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For The Love Of Gardening: Tools Of The Trade



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The longer I garden, the fewer tools I seem to need, but the more I appreciate the good, well-made workhorses in my garage and tool shed. Every gardener needs a spade and a shovel, but you might make do with one tool that is a hybrid — a cross between a spade and a shovel — the Spear Head Spade.

Designed by an 85-year-old Connecticut gardener, the Spear Head Spade functions as a shovel for lifting earth and a spade for cutting through sod and prying up rocks. The total length of this tool is 41 inches, which makes it easy to use — it comes up to about waist height, so I can drive it into the ground with my full weight. The blade, which tapers to a sharp point, and the socket that hold the handle are made from a single piece of metal. It is, therefore, almost indestructible.

In the endless war on rocks that is always part of gardening in Connecticut, I have actually bent a crowbar, but the Spear Head Spade has done it all without any problem. If a buried rock moves, I figure I can get it out, thanks to Daniel Mathieu’s clever design. First, I dig all around the offending rock then force the sturdy blade of the Spearhead under it and gradually pry it loose.

In the early days of my garden making, I needed a mattock to break ground for a vegetable garden in what had been an overgrown field. A mattock is another hybrid tool — a cross between a pick axe and a heavy duty hoe. If you can’t make any headway with a mattock, look for some other place for your vegetable garden or else wait until your local farmer’s market offers fresh vegetables, stress-free.

A tool that I find very useful is a short-handled spade with an almost full-sized shovel blade and a D-Grip handle. Its overall length is 27 inches. I use it all the time for dividing plants without digging up the whole clump. It is small enough to work in tight places like the woodland garden, where I may want to give away a clump of Phlox stolonifera without disturbing the whole planting. Also, it is easier to tote around than a full-sized shovel. In the A.M. Leonard catalog Horticultural Tools and Supply Co., this little shovel is called a “Floral Shovel” for reasons which escape me, but I think you should have one in your tool shed.

For hand tools, I could not live without what is called a soil knife. It is not a knife — its blade is not sharp, but one edge has what are described as “mild serrations.” The handle fits cozily into the gardener’s hand, and the six-inch blade can be used instead of a trowel to plant, or weed, or divide. If you buy it from a catalog, don’t buy what is offered as “The Deluxe Soil Knife.” The only difference from the original is a dumb little notch in the blade for cutting string. My guess is that you’ll never use it. And don’t get a leather sheath either, for the same reason: You won’t put it on your belt, it will be in the way. Just the classic soil knife. Get a couple.

One of mine spent a winter in the compost pile, but I found it in the spring, unharmed.

Love your gardening, ’til next time!

Sydney Eddison will regularly be contributing a column in the upcoming weeks. She has written seven books on gardening. In addition, she collaborated with the Color Wheel Company on The Gardener’s Color Wheel: A Guide to Using Color in the Garden.

For her work as a writer, gardener, and lecturer, she received the Connecticut Horticultural Society’s Gustav A. L. Melquist Award in 2002; the New England Wild Flower Society Kathryn S. Taylor Award in 2005; in 2006, the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut’s Bronze Medal. In 2010, her book Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older won the American Horticultural Society Book Award.

A former drama teacher, lifelong gardener, and Newtown resident for sixty years, Eddison’s love of the English language has found its most satisfying expression in four volumes of poetry: Where We Walk: Poems rooted in the soil of New England (2015); Fragments of Time: Poems of gratitude for everyday miracles (2016); All the Luck: Poems celebrating love, life, and the enduring human spirit (2018); and Light of Day: Poems from a lifetime of looking and listening (2019).

A quartet of Sydney Eddison’s favorite gardening tools leans against the fence, ready to dig in: a mattock, a floral shovel, and her go-to Connecticut Spear Head Spade. Poked into the earth is another essential, the soil knife. —Bee Photos, Crevier
The motto on the Spear Head Spade is as true as can be, says Eddison: When a regular shovel won’t do, she reaches for this reliable tool.
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