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A Lifetime of Tools

by Liz Stewart

As part of a recent garage clear out, my other half hung a series of hooks on the wall to accommodate my collection of tools. Instead of yanking away ladders and deckchairs to expose the tangle of spades, rakes, forks and hoes, the pleasure of an easy selection of the right tool for the job is now all mine. Instead of turning the garage upside down to find my elusive trowel, there it is on the wall, just where it’s supposed to be. It’s a game changer. Do I need all of them? Probably not and I should really do a weed out (pun intended). But there are a few favourites that I wouldn’t be without. 

At the tender age of 24, I left my London PR job planning to change careers to become a gardener. From working on the unlikely combination of clients including IBM and Pampers, I planned to swap my keyboard for compost and leave a job I didn’t really like to do something that felt much more meaningful. My father had recently passed away very suddenly and I was in desperate need of a change of path – but it was not to be. My mother became very ill and being in between jobs, it was a natural decision to look after her and when she too died a few months later, I’d lost my sense of direction and ended up back in PR freelancing. I would find my way back to the world of gardening careers but not quite how I’d imagined.

What’s all this got to do with tools? Back to my departure from the London PR job, as a leaving gift, my colleagues gave me a matching fork and spade. The fork succumbed to a particularly difficult plant division but the spade survives today and is a constant companion in the garden over 30 years later. And so my tool collection began. 

We all have our favourites but I was quite surprised this year to find some new tools join my collection, which I’m finding seriously impressive. Like many gardeners these days, I try to leave the winter clean up as late as possible to leave shelter for wildlife. However, there comes a point as winter turns to spring and temperatures rise, when the garden is starting to sprint away without me and there is no time to lose. I’d had my eye on a herbaceous sickle for a while (recommended by Kirsty Wilson on GQT a while back) and decided to treat myself, along with a Japanese bamboo hand rake. I wonder how long the latter will last as it doesn’t look especially robust but it does a brilliant job of getting right into the borders and makes very swift work of tidying up the winter debris. Similarly the sickle is great for an easy chop of herbaceous perennials, ready for new growth to emerge. I’m in love with them both and wonder why I didn’t get them years ago!  



In addition, a Christmas gift of a hori hori knife from my brother has come in handy for (belated) planting of tulip bulbs in soggy clay soil – let’s see if they come up – and I’m looking forward to using it for deeply-rooted dandelions in the borders. 

From brand new to old faithfuls, I look to tools inherited from my parents’ toolshed (they were both keen gardeners and passed on their love to my brother, sister and I). My favourites have to be the half moon edging tool and the edging shears. Both brilliant for sharpening up the borders and even though I’m not the tidiest of gardeners, I find lawn edging to be one of the most satisfying jobs in the garden.

The plastic leaf rake was also a revelation. Having battled with metal rakes during the autumn leaf-clearing marathon, a friend recommended one of these and a second hand one became an inexpensive but indispensable addition to the collection. It’s lighter to use and sweeps up leaves on my gravel paths without dragging the gravel with it. 

Looking ahead to the coming weeks, I’m planning to split some of my herbaceous perennials and am considering another new tool to join the toolshed, recommended by one of our garden owners. The Root Slayer spade is apparently an excellent tool to get through a tough clump of roots. Maybe I’ll give it a go, possibly worth it for the name alone! 

The right tools for the job really do make a difference but it has taken decades to find my favourites. I could probably whittle it down to a few and pass the rest on. 

Did you know there’s a great initiative run by TCV. The Tool Shed project gives the opportunity to donate your old tools at collection points, to then be refurbished in prisons and then re-donated to good causes such as schools and community groups. A fantastic, zero waste initiative to give tools a new lease of life and benefit everyone. 

What are your favourite tools? Do email us at and we’ll add your recommendations to this blog.