Gardening Tools with Distinction

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

I appreciate a well made garden tool; the way it feels in your hand and the way it works.  Over the years, I have acquired many tools but not all are winners.  As time has passed and my needs have changed, some of my favorites have been displaced by newcomers.  With the coming season, I thought I would share some of my favourites.

The tool that is by my side constantly is my hori-hori knife, a one handed multipurpose tool, used for digging and cutting. It has a long steel blade that is smooth on one side and serrated on the other. The serrated edge is handy for cutting through roots and difficult weeds and the smooth side is more appropriate to delicate cutting tasks. The tool originates from Japan, where it has been used for centuries to remove vegetables and Sanasi plants from the mountains. The word ‘hori’ literally means ‘to dig’ in Japanese.

The point of the blade enables you to dig rows for seeds, seedlings, and holes for larger plants. There is a built-in ruler, which consists of notches on the blade. When not in use, the knife hangs in its scabbard on a hook in the mudroom where it is readily accessed before going outside.

Spring cleanup highlights the need for pruning shears or secateurs; a type of scissors for use on plants. I prefer bypass pruners as they make an accurate and clean cut.  I have used Felco pruners for many years and found them to be sturdy, they have replaceable parts (including the blade) and are available in many styles.  I use the Felco 12 and Felco 6 which are suitable for people with smaller hands. For woody plants that are too thick for pruners, I switch to loppers which are long handled two handed pruners. My flower shears are small needle-nosed pruners that can get into tight places while delivering a clean cut to the stem.

The spade that gets the most use is my rabbiting spade which was originally designed for digging out rabbit burrows. The blade is very long, curved and tapers towards the end. It is ideal when working in confined spaces or for transplanting plants and shrubs. It has a short handle and a classic YD handle.

For working on woody plants with a diameter larger than 2 inches, I turn to my Japanese pruning saw. Light weight with an ergonomic handle that helps to prevent wrist fatigue, its tooth size and geometry are chosen for cutting green and wet wood, ie, live wood. These saws cut on the pull stroke, which keeps the blade straight which I find makes it easier to use. It makes fast work of any task leaving a very clean cut.  The saws are available in a number of sizes and types.  I prefer to buy brands where the blade can be replaced when needed.  I use mine for everything from foraging for evergreens at Christmas to dealing with invasive trees and shrubs on the farm.

One of my first purchases was my Haws 9 litre watering can.  First designed in 1884 and virtually unchanged to this day, it is made from painted galvanized steel that is meant to last lifetime. It has an extra long spout and comes with a removable oval brass rose. The Haws is well balanced, making it easy to carry and tip.  When I do need to water plants, I do it by hand using the Haws and water at the base of the plant directly from the spout. It is quite accurate due to its balance.

From the oldest to the newest, meet my new broadfork, a tool that allows you to aerate your soil while preserving soil structure and microbial populations. Broadforks have two pole handles connected to a row of steel tines along a crossbar, which permits you to use your body weight to drive the tines into the ground while holding the grips. The tines loosen the soil to a significant depth.  Pulling the handles allows you to crack to soil slightly creating passages that allow air, water, and nutrients to reach deep into the ground and create a better growing environment. All this with no bending!!

“Tools of many kinds and well chosen, are one of the joys of a garden” ~ Liberty Hyde Bailey

One thought on “Gardening Tools with Distinction”

  1. I love the hori hori knife too! I also have a mini fan rake that I use often. My newest “tool” though, has to be my folding kneeler. Now I can get up and down so much easier!!


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