Choosing Christmas gifts for the gardener is easy when you choose the perfect gift of gardening tools.
The frost-crisped carpet of leaves crunches underfoot in the morning chill, but midday sometimes still brings a wan reminder of the heat of summer's sun. The harvest is now concluded, and the garden begins its long (and much deserved) winter's sleep. Draw the family together in a feast of thanksgiving for the year's gifts of goodness.
Very often the gifts people appreciate most are things that they've always wanted but haven't been able to justify purchasing. When choosing Christmas gifts for the gardener, whether price or the lack of a really pressing need is the sticking point, such objects are often on our dream lists, tantalizingly just beyond practical reach.
I'd always felt that way about a particular spading fork . . . a beautiful heavy-duty Bulldog model with a forged steel head and a smooth handle of ash. The tool looked magnificent . . . but it was priced at about $40, and I already had a perfectly good spading fork (although each time I used it, the business end grew a little more snaggle-toothed). Then a birthday came along, and out in the garden I found—festooned with ribbons—a spanking new Bulldog fork.
I loved that implement at first try, and I learned something important from using it, too: All those old saws like "cheap is dear" and "always buy quality tools" are good advice! Not only was my Bulldog strong of shaft and straight of tooth when it was new, but it has stayed that way. The tool I thought was too expensive looks as if it will outlive me . . . whereas previously I was in the habit of buying a new spading fork every couple of years!
So—as the holidays approach and the scramble for "just the right gift" begins—let's take a look at some basic, quality garden implements. They'll make perfect gifts, and then go on to prove their worth in the garden . . . year after year.
STARTING SMALL WITH GARDENING GIFTS
The hand tools that are used for planting, transplanting, and cultivating get more use than does just about any other garden equipment, so it's especially important that these little implements be sturdy. (It's pretty irritating to have the shaft of your trowel bend 45 degrees as you try to lever a rock out of the soil!)
When purchasing a trowel, cultivator, garden fork, or transplanter, then, look for one that's forged from a single piece of rust-resistant (or rustproof) metal. Welded-together models tend to break . . . maybe not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but eventually. Heft the tool before you buy it, too . . . if it doesn't sit comfortably in your hand in the store, it won't be any better in the garden.
Walt Nicke's Heavy Duty Digger Trowels (access information for all of the tools mentioned appears at the end of this section) are each made from a single piece of thick steel, are pointed and have sharpened edges, and sport easy-to-see (and comfortable) red plastic hand grips. There are several models, all under $8.00. Nicke also carries a Sheffield steel trowel with a socket that's wrapped around and riveted to a hardwood handle (under $8.00) . . . and the Osborne No. 211, with blade and shank forged from a single piece of steel (under $10).
Smith & Hawken offers a wood-handled garden trowel with a forged blade that the firm guarantees against falling apart, bending, or failing its user in any way (Model 1031, under $10). The same firm also has a beautiful trowel forged from stainless steel (Model 1038, approximately $25).
Both Smith & Hawken and Brookstone sell sets composed of a trowel, a hand fork, and a transplanter . . . all made of die-cast aluminum and featuring trigger grips and molded indentations for the thumb. These rust-free tools cost less than $25. Nicke offers castaluminum trowels—regular and transplanter—that won't break, bend, or rust (about $7.00 each). Finally, Brookstone has a featherweight hand hoe with a one-piece blade that's been hardened and tempered to Rockwell C-40 specifications (approximately $11).
PRUNE LIKE THE PROS
Pruning shears are also both widely used and usually subject to a fair amount of abuse. This cutting implement is offered in two major types: bypass and anvil. The bypass shears, which work like scissors, are used for fine pruning and can make cuts flush to a stem. The anvil variety, which has a blade that cut's down onto a soft metal block, is a little more rugged, but—since it can't trim as closely as does the bypass—it often leaves stubs that may become infected.
Each type has its virtues, of course, but if you're going to buy just one pair of shears, I'd suggest a bypass model. And the best of them, as far as I'm concerned is the Swiss-made Felco. These shears rear; of taken apart for sharpening, and they have replaceable blades as well.
The Felco Model 2 (it will put you back about $26) is the most popular, but left-handed gardeners will be interested in the Model 9 (this snipper can be had for about $27), which is designed for southpaws.
Each of these sturdy shears is available from Nicke, Smith & Hawken, and A.M. Leonard (whose catalog also lists all the replacement parts).
CHRISTMAS GIFTS OF FORKS, SPADES, SHOVELS, AND HOES
The tool of choice for nearly every large-scale soil-stirring task except double-digging is generally the spading fork. I've found my four-tined digger to be just about the most useful implement in my toolshed . . . and I've already spilled the beans on my choice here: Smith & Hawken's Heavy Duty Bulldog Garden Fork (around $40). If your digging is confined to a mellow organic patch with few rocks, you could save some bucks and get by with the Medium Garden Fork (around $35). For hardpan and caliche, on the other hand, Smith & Hawken has a stalwart model that's attached to its handle with brawny straps of steel (under $50). The firm claims that it's the strongest garden fork in the world! And what, you may well ask, makes a Bulldog tool so good? Well, its one-piece head is forged from carbon/manganese steel . . . it's attached to the handle by a solid socket teas part of the head . . . and the handle itself is fine northern ash.
For trenching and removing soil from a planting hole, or tackling the initial steps of preparing a biodynamic/ French intensive double-dug bed, a spade—not a shovel—is the tool to use. (In case you don't know the difference, a spade is a digger with an oblong blade that can easily be sharpened . . . while a shovel usually has a curved blade and is designed to scoop up and transport material.) The sharpened blade of the spade makes it an ideal tool for cutting through underground roots, edging gardens, removing sod, and even cultivating. I particularly like Smith & Hawken's Bulldog Garden Spade (under $35) and Heavy Duty Garden Spade (around $40) . . . the line of professional Nursery Spades from Leonard (about $35 to $50) . . . and Mellinger's Lightweight Molybdenum Spades (approximately $45).
Hoes have been used for cultivating for centuries, and one of the best I know of is called the Scovil Hoe . . . named after the company that has been making it for the last 195 years! This tool doesn't rely on a simple rod-and-ferrule arrangement to secure the head to the shaft. Instead, the head (which is forged from a single piece of high-carbon steel) has an integral ring through which the shaft passes. The implements are available from Nicke (the Uncle Sam, about $13), Leonard (the American Pattern G6, about $21), and Smith & Hawken (Model 6201, about $20).
ADAPTIVE GARDENING TOOLS FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE
Some tools are extra special .. . they make gardening possible for folks who—because of a physical infirmity—might not otherwise be able to enjoy such work. A handy brochure on adaptive garden tools has been published by the Berkshire Garden Center, and may be obtained by sending 25 cents and a self-addressed; stamped envelope (Massachusetts residents add 2 cents tax) to Berkshire Garden Center, Dept. TMEN, Routes 102 and 183, Stockbridge, Massachusetts 01262. And two good sources of tools for the disabled are Walt Nicke and the Gardens for All Toolshed (Dept. TMEN, 180 Flynn Avenue, Burlington, Vermont 05401). The GFA folks will send you a sample copy of their news magazine, which lists the tools available through them.
ACCESS TO GARDENING TOOLS
Peterborough, New Hampshire
A.M. Leonard, Inc.
North Lima, Ohio
Walter F. Nicke
Hudson, New York
(Catalog 50 cents)
Smith & Hawken
Palo Alto, California
A SEED CATALOG OF DELIGHTS
One of the most impressive seed catalogs to come our way in some time arrived recently from Plants of the Southwest (Dept. TMEN, 1Santa Fe, New Mexico . . . catalog $ 1.00). As its name suggests, the book does list seeds for regional specialties, including Boleta and Tepari beans, chiles, pozole corn, cilantro, epazote, and Navajo tea. But it also features wild flower meadow mixes prepared for areas from coast to coast and border to border . . . a fascinating flower-breeder's special for genetics hobbyists (which includes seeds of nine species of Penstemon and five of Oenothera to experiment with) . . . a collection of wildflowers that are guaranteed attractive to hummingbirds . . . a dye plant special with a dozen different kinds of seeds, as well as a copy of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Dyeing With Plants handbook . . . and numerous sensible (and often sensitive) ruminations on gardening and natural landscaping. This is one of those rare catalogs that (thanks to the quantity and quality of information it contains) transcends its ) transcendsits original reason for existence. In short it's a keeper.
THE GARDENER'S BOOKSHELF
A number of gardening books arrived at our mailbox recently . . . so, still buried in press releases and shipping bags, we have the following to report.
HP Books (Dept. TMEN, Tucson, Arizona) offers Southern Home Landscaping by Ken Smith ($7.95 at bookstores, or add $1.00 for postage and order it from the publisher). Written specifically for readers in the 15 southern states from Maryland to Texas, this beautifully illustrated large-format paperback covers landscape design, planting methods, soil preparation, weed control (watch out here . . . herbicides are recommended!), sprinkler systems, and garden construction projects. Smith also discusses the best lawn grass varieties for differing climates, and evaluates shrubs and trees. For those interested in traditional landscaping ideas, this book could be a good first reference.
Our friends up north at Garden Way have decided that the super guides Dick and Jan Raymond wrote for Gardens for All should be available to other folks, too, so they've drawn together nearly a dozen of the manuals under a single title: Home Gardening Wisdom ($9.95 at bookstores, or by mail-add $1.00 for shipping and handling—from Garden Way, Dept. TMEN, Charlotte, Vermont). The hefty paperback deals with 55 vegetables altogether . . . and provides information about suggested varieties, seed starting, transplanting, disease problems and insects (both organic and chemical solutions are offered), harvesting, and (this is Jan's particular bailiwick) canning and cooking. The text is nicely integrated (you can, for instance, follow a tomato from seed to stew), the advice is sound, and the pace is right.