Shear Delight

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” Make way, gentlemen, and let me go back to my old
freedom; let me go look for my past life, and raise myself up from
this present death. I was not born to be a governor or protect
islands or cities from the enemies that choose to attack them.
Ploughing and digging, vinedressing and pruning are more in my way
than defending provinces or kingdoms.” — Sancho, Don Quixote, by
Miguel Cervantes, early 17th century

It is widely understood that the first plants
to be intentionally cut by humans were grapevines. One story about
the origins of the pruning practice appeared in The Compleat
Gardener, published in 1693. Seems a wild ass wandered into an
ancient Armenian vineyard somewhere around 6000 b.c. and chewed
some vines to stubs. As often happens with new inventions, this
apparent disaster evolved into one of the greatest agricultural
practices ever to benefit humans, when it was observed that the
gnawed vine grew back fuller and produced more fruit than those
left unscathed.

Herb gardeners rely on pruning to encourage more or better
foliage and flowers; to develop, train or maintain a desired shape
or appearance; rejuvenate older or neglected herbs; remove diseased
or damaged parts; or balance roots and branches. With every
important technique, a plethora of tools evolves, and so it is with
pruning. Each cutting task has at least one specialized implement
designed specifically for the job, and the modern pruning shears we
find today are direct descendants of the British billhook and the
Roman falx from six millennia ago.

Herb gardeners will be the first to attest that deadheading and
the harvesting of tender leaves, sprigs and flowers require a much
more delicate pair of shears than those that might be suitable for
woody stems and shrubs. Indeed, the perfect set of snips for this
dainty piece of work is lightweight and fine enough to cleanly
sever herbaceous stems without mangling or tearing them.

Garden fanatics may insist on two sets of flower shears: one
long-handled set to reach the target in the garden, and one smaller
version that gives precise control for trimming stems on the
potting table or kitchen counter. Choose carefully, giving thought
to your cutting needs. For instance, Ikebana shears, the
traditional Japanese bonsai implement, work miracles on dwarf woody
branches but may be too awkward in the herb bed. And while fruit
and flower shears neatly lop off thicker stems, there’s no need for
such heavy artillery for culinary herb foliage, such as basil,
parsley and other delicate sprigs.

Generally, the best all-around flower shears have straight
carbon or stainless steel bypass blades (they work like scissors
and give a better cut), two to five inches long, and can be

Quick, sharp and clean are the very best qualities for
prolonging the afterlife of a leaf or flower — a ragged cut
interrupts the intrastem vessels that transport water — so test the
pivot of the blades for smooth operation, and keep the blades in
tip-top condition.

Maintenance of pru-ning tools is critical. Use a file, not a
stone, to sharpen pruning implements, and follow the original
beveled angle if the blades are curved. Clean shears after each use
and wipe with an oiled cloth. If the shears have been used on
diseased parts, soak in a 9:1 solution of water to bleach.


Fiskars Flower Shears. Lightest of all shears listed here,
well-made, with short blades (with bypass action) fashioned from
carbon steel. Straight, cushioned handles provide a firm but
comfortable grip.
Weight: 1.8 ounces
Length: 6 inches
Blade length: 11/2 inches

Felco Flower/Herb Harvesting Shears. Lightweight, yet strong
flower and herb pruner has short anvil blades. Best used on woody
herb parts.
Weight: 4.2 ounces
Length: 71/2 inches
Blade length: N/A

Corona Thinning Shears. Forged Coronium steel alloy construction
and straight, narrow blades that can be sharpened make these
scissor-action shears perfect for deadheading and in the herb bed.
Cushioned, non-slip grips and right- and left-hand use enhance
their usefulness (Corona also makes a shorter, lighter Houseplant
Weight: 11 ounces
Length: 73/4 inches
Blade length: 2 inches

Ikebana Shears. From Japan, these unique, butterfly handles are
beautifully designed. Sharp, precise bypass blades cut both
herbaceous and woody stems, but their fat design prevents using in
tight spaces.
Weight: 8.2 ounces
Length: 71/2 inches
Blade length: 21/8 inches

Corona Floral Snip. A modified version of the traditional
Ikebana bypass shears with long-lasting steel and brass
Weight: 6 ounces
Length: 8 inches
Blade length: N/A

Fiskars Loop Handle Bypass Pruner. For herbs or flowers, this
pruner’s loop handle is designed for added control and protection.
The handsome pair of herb and flower clippers also offers a
softgrip upper handle and an ambidextrous lock.
Weight: N/A
Length: N/A
Blade length: N/A

Felco Fruit/Grape Harvesting Shears. Designed for grape and
general flower harvesting, this scissor-action set is light enough
for general herb harvesting as well.
Weight: 3.9 ounces
Length: 75/16 inches
Blade length: N/A

Corona Grape Shears. Designed for rapid, high-volume grape
harvesting. Curved, scissor-action blades cut hard-to-reach stems
and rounded tips help prevent damaged fruit. Useful for woody
Weight: 3 ounces
Length: 53/8 inches
Blade length: 27/8

Pat Crocker is the author of Oregano: 2005 Herb of the Year,
available through our online bookshelf, www.Herb Her
latest book, Tastes of the Kasbah, is available from Riversong
Press, 536 Mill St., Neustadt, ON, N0G 2M0. E-mail Pat at

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