When it comes to putting together a capsule gardening kit, it’s probably better to talk about tasks rather than tools, since the same gardening tasks are broadly universal. We tend to think of five key garden jobs:
Each of these tasks happens in different ways across different sizes and types of garden. If you have a compact patio garden, you might just need the smallest option for each task; for example, a trowel for planting. If you garden on a grander scale, you’ll need a trowel for getting close-up and personal with your soil, but you’ll probably need a spade as well, for planting shrubs, digging over veg beds, or dividing rampant perennial plants. Here are our suggestions on the basics in terms of tools, which will help make each of these tasks as easy as possible.
Cultivating is about preparing the ground – breaking it up so you can use it for planting. Depending on the size of your plot, you might be looking at a hand fork for your flower borders, or a large digging fork to break up compacted soil in beds or untended ground. A mid-handled fork can be useful if you have deep borders as it affords extra reach, and it’s ideal for raised beds too, as they can sometimes be an awkward ‘in-between’ height. Tools like a claw cultivator or twist cultivator are extremely effective at breaking up soil ready for planting, or to help with the absorption of water and nutrients, and give an attractive ‘tended’ finish to any unplanted areas.
Planting is, of course, the fun bit. The addition of colour, texture and shape to your creation. A trowel is probably essential, whatever the size of your plot. Easy to handle and indispensable all around the garden, this is a true essential. A spade probably falls into this category as well, even if your garden is fairly compact. Look for treads (folded-over top edges) that will protect your feet as you push down, and a sharp lower edge to slice through the soil. A digging spade is a large spade; a border spade is usually slightly small and lighter, ideal for digging in tightly-planted borders, and also more comfortable for smaller gardeners.
Of course, there are a plethora of further ‘little helpers’ – it just depends on how you garden. If you’re planting lots of bulbs in spring or autumn, you might find a long-handled bulb planter or hand-held bulb planter useful. A compost scoop is handy for filling pots quickly. A mid-handled trowel gives extra reach for the backs of borders, or for raised beds. The choice is yours!
Weeding is a never-ending task for most gardeners. Some people define weeds as flowers growing in the wrong place, and of course some are very pretty, not to mention helpful to wildlife. But left unchecked, they can suffocate your prized plants, take over your lawn and crowd out your crops, so weeding is a must. A traditional weeding favourite is a hoe, of which there are many designs. Our 1922 catalogue offered 96 types of hoe! For tackling weeds in containers and small spaces, a hand tool like a weeding fork is a great choice, offering precision and accuracy in the tightest of corners – it’s ideal for nooks and crannies in walls and rockeries. For beds, borders and between allotment rows, our Weed Slice is hugely popular, as it skims below the surface, slicing through weed roots and leaving the soil surface undisturbed. For lawns, our Wonder Weed Puller is lightweight and extracts weeds without bending. Once again, the tools that are most essential depend on the plot you’re gardening.
Cutting is essential for every gardener, from the most precision deadheading of roses to the removal of sizeable tree limbs. The most general purpose of cutting tools is the bypass secateur. ‘Bypass’ describes the cutting action – the upper blade bypasses the lower cutting block (or ‘anvil’) as it completes the cut, rather than chopping down onto it, which is what an anvil action tool does. The bypass action gives a clean cut which is much healthier for living plants; anvil action secateurs are powerful on hard, dead wood, but can crush live stems, leaving the plant vulnerable to infection. You can read more about anvil and bypass action here. For more delicate trimming and general cutting of twine, compost sacks etc., good garden scissors are handy to have. For most gardens, some kind of lopper is also a good buy – again, a bypass action lopper is useful for cutting living plant material.
And finally, tidying covers ‘just about everything else’ in the garden. From removing moss from the lawn, to tidying up autumn leaves, or clearing debris from under shrubs so slugs have nowhere to hide, a rake is a must-have. Opt for either springy or rigid tines, dependent on what you’re raking. A good brush will also stand you in good stead – look for designs with wire bristles which clean as they tidy.
Whatever the size or style of your garden, and whether it’s fabulously floral or vibrantly veggie… as long as you have these five key garden tasks covered in a way that’s right for you, it’s easy to put together the perfect capsule collection of multi-tasking, hard-working garden tools.