Winston Churchill once famously remarked “give us the tools and we will finish the job”, but when it comes to buying garden tools, sometimes we can be so spoilt for choice that it is difficult to know which ones to choose to get the job done.
From lawn management to general landscaping, while there is sure to be a purpose built tool for the task in hand, the right tool is often the one which simply suits its user best – and most gardeners have their own particular favourites.
However, it pays to be selective and choose wisely; good garden tools should last you a very long time.
Spades and Forks
Spades and forks are probably the two single most essential of garden hand tools – and both are available in a range of qualities, prices, sizes and materials. As a general rule, it is a good idea to handle a variety of different spades and forks before making your selection; after all, your chosen tool is ideally going to be your trusty companion for years to come, so it’s a decision best not rushed!
There is little substitute for quality, though this does not necessarily mean the most expensive. Look for quality of workmanship and finish; a good tool will feel robust and ready for work, so be prepared to reject anything which strikes you as flimsy or poorly constructed. This is particularly important when it comes to spades, which typically do most of the donkey-work in the garden; it does not take much use to show up flaws in spades, so look for potential weak points.
It is also important to think about how it will be used. The standard digging spade, for example, is ideal for moving large amounts of soil, but it is heavy; if weight is an issue the lighter and more compact border spade may be more useful. A border fork is also available, which is also perfectly suited to light work in restricted spaces.
Rakes and Hoes
Rakes and hoes are two more useful items to include in your garden tools and equipment – the former being invaluable for levelling and breaking up the soil surface prior to planting and the latter are unbeatable for weeding.
A rake-head formed in a single piece – rather than the cheaper riveted or “bolstered” version – tends to be stronger and it is worth remembering that the wider the head, the faster the job gets done. For many gardens 12 teeth are adequate, but for large areas, rakes with 16 or more will repay their extra cost with major savings in time and effort.
Although a wide range of hoes are available in garden centres, including triangular, combination and digging types, the traditional Dutch hoe remains the most versatile, particularly for weeding around plants. Both rakes and hoes are available in a variety of materials and personal preference plays a big part in the choice, but, as with most garden tools you tend to get what you pay for and good quality implements can often cost two or three times more than their cheaper counterparts.
Garden Knives and Secateurs
A good garden knife is a truly versatile tool, able to prune, take cuttings and cut twine. Knives come in a variety of types, including grafting, budding, pruning or general purpose designs. Unless you need a specialist knife, either a pruning or general purpose version is likely to be the best choice – and whether you opt for a fixed blade or a folding type comes down to personal taste.
For more serious pruning, secateurs are the tool of choice for most gardeners. If you only intend cutting soft stemmed plants, a light and fairly cheap pair will probably be perfectly adequate. However, if the bulk of your gardening calls for woody-stemmed shrubs or fruit trees to be kept in check, it is well worth buying heavy-duty secateurs since the more robust action is far less likely to loosen or break under the strain.
There are three main types on sale – parrot-beak, by-pass and anvil – named to describe the shape and action of the cutting heads and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. However, their “feel” in use is probably more important for secateurs than almost any other garden tool – as anyone who has had to use a pair that are not comfortable will readily agree – so it is important to try out a few to see which you like best.
Although you don’t have to have every single type of garden implement on the market to manage your landscape, having the right tool for the job certainly makes the work easier and is likely to give you the most chance of getting the best results.