The tools for the job.

Fight your way into my garden shed, or my allotment shed and you will find a set of tools common to most other similar sheds. I have a couple of spades and forks, three different rakes, edging shears and hedge cutting shears, a strimmer and a pressure washer and a shredder.

What I also have, and would not be without since I find them most useful, is a range of less common tools. Some are professional kit from my job as a nurseryman, others just picked up along the way. Let me tell you about them.


The knife in this picture dates from my student days, forty odd years ago. It is a Tina grafting knife, specifically one designed for T budding, though I have never done a T bud with it. I use it for taking cuttings and have used it for veneer grafting and chip budding. It will take and keep a very sharp edge, easily keen enough to shave the hairs from my arm and is strong enough to cut through hard material without flinching. I sharpen it with the diamond stone on the right.

The secateurs are probably no more than fifteen years old, my student days pair having been lost at some point. Had they not been I am confident I would be using them still and I would like to think that someone else is doing just that. Felco were the only name in town amongst professionals until Niwaki appeared on the scene relatively recently. The patent for the Felco design must have expired many years ago because there are a great many very similar looking secateurs available. Don’t be fooled, the quality is in the materials. I find the holster very useful, it means I don’t put them down very often, always a risky thing to do. The double sided diamond sharpener on the left is much older than the secateurs and has sharpened a great many pairs of secateurs, not to mention kitchen knives, scissors, shears and so on.

I have nothing against Niwaki tools, I have not used them and have no need for another pair of secateurs.


If the first set of tools relate to the refined, skillful end of the horticultural spectrum, this set of implements relates to the brute force and bloody ignorance end. I don’t do fencing for a living, perish the very thought, but if you want to put a post a decent depth into the ground you want a two handled shovel such as the one on the left here. If you don’t put your posts deep into the ground, by which I mean three feet minimum, they are unlikely to remain upright unless you concrete them in. Which is fine, until you come to replace them.

The bar in the middle, six feet long, flat at one end, pointed at the other, breaks up the hard ground and stones so the shovel can lift it out of the hole. I sharpened the flat end and went through the root system of a sizable tree to put in one post for the fence I did last week. It’s just as useful for levering stubborn roots out of the ground, moving heavy rocks and anywhere else where a simple lever can give you a lot of power.

The spade I got for a fiver at a trade show. They just didn’t want to take it home with them. The shaft broke and I replaced it with a slightly longer one. The narrowness and rounded end of the blade means it penetrates ground much easier than an ordinary spade. I use it for cutting round things prior to lifting them with a normal spade and I use it for planting. I also use it for the first foot of post holes and if I had narrow trenches to dig it would be perfect.


I didn’t in fact buy this. It was given me by someone who had no use for it. Well I do. I shall be tying in my tomatoes, cucumbers, standard fuchsias and no doubt much else with it. Its first outing was for a young and very wayward camellia. So fast compared to tying with string. There’s a knack to using it that seems to defeat some people completely.


Buy yourself a decent trowel, with a proper forged thingy connecting the blade to the handle. The narrow one is great for weeding out deep rooted weeds with minimal disturbance to the stuff around.


I bought this when I decided to pave most of the paths around my garden. I wanted to cut 600 x 600 slabs to create curves. With a stone cutting blade this was perfect and for around 50 quid it didn’t seem worth hiring something, knowing I’d need it for a few weeks. I’ve cut a few slabs since, quite a few floor tiles, with a tile cutting blade, and I use it with the grinding disc shown to sharpen the blade on my shredder.


What you need from a watering can is the right capacity, so you can lift it but it holds a respectable amount; reach, so you can get to the plants at the back without leaning too far over and a rose that delivers a fine but very dense spray, applying lots of water quickly but gently. It also needs the carrying handles in the right place for good balance. I have two of these and one or both gets used practically every day from spring until autumn. They and the secateurs share the honours for the highest mileage in my tool kit.

Do you have tools that you would not be without? What vital kit have I overlooked?

6 thoughts on “The tools for the job.

  1. I could never get on with Felcos; indeed I always thought them overpriced for what they were. For years I bought cheap Wilkinson Sword secateurs which lasted a year or two and so cost more overall but they were comfortable to use. Now I have a couple of pairs of Niwakis – one about the same price as Felcos at Amazon, the other twice as much. And I think they’re worth it. Wouldn’t be without them. I think Thomas Stone and I are in competition for who owns the largest collection of Niwaki tools. And with all the cheap alternatives on the market, why is it that we gravitate towards Hawes watering cans? You’re right, there is a science to the balance – the only watering cans I can use easily with just one hand.


    1. I’ll probably buy a Niwaki tool at some point, just so I know. It’s when you’re contemplating expensive items like these that you most need detailed unbiased reviews by people who know what they’re talking about. What do you not like about Felco secateurs?


      1. I tried a number of different pairs, none of which felt comfortable in my hand (which is not an abnormal hand). So I tended to buy cheap ones which might last a year but which didn’t give me aches and pains. The Niwakis fit my hands like a glove (I use both hands for pruning) and feel a lot stronger than Felcos. Nice action too.


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