There are many tools that are available to gardeners. Indeed the range can be quite confusing to the newcomer to the hobby who may be uncertain about which tools are needed to perform given tasks. Hand tools are very important for both garden creation and subsequent maintenance. However, the spade, fork, hoe and rake are the most important. Few gardens can function successfully without all of these.
Spades are essential for digging, for planting and for removing various materials such as soil and sand around the garden. They are available in varying lengths and weights, some being lightweight and especially designed for ladies. There are two main kinds of spade, the digging spade and the border variety. The latter is narrow-bladed, light in weight and used for general maintenance and planting purposes, while the digging spade is a robust tool which is intended for turning over raw garden soil during fall and winter.
Garden forks come in similar variety, there being both border and digging kinds. The border fork is mostly used for pricking over the soil amongst plants. The digging variety can perform a similar function to the digging spade except that it provides only a complete inversion of the soil, whereas the spade can be used for both trenching and double digging as well.
Hoes come in a number of configurations and are used to knock down the lumpy soils created by the spade and fork. They are also used for cultivating between plants and rows of plants as well as for taking out seed drills. The Dutch hoe is a flat-bladed tool that is used solely for cultivating while the swan neck hoe is excellent for taking out seed drills as well as mounding-up potatoes.
Rakes are usually solid tined and made of metal. They put the finishing touches to soil preparation before seed sowing. Spring-tined rakes and wooden landscape rakes are mostly used for raking up cut grass and fallen leaves, although the spring-tined variety is tough enough to be used as a scarifier. A dummy rake, which consists of a flat board on edge that replaces the tines of a wooden landscape rake is used for grading soil, especially during lawn preparation.
Apart from spades, forks, rakes and hoes, most gardeners require a number of smaller complementary hand tools. For planting small plants a trowel is necessary. This is like a much-reduced version of a spade but with a blade, which is curved and bowed. While the trowel may be regarded as the diminutive version of the border spade, the hand fork is the equivalent of the border fork. It is used in confined spaces, such as the rock garden, for pricking over the soil amongst plants.
Onion hoes are like large swan-neck hoes in shape but much reduced and with very short handles. They originated in Europe and were first intended, as the name suggests, for using amongst commercial onion crops, not only cleaning the rows of weeds, but also removing crowded plants. Now they are utilized for all hoeing tasks where a larger hoe is difficult to manoeuvre.
Secateurs and loppers are essential in the majority of gardens. Secateurs are well-balanced hand cutters which are used in pruning and for cutting back herbaceous plants. It is always worthwhile buying a high quality pair so that they not only last for a long time, but also do a good clean job of cutting. For left-handed people it is possible to buy left-handed secateurs and there is also a design with rolling handles, which are easier for gardeners who have a weak grip to use.
Loppers are enlarged versions of secateurs used two-handed. They do all the same things that secateurs do, but on larger branches. They are usually straight bladed, but there are versions with curved blades that are popularly referred to as parrot bills. To complete the array of tools necessary for pruning, there are special small hand saws with narrow blades and coarse teeth that are especially designed for pruning.
There are many mechanically operated tools for the garden, but the lawnmower and rotavator are probably the most commonly used. Hedge trimmers are also important along with shredders and chippers.
Lawn mowers are available in two basic kinds, the cylinder mower and the rotary type. Both are well suited to specific jobs. Cylinder lawnmowers are used on fine decorative lawns. The more blades the cylinder has, the finer the cut, those mowers used for very fine lawns having as many as sixteen blades. Rotary mowers on the other hand can do a good job of cutting a domestic lawn in a backyard, but with adjustment can be used for much longer grass than might be thought conventional. They are available both electrically and petrol driven.
Rotavators cultivate the soil with a series of fast rotating slashing blades, sometimes on a spindle, occasionally on a drum. They are very effective at creating a tilth on sandy or medium loam soils, but on clay soils can often produce a polished pan beneath the surface at a spade’s depth, thereby creating drainage and rooting problems. Most models are driven by petrol engines. With both mowers and rotavators it is wise to have a demonstration in the garden before purchasing. Not all are as good as they at first might appear and they really should be tested under realistic conditions.
Hedge trimmers are available powered by a small petrol engine or by electricity. Most of the modern brands are excellent value being of very light weight and in the case of electrical models having built in safety cut-out facilities. They have various cutter bar lengths, the size chosen depending very much upon the configuration of the hedge or topiary to be trimmed. Shredders are available as both petrol and electrical models. These shred garden waste prior to composting. Chippers on the other hand pulverize woody material and are best hired in rather than purchased.
Finally we have the most useful and probably most used tool in the garden – the wheelbarrow. A builder’s wheelbarrow is far better than any garden wheelbarrow, unless you are not strong enough to wheel it when fully laden. Modern garden wheelbarrows are fine for pushing a few weeds around in, but the builder’s wheelbarrow is what is necessary for moving soil, rocks or paving.
If you decide upon a standard garden wheelbarrow, then choose one of the models with two wheels. These are more stable and resilient than the traditional one wheeled kind. Generally avoid the kind of wheelbarrow where a ball replaces the wheel, unless you garden on very wet, heavy clay soil. They are not very efficient and most gardeners find them quite tiring to use.