Choosing Christmas Gifts for the Gardener

article image
As the holidays approach and the scramble for "just the right gift" begins—let's take a look at some basic, quality garden implements.

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.


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

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


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).


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).


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.


Brookstone Company
Dept. TMEN
Peterborough, New Hampshire

A.M. Leonard, Inc.
Dept. TMEN
Piqua, Ohio

Dept. TMEN
North Lima, Ohio

Walter F. Nicke
Dept. TMEN
Hudson, New York
(Catalog 50 cents)

Smith & Hawken
Dept. TMEN
Palo Alto, California


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.


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
. . . 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.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368