When I was young and just beginning to garden, the only tools I could find were a hoe, a shovel and a lot of elbow grease. Happily, times have changed and there are great garden gadgets and tools available for every garden need. Here are a few I’ve tried recently that I think will make your gardening easier, more convenient or just more fun.
You may know Fiskars as the scissors folks, for their line of craft and sewing scissors, but their garden tools are amazingly efficient and strong, too. I’ve been using the fine Fiskars Pruning Stik Tree Pruner for quite some time. It’s 62 inches long, very lightweight (only 31 ounces) and can cut limbs up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. While it is lightweight, this nifty tool is strong, durable and just the right length to prune the vines overhead in my grape arbor or reach up to prune my apple tree in springtime.
When I make bentwood trellises, I use this tool to clip long, flexible saplings from the roadside and woods. I can stand at the edge of the road and reach five or six feet into the roadside brush without ever having to get in the weeds and ticks.
With its nonstick, coated blades and an easy-to-adjust rotating cutting head, this is one tool you don’t want to be without. Why a rotating head? When you are reaching into a leafy tree, you may need another angle. Simply flip a little lever, move the head into any position you want, lock it in place and go back to pruning. The Pruning Stik costs $65.99 and might be one of the best pruners you will ever own.
Another excellent tool, the Power-Lever 15-inch pruner looks like a skinny penguin with a small beak. In fact, it looked so odd that I resisted using it for several weeks after bringing it home. Not quite lopper and not fully a pruner, it didn’t look like I thought pruners should.
But when I finally tried the Power-Lever 15, I immediately saw the advantage of the small head and the long handles. You get power for cutting, with very little effort. Whether pruning herbs or shrubbery, this tool lets you reach into a thorny bush, like a holly or rose bush, and prune without damaging your hands. And they mean it about the power: You can cut any piece of wood without effort. The long handles are great for reaching into tough-to-prune places, but the strength you get when you cut is simply amazing. This is great for people who have little strength in their hands, for older adults and for people with physical disabilities. The Power-Lever 15 costs $65.99 and will last for years.
Both tools can be found in most major garden stores, as well as in hardware stores or on the Fiskars website, www.fiskars.com. (The company also features a store locator on its website.)
This tool lets you reach into a thorny bush without damaging your hands.
THE FOOT BAR
Many of us wear sandals or floppy, worn-out shoes — some of us even go barefoot — in the garden, making our toes and heels rough and cracked. Here’s a product that’s perfect for moisturizing and refreshing aching feet. The Foot Bar, a 4-ounce soap that includes eucalyptus, tea tree oil, neem, plantain and oat extracts, and pumice, smoothes and soothes callused feet. After using the soothing bar, pat dry and use the Therapeutic Foot Rub (2 ounces, $6.99). It’s an herbal salve to soothe tired feet. In a base of canola and castor oil with beeswax, it also contains extracts of tea tree, eucalyptus, calendula, rosemary and lavender. Use the Foot Bar to cleanse the grime of gardening, then after drying, use Therapeutic Foot Rub and notice the soothing, refreshing feeling of the herbs’ oils on your skin. The Foot Bar is $5.99. These and more environmentally friendly garden products are available at www.AllTerrainCo.com or by calling (800) 246-7328. You also can donate to your favorite environmental association as well as the National Gardening Association when you order, if you choose.
I kept looking at this little gadget and thinking that it looked too simple to be useful. After I tried it, I saw how mistaken I’d been.
The CobraHead precision weeder and cultivator could be called a universal garden tool. Not only does it cultivate, weed, edge and dig, it’s a fast, easy planter for bulbs, herbs or seeds. It makes fast work of planting little seedling transplants.
It’s also like an extension to your arm. When I’m in the garden on my hands and knees weeding, it seems I’m always several steps away from my weed bucket. With the CobraHead, I have a longer reach and easily can hook onto the bucket and pull it closer, saving time and energy.
The blade is knife-quality steel and can be sharpened like any other garden tool. One of the reasons I like the CobraHead is that it’s narrow and I can get in close between my little plants to weed. It’s also quite strong, so it will pull out a rock or a tough clump of grass with ease, yet it’s lightweight. And, like a good garden gadget should be, the CobraHead is designed for left- or right-handers alike.
The CobraHead Precision Weeder and Cultivator weighs 9.2 ounces and is 13 inches long with a soft, comfortable handle. CobraHead is available for $24.95 plus shipping from Cobrahead,W9545 Hwy. 18, Cambridge, WI 53523; (608) 423-9119; www.CobraHead.com.
A GARDENER’S SOAP
This is an amazing product and I’ve come to rely on it when I garden. You could think of it as a tool instead of a skin treatment, because it’s like wearing invisible gloves. Gardener’s Soap actually is a thick salve with just a hint of mint fragrance in a very generous 10-ounce jar. Before gardening, simply apply it like a hand lotion. It keeps your hands soft and comfortable.
When you’re through with your work and ready to get your hands clean, simply run water over your hands and the lotion turns into a mild, cleansing soap. The dirt and grime wash away, leaving hands smooth and clean. The manufacturer, Gayl Bousman, has been making A Gardener’s Soap for many years. It’s made from the rich, soothing milk from her organically raised goats. She also grows the herbs for her many other soap and body products. The 10-ounce soap costs $6.95. Visit her website at www.EveningShadeFarms.com or call (417) 282-6985 for a catalog. Evening Shade Farms, 12790 SE Hwy. TT, Osceola, MO 64776.
Watering Weedless Wonder
Here’s a great new tool for novice and experienced gardeners alike. The Watering Weedless Wonder makes planning a little backyard garden simple. This heavy, 44- by 58-inch polypropylene mat will completely block weed growth, but allow moisture and air through. The mat is edged and weighted with a rubber strip encased by heat bonding. The center contains heat-cut rows of holes for seeds or transplants of herbs, vegetables or flowers.
A 3/8 -inch professional-grade soaker hose encased in the mat features a flow-control device that limits water flow to approximately one pint per minute. This allows water to seep slowly into the soil, eliminating waste and runoff, so the mat is ecologically smart as well as practical.
The mat is held in place with stakes you push in around the perimeter. Simply lay the mat over tilled soil, then plant through the holes provided. Attach the garden hose to the fitting on one corner, and the new little garden is watered in minutes.
The Watering Weedless Wonder comes with a variety of spacing options. You might want a five-row model or a 12-hole model, depending upon what you want to grow. The one I’ve used for the past two years is the three-row model, which is perfect for basils or snapdragons. To make a larger bed, attach several mats together. Each mat is guaranteed for five years. The Watering Weedless Wonder was awarded the Green Thumb Award for 2005 from the Mail-order Gardening Association.
One mat sells for $39.95 and they’re available from Carefree Gardener, Inc., P.O. Box 893, St. Francis, KS 67756 or at www.CareFreeGardener. com; (866) 886-2552.
Link to Jim Long’s gardens and books from our website at www.HerbCompanion.com. Readers’ comments and questions are welcome at LCHerbs@interlinc.net.