Garden tools worth their weight in bronze and copper

Time to clear out those rusty old tools and invest in these top-notch implements

 

Garden for any length of time and you soon learn to love the well-made, durable, ergonomically designed sorts of tools that make the jobs of digging, weeding, hoeing, raking, sowing, planting and pruning a whole lot easier.

Conversely, you quickly learn to despise the ones that don’t (and there are a lot of them out there). So if your garden shed is laden with rusty trowels, blunt spades, broken hoes, toothless rakes and other garden-related gadgets that quickly gave up the ghost, my advice is to ditch them in favour of a few well-chosen implements that will make the gardening life a whole lot easier and more enjoyable.

Yes, they’ll be more expensive, but you’ll be buying quality tools built to last a lifetime or even longer, with metal parts forged from ultra-durable steel (or, in some cases, copper) and with lightweight but strong wooden handles that are a delight to use.  

Brands that you can rely on include Sneeboer, PKS Bronze, Felco, Chillington, Wolf, DeWit, Glaser, Bahco, Burgon & Ball and Niwaki. I’d love to say that you’ll find most of these in your local garden centre, but the sad and somewhat mystifying truth is that you might not.

Online shops

Irish suppliers that I do know of include Dublin/Meath-based Howbert & Mays (howbertandmays.ie), Cork-based Fruithill Farm (fruithillfarm.com) and The Tool Forge (thetoolforge.ie), Dublin-based Mr Middleton (mrmiddleton.com), Kildare-based Johnstown Garden Centre (johnstowngardencentre.ie) plus Sligo-based Quickcrop (quickcrop.ie). All of these have online shops and will deliver nationwide.

An oscillating hoe. Photograph: Richard Johnston
An oscillating hoe. Photograph: Richard Johnston

My own go-to garden tools include what’s known as an oscillating hoe, a tool with a long handle and swivelling blade that cuts on the forward and backward stroke so that it makes short work of slicing through weeds. Made by Glaser, its blade is available in a range of different widths (175mm, 125mm and 85mm), with the narrowest size compact enough to use in a flower border while the widest is perfect for quickly clearing weedy paths (available from fruithillfarm.com).

Sneeboer's Great Dixter Trowel

Other essentials include a long, strong, narrow, sharp garden trowel for planting (see Sneeboer’s Great Dixter Trowel, 38.20, also from fruithillfarm.com), a small weed grubber to easily winkle out stubborn weeds from hard-to-reach spots in the border (De Wit do a great one called a Weed Popper, €14.95, from howbertandmays.ie), and a Japanese Hori Hori knife (a strange but wonderful hybrid – half garden knife, half garden trowel – which multitasks as a planting/weeding/digging tool, available from niwaki.com for £23.95 and from the Dunboyne branch of Howbert & Mays).

Japanese Hori Hori knife

Garden spade

I also wouldn’t be without a decent, long-handled garden spade, a lightweight garden fork and a general-purpose garden rake, plus a spring tine rake for collecting leaves and creating a fine tilth on a seed bed (Sneeboer do a great lightweight version of the latter, available from fruithillfarm.com for €55.61). An ultra-sturdy yet light and easily manoeuvrable plastic wheelbarrow like the Clipper wheelbarrow (90l) (available from johnstowngardencentre.ie) or the 100L Fort Siteblazer (available from howbertandmays.ie, €185) is another must.

Felco secateurs. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Felco secateurs. Photograph: Richard Johnston

A sharp secateurs for pruning and clipping plants is a product in which Swiss  firm Felco has long specialised . I’m also a big fan of their new lightweight, ultra-useful Felco Snips 310, €19.95 from Fruithill Farm, which is great for deadheading/cutting flowers. Meanwhile, if it’s the perfect hedge shears you’re after, I’d suggest the Bahco model (€84.99, fruithillfarm.com) or the Japanese-manufactured Okatsune shears (£85, from niwaki.com). As for garden gloves, you can’t go wrong with the Showa Floreo range, which are waterproof yet breathable, flexible, lightweight and washable (available from most good garden centres).

This shortlist of must-have garden tools is, of course the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s available. Just like the sometimes mindboggling array of equipment used by professional chefs, there are excellent garden tools for every specialist use imaginable, from grafting knives to grape snips. But start with the essentials and you won’t go wrong.

Regular TLC

One last thing: in order to keep your garden tools in perfect working order, you’ll need to give them some regular TLC. So make a habit of cleaning them after use and storing them somewhere dry (use a clean cloth to wipe away mud and garden debris or, with larger tools such as forks/spades/shovels, keep an old bucket filled with garden grit/ sharp sand in the garden shed so that you can clean the head of the tool by sticking it in and out of the sand a couple of times).  Niwaki.com also supply what they call a Clean Mate, a small scouring block that can be used to clean any residual resin, dirt and general garden gunk off the super-sharp blades of your prized secateurs/ shears/ clippers/ pruners/ loppers/ hoe.

Some garden tools will also need to have their blades regularly sharpened, using a file or a whetstone (these are available from thetoolforge.ie and from niwaki.com, while Felco have their own range of sharpeners, see clonmelgardencentre.ie). Just always make sure to keep ultra-sharp garden tools like these well out of the reach of young children to avoid accidents. Regular oiling of garden tools using boiled linseed oil (available from most hardware shops) or camellia oil (available from niwaki.com) will also help to preserve their usefulness by preventing rust and stopping wooden handles from cracking.  The result will be much-loved garden tools that are destined to become family heirlooms.

Roses growing in an Irish garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Roses growing in an Irish garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston

This Week in the Garden. . .

Roses are now in full bloom, their scented, colourful flowers lighting up gardens across the country. To ensure the longest and most floriferous display possible, make sure to regularly dead-head the flowers as they fade to encourage the formation of new blooms, using a sharp, clean secateurs to cut back to just above the next lower leaf joint.  Applying a mulch of homemade garden compost/manure plus a sprinkle of a slow-release granular fertiliser such as OSMO Organic Rose Feed (available from whitesagri.ie) around the base of the plant will also help plants to produce a new flush of blooms.

Tomatoes ripening in an Irish garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston
Tomatoes ripening in an Irish garden. Photograph: Richard Johnston

Young tomato plants are now in vigorous growth and will need regular care to be properly productive. Make sure that container-grown plants are in a large, deep pot placed in a sunny, sheltered position (a bright porch/glasshouse/ polytunnel is ideal). Too much watering results in flavourless and split fruit while too little will also result in a poor-quality harvest, so aim to water generously only when the surface of the compost has begun to look dry.

Cordon-type tomatoes also need some form of support (bamboo canes/ string) plus regular pinching-out of any sideshoots (the secondary shoots that appear from the leaf axils along the main stem) as these will use up too much of the plant’s energy, slowing down the process of fruit formation/ripening and creating an unmanageable tangle of messy growth. Once the baby fruit appear on plants, start giving them a potash-rich liquid feed every 7-10 days to encourage the production of plenty of juicy, flavoursome tomatoes.

Dates For Your Diary

Saturday July 1st-Sunday July 2nd (11am-6pm), Claregalway Castle, Claregalway, Co Galway: Garden Festival with talks by garden experts including author, film-maker, educator and herbalist Dr Marina Levitina, plus a host of specialist nursery plant sales and musical entertainment, see galwaygardenfestival.com

Saturday, July 1st (2-5pm) and Sunday July 2nd (noon-5.30pm), Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford: County Wexford Garden & Flower Club will celebrate its 50th “birthday” with a horticultural/ flower show, an “Art on the Land” display in the castle’s grounds and a talk, “The Company of Trees’’ by Thomas Pakenham (Saturday, 3pm, tickets €10), see wexfordflowergarden.ie for details, admission €3

Saturday July 1st (2-6pm), 49 Carysfort Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin: Siobhan Dillon will open her town garden to the public in aid of Blackrock Hospice

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