Now that the activity in the garden is decreasing a bit – unless you plant some fall bulbs – it’s a good time to take stock of your kit.
Most gardeners in London have relatively small space, but you still need the right tools to make the most of it. And if you are new to a garden, then you need to think about the basics before you get started.
It’s a bit like buying for a kitchen – there are some basics you can’t live without, and there are optional extras that help you with your particular predilections (not everyone will need a sweet pea teepee but they’re cool if that’s your fancy). With gardening tools like with a kitchen kit, it’s usually a false economy to go with the cheapest you can buy. Litter pruners will not work over time and can damage plants you cut with them.
Here are some of my favorites.
Kew garden gloves
Okay, these aren’t exactly tools, but they are a must have for gardening jobs. They’re leather, tough, and thick enough to handle brambles and thorns. I’ve had countless inexpensive garden gloves that actually disintegrated on me: I couldn’t function without these. Honorable mention also goes to the Kew by Spear & Jackson gardening gloves which are available in pink or green.
Burgon and Ball, Root Container and Transplanting Knife
It’s supposed to be for potted plants, and it certainly allows it to slide inside a pot, but I actually use it for weeding and planting in general, like a normal trowel. It’s excellent: very robust and versatile.
Kew, Japanese Topiary Shears
It’s not often that you can say your gardening tool is a thing of beauty, but that’s because you might not have come across these downright beautiful scissors. The five-inch blades and spring action make them easy to use, and they’re soft and heavy enough in the hand. This is for smart cutting and it obviously works great for flowers too. It comes, like all traditional Japanese things, in attractive packaging.
Okatsune 103 secateurs
The Japanese have an old and refined horticultural tradition and you have to reckon with their tools. These pruners are shiny, made from the finest Japanese steel, and the sharp blades make pruning a cinch. After so many failed secateurs, it’s perfection.
Scissors CK 5022A 8 Legend Silver Ceka
Hedge shears are deeply unglamorous kits, but they are lightweight, efficient, and self-sharpening. Of all the chores that can be made much, much easier with decent tools, hedge trimming is about pruning. Hand shears are, for all the grafts involved, much easier to control than rough electric shears.
Burgon and Ball seedling widger
Nice name, but what, you will ask me, what is a widger? It’s a nifty little device for pricking between seedlings to lift and pull them apart, and once you’ve tried this particular job and destroyed countless delicate root systems, you realize he’s your best friend. It narrows down and you can use each end of this teaspoon to extract your seedlings and poke holes in the ground for planting.
Hori-Hori knife, Niwaki
There are countless garden trowels that do a really good job, but for the chic factor, a Hori-Hori knife gives you bragging rights. It is a Japanese trowel with a point, stronger than a normal trowel and terribly useful for weeding and planting bulbs. Manufacturers warn that the charred steel blade (which runs through the handle) can break if misused, so read their usage tips. It comes with a canvas case but for even more chic you can get a leather one.
Bulb planter, Sarah Raven
If you only have a few bulbs to plant, a trowel will do, but if you have a lot, consider this simple bulb planter. It’s like an apple corer, removing a plug of earth all at once so that the bulbs can fall into the hole. It’s sturdy, with charred steel and an ash handle. If you plant hundreds of them, go for a long-handled version.
Spade, Burgon and Square Ball Spade Border
A cat is a cat, you say? Not so. This excavator is a bit shorter than a normal excavator, so convenient for the confined spaces of London. It has a long stainless steel head for its size. It’s not particularly light but it’s sturdy. And given that this is the tool that you will probably use more than any other, it is an investment.
Sharpening Tool, Spear & Jackson 4053BS
This recommendation falls into the Do As I Say category, as I suck at sharpening things like pruners, but like cleaning and oiling them at intervals, it makes a difference to their lifespan and tools. blunt ones are dangerous. This is a weird pencil sharpener, but it works; the alternative is a flat sharpener or a whetstone (Niwaki makes an owl).