Archive for Sunday, March 22, 1998


March 22, 1998


Lawrence's garden centers are sporting some of the newer devices as well as the tried and true tools for the garden.

``If you expect to do a good job, you have to have the right tool.'' Such was the advice my husband's father gave him years ago. It was advice my husband has taken to heart in the time I have known him. Consequently, the right garden tool more than likely resides somewhere in our garage.

A strip of wood is attached along one of the walls in our garage. It runs horizontally from one side to the other just a little higher than eye level. Nails have been pounded into it at precise distances from each other to hold a collection of long handled garden tools. The name of the tool that hangs on each set of nails is carefully penciled on the wooden strip -- garden rake, leaf rake, thatch rake, shovel, spade, hoe and fork, to name a few.

Shorter tools also have their place. The loppers and pruners, the ax and maul each hang on their designated nails. Nearby, a wicker basket, perched atop the wheelbarrow, holds a cluster of hand tools for the garden.

The right tool

Gardeners probably cannot have too many tools. The diversity of garden tasks calls for a wide assortment, each tool supplying its unique contribution to the end result. Garden tools are needed for digging, cultivating, weeding, planting, pruning and cutting. Likewise, the variety of garden types -- water gardens, cutting gardens, container gardens, and so on, prescribes specific tools.

Having the perfect tool sometimes takes a little ingenuity. I have talked to many gardeners who profess to improvising to obtain just the right tool in the garden. One friend uses a white-handled serrated kitchen knife for weeding the spaces in between the pavement of her front walk. Another uses an old pencil for poking holes into the soil when planting seeds.

Nonetheless, I recently scouted out tools at a few local garden centers. I wanted to know what kind of tools are available this season for us gardeners. What is the difference between a spade and a shovel? Clippers and pruners? A scythe and a sickle? Or an ax and a maul? And what is a dibber and a pressing board?

Kind cuts

I began my search at Water's Edge, Ninth and Indiana streets. Susan Davis, co-owner, gave me the grand tour of the garden tools available in her store. The tools range from small to large, from benign to rather menacing looking.

We started at the rack that holds Joyce Chen scissors, a tool often claimed by both the garden and kitchen person in the household.

``These are actually used for cooking,'' Davis admitted. ``But we use them for everything.'' Because the scissors stay so sharp, they can be used for a variety of garden chores from cutting tubing to herbaceous plants. It is a great tool for trimming bonsai plants.

Most likely, every gardener has one pair, maybe more, of pruners in the tool bucket. They are essential for light trimming. Felco pruners have become the standard by which others are measured.

``They are the best ones on the market,'' Davis said. These pruners easily fit small hands and are available for left-handed gardeners.

The Hori Hori knife is one dangerous looking tool. ``It looks deadly,'' Davis agreed. The sturdy implement has a wooden handle and black steel blade that is serrated on one edge and sharpened on the other. The tool is quite versatile and can be used for digging, prying, planting, cutting and dividing perennials.

``We use it to divide water lilies,'' she said. ``It is a tool that you have to have if you are a collector,'' she added.

Some of the larger tools included a perennial planter with a heart shaped steel blade head and the long bladed Sharp Shooter shovel. Given its small size, the perennial spade is ideal for digging into existing beds and tight spaces. On the other hand, the 5-inch-by-16-inch blade of the Sharp Shooter ``is perfect to dig a water garden,'' Davis said.

Mother of all weeders

For those of us with terrestrial gardens, big dreams and limited time Ann Peuser of Clinton Parkway Nursery and Garden Center suggested a novel way to make quick work of digging hundreds of holes for placing bedding plants in large flower beds. By attaching a small auger to a cordless drill the task is done in no time. A larger size auger is an easy method to dig deeper for planting bulbs.

Peuser showed me what might be the best tool in our arsenal against weeds -- a rather wicked looking implement called the Stealth Weeder. Peuser said the tool's unusual shaped head was designed by a man from Wichita in search of making the job of weeding less taxing. The tool works by cutting the weeds off underneath the soil as it is pushed and pulled along the garden soil. ``It's good because it does the job (of weeding) for you,'' she said. The tool comes in both long and short handled models.

``You'll have to watch it,'' Peuser warned. ``It is sharp everywhere.'' Yet, it's the sharpness that does the weeding trick so nicely.

``Most people don't realize that you're supposed to sharpen your tools,'' she added. ``They work a lot better.'' However, Peuser noted that tools must be sharpened correctly or they becomes useless. If you plan to sharpen your tools by yourself, note the angle of the blade and sharpen them in the right direction.

Anvils and bypasses

Lastly, I visited Sunrise Garden Center. Laura Schulte, owner, showed me a variety of hand tools for the garden. One set of tools has a unique, old-fashioned look to them. The ash wood handles are stained in muted colors of rust, green, yellow or brown. A cord at the end makes hanging them easy. These are the kind of tools that every gardener uses -- cultivators, forks and trowels.

The middle priced Corona tools have cushioned handles. Several types of Corona pruners are available. The anvil style pruners are great for cutting out deadwood. By pushing the blade into the brass anvil, the work of cutting is done in an action similar to that of it lying on a chopping block. Because the blades are somewhat thick, a small stub is left on the branch. A better choice for pruning living plants is to use bypass pruners. The bypass pruners have slender blades that give an even, clean slicing action. No stub is left to invite diseases.

The handles of these pruners are bright red. Schulte noted that gardeners often carry pruners out into the garden and lay them down while they attend to other things. Soon the pruners have become misplaced. ``The color makes it easy to find,'' she said.

Other types of tools worth considering are children's tools. They can be used by youngsters or adults. Their light weight is a bonus for gardeners who have difficulty handling heavy, full-size tools.

``They really work,'' Schulte said. Their miniature size makes it easy to get into small spaces.

Time, practice and blisters

The idea behind the use of any garden tool is for the gardener to be comfortable with the ``feel'' of the tool. The handle being cushioned, made of wood, plastic or fiberglass is less relevant than how the tool fits in the gardener's hand, how it moves with the gardener's muscles and how it accomplishes the task.

The design of the tool, whether constructed for digging, cultivating, planting, weeding or pruning is as important as how the gardener uses it. Used properly, the right tool eases the gardening task. In ``The Tool Book'' William Bryant Logan says, ``To use any garden tool well takes time, practice, and often as not, a few blisters, bruises, or cuts. But it is well worth the effort because ... we produce a rare kind of beauty.''

Rare beauty indeed. This summer when I'm in my garden and reach for the perfect tool, I will think of my father-in-law. Though he died a few months ago, his advice lives on. And I will thank him for his wise words.

-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at gardenspot

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