In the Garden:
Take time to enjoy the glories of winter while thinking about what might make your garden better next year.
What Santa Didn't Bring
Ah, the long and varied gardener's wish list. Everything from high-ticket items like a greenhouse or utility vehicle to more modest requests like a tool caddy or a propagation heat mat. Yet it's been my experience that more often than not I receive items such as pajamas, sweaters, and jewelry. Lovely, but nothing like a really good, flexible drip irrigation hose. So in the spirit of the season, I think it's time we gardeners do a little extra giving, but this time to ourselves. Think about what you've always thought would help your gardening efforts and get it for yourself.
Surely, you'll have no problem coming up with ideas, but just in case, here are some suggestions from my list of gardening must-haves. As the queen of gadgets and gizmos, with sheds full of "experiments," the following items are by no means comprehensive, but they do represent what I would grab first when told to leave for a desert isle.
Vanity, an odd personality quirk (can't stand soil under my fingernails), and practicality put garden gloves high on my list. Have I tried all of them yet? No, and there are a few on my list to try, but up to now my hands-down favorites are the Bionic Gardening Gloves. These are designed by a hand surgeon and incorporate anatomy and ergonomics into the design. Strategically placed padding helps to reduce calluses, blisters, and physical stress. This design has earned the Bionic Gloves the Arthritis Foundation's Ease-of-Use Commendation. Velcro-fastened neoprene wristbands keep dirt and debris out of the glove, and top-grade sheepskin leather is amazingly supple, even after getting wet. Best of all, from my point of view, is that the gloves only minimally reduce dexterity. Only when handling the smallest seeds do I have to remove them.
The Bionic Gloves come in three styles: classic, rose, and extended wear. My suggestion is to go with the extended wear. High-tech doesn't come cheap, with the gloves costing about $40, but they are well worth it. (My next-favorite gloves are by Ironclad and cost about $25.)
Up until last year, my favorite hand trowel was the Trake, a tough, aluminum multi-use tool with a trowel on one end and a cultivator on the other. Although I still sing its praises, this past year I finally invested in a soil knife. Sometimes called a hori-hori knife (after its Japanese name) or the farmer's weeder, this tool looks like a big knife with 6-inch-long, 1-3/4-inch-wide concave blade. It has a smooth cutting edge on one side and a serrated one on the other side. From experience I can verify that the knife can used for both heavy-duty and delicate weeding, working up small areas of soil, digging small holes, planting, prying up rocks, or cutting roots and small stems.
The one I bought cost about $19 and has a molded composite handle in orange (all the better to see when I lay it down) with a wide hand guard and stainless steel blade. Made in Italy, it is relatively lightweight and, with an accompanying clip-on leather sheath, is always with me.
I have no favorite brand of pruning shears since I won't let myself buy the expensive ones as my predilection is to leave them lying about, the better to rust and be lost. That said, I would strongly recommend any brand with bright orange handles. Buy the best you can afford, preferably bypass pruners, and a leather sheath so as to attach them to your other hip, thereby balancing the soil knife.
Garden Spades and Forks
Oh, the fine English garden spades I have bought and watched get broken by teenage boys improperly using them. One can only do this for so long before finally conceding defeat and purchasing whatever is available at a discount department store. Fortunately, that turned out to be my first Fiskars digging shovel. Since then I have added a garden fork and garden spade. All of these tools feature sharpened blades or tines, a big "step" on top for better foot force and security, comfortable oval-shaped handle providing root for two hands, unique teardrop-shaped shaft that's comfortable and easy to grip, and powder-coated steel for easy clean-up and rust prevention. Each usually costs less than $30.
The result: None have broken so far, and, best of all, they have made digging much easier for me, so those teenagers are almost unnecessary. Fiskars tools are widely available.
Most of the time when watering I use a hose with a good hose-end sprayer, but there are times when a watering can is essential. And when it is, nothing beats a watering can with a fully controllable push-button system. Push the button on the handle to open the spout, release it and the spout is closed. That means you can put the water exactly where you want it, not all over your shoes. My watering cans were purchased years ago. The only source I found now is in Britain at: http://www.nucan.co.uk. Two sizes are available. Each costs about $20 plus shipping.
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