right tools rather than try and compromise on true functionality. I bought a beautifully crafted trowel last year for all my planting in the newly created garden. I’ve never been so happy with a gardening tool. It is lightweight, doesn’t bend in the clay and gives me a wonderful feeling in my hand.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Domestic Executive

      I couldn’t agree more. There was a great offer on tools at the builders merchants this morning but I knew at a glance that they were far to big and heavy for me.

  8. My secateurs have ended up on the compost heap once or twice as well 🙂

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Emma

      It’s so easily done. I always assume that I’ve done this and after an hour of raking find mine on the bird table. Arrrrrgh.

  9. kate (uk)

    Since having a hip replacement, bending and kneeling are problematic, so this year I invested in some long handled tools- small hand fork, sharp trowel and rounded trowel- what joy using them. I can plant things by myself again!I agree- good tools may be costly, but you will have them for ever and always try them out for size/weight etc in the shop. I also bought myself a wooden handled compost scoop, which seemed like sheer indulgence at the time ( mid-winter), but I’ve used it constantly this Spring- fab!

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Kate (UK)

      Good tools are a joy. Poorly designed ones put the brakes on a gardening project. The compost scoop sounds like just the sort of tool that would be welcome in any garden!

      Those long handled tools can be so useful. Deighted that you can plant things by yourself again 🙂

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