The American essayist and editor, Charles Dudley Warner wrote: "What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it". And scientists are probably working on it, but in the meantime, some really good gardening tools will help take the strain off the lumbar region. It's always satisfying to give Irish gifts at Christmas, and Cork-made True Temper tools include backfriendly, long-handled spades, rakes and forks (widely available, £17 £24). Meanwhile, some models of Swiss-made Felco secateurs (good garden centres, £20 £50) are fitted with shock absorbers and swivel handles to take the pain out of pruning. If your loved one already has one of the coveted red-handled instruments (they last for years), a Felco sharpening stone (Murphy and Wood, Cabinteely, £9.60) will keep it in good shape. Hand-tools which don't bend and buckle are an essential part of the batterie de jardin. Draper's stainless steel fork and trowel (good garden centres, about £16) are dependable items. More snazzy is a wooden-handled, stainless steel trio of trowel, fork and cultivator, hand-made in France and available by mail order (Grimes & Co. Tel 016675627, £52 plus p. and p.). Novice gardeners will be well-served by a five-part kit: trowel, fork, secateurs, loppers and pair of lightweight gloves (Powerscourt, Enniskerry and Avoca Handweavers, Kilmacanogue, £14.90). The trowel and fork have padded handles, so virgin fingers suffer minimal blistering.
Further protection for horticultural hands will be gained by ensconcing them in a pair of gardening gloves from the large selection at Woodies (£1.79 £9.99). And a one-two-three treatment of Oxford Gardener eucalyptus barrier cream, tea tree cleanser and lavender moisturiser (Formality, Dun Laoghaire, £10) will keep them supple. The Weary Gardener's Moisturising Handcream (Powerscourt, Enniskerry, £7.75), despite the twee name, smells good and spicy, while L'Occitane Shea Butter Handcream (Grimes & Co., £9.50 plus p. and p.) is really rich and concentrated.