December is a gift-giving time of year for many people. In light of the upcoming (okay—already upon us!) holiday season, I thought you might find it helpful to know what sorts of tools and implements impress a professional gardener. Gardener gift lists abound, but they aren’t always compiled by people who garden a lot! I garden for a living, and I consider all the items below to be indispensable in my business. They’ve served me well, so I can vouch for their ability to last a long time and give you good value for your money. And if you’ve already finished your holiday shopping, well, file these away as gift ideas for upcoming birthdays and other occasions when you want to give a gardener a gift.
A warning to those of you accustomed to marketing shots of pristine garden products: you’ll find no fancy-pants photos here. These are my actual garden tools in their actual current state, at the end of a long gardening year and before their annual winter cleaning. They’re dirty, and yes, that’s a dropcloth as a backdrop. Use the links provided to see how these products will look “out of the box.”
Full disclosure: I promise that I am neither being paid to recommend any of these products, nor have I received free products, advertising or any other perks to “endorse” them …although I’d like to get all of those!
Like so many hand tools, the usual problem with trowels is that they’re not strong enough. At the top of the blade where it thins to mate with the handle, a cheap trowel will bend if you try to dig in less-than-ideal soil. My Cutco has never bent and doesn’t have so much as a hint of rust after seasons of use. That’s never happened before, and I’ll never use any other trowel. As a welcome added feature, it’s also got a comfortable grip. You can see it at Cutco.com. Follow instructions at the website to order directly from the manufacturer. At $42, the price seems high for a trowel, but if that trowel lasts as long as half a dozen other ones (and I think mine will), it seems like a great bargain to me.
A glove’s a glove’s a glove, right? Wrong. There are big differences between garden gloves. Nitrile gloves are my favorite because they’re thin enough to allow decent dexterity, yet they provide all the protection your hands should need for ordinary jobs. Atlas nitrile gloves have an extra long cuff that can be tucked inside or over your sleeve ends so you don’t get that “bracelet” of dirt around your wrist after a few hours of work. They come in bright colors that won’t disappear into the vegetation if you take them off for a moment in the garden and absent-mindedly walk away. (I recommend blue, pink and purple for their visibility.) They will not shrink when machine washed and dried, and each pair lasts for months even with constant use. You can view and order these gloves at a great price (2 pair for $6) from Gardener’s Supply, but many hardware stores also stock them, so check your local retailers.
Felco F300 bypass pruners
Felco pruners are legendary…but for many years I couldn’t understand why! Yes, they seemed to be good quality, but none of them fit my hand—they all seemed to be sized for a 6-foot tall lumberjack—so they were tiring to use and expensive to boot. Finally, about two years ago, I found the Felcos for me. The F300 is so lightweight it’s usually referred to as a “snip,” but it’s perfectly adequate for all-purpose light-duty pruning of non-woody material. If you’re deadheading a perennial garden, these are perfect! Aside from being comfortable in my hand, they’re easy to lock and unlock one-handed (a very important pruner feature often overlooked), they slip easily into my favorite pruner holster (see below), and their red handle makes them stand out when I misplace them. Here’s a tip: when the spring broke on my pair (to be expected after a lot of use), I was able to find a suitable and inexpensive replacement in the hardware bins at a local hardware store. You can see and order this pruner for under $20 at Felco’s online store.
The Napa Valley Gardener pruner holster
I wear this pruner holster so much it’s practically a wardrobe staple. (Isn’t that embarrassing?) It’s small and comfortable with an adjustable belt, but it holds a pruner in a plastic-lined pocket, has a phone receptacle large enough to accommodate an “old-fashioned” full-size handset (not just a slimline modern cell phone), and it also has a key clip. Although it has plastic parts, I have machine washed and dried my holster many times, and it has worn very, very well. The full name for this item is actually the Gardener’s Phone Pak. You can view and buy it at Napa Valley Gardener’s website for under $20.
Muck Boot boots
Like the pruner holster above, I wear my Muck boots practically every day, and I’ve had them so long I can barely remember buying them. I own the Tack Classic Hi style, which runs about $100 but can probably be found for less with holiday discounts. With these on, you could wade through standing water for hours and your feet would never, ever get wet. They’re great in the garden, but I also use them all winter long while shoveling or blowing snow. There are many Muck Boot styles for different activities, including heavily insulated ones for winter, so look through them all before deciding which one seems right for you. You can also buy replacement insoles—a thoughtful accommodation. You can see all the choices and make a purchase at the Muck Boot website, but I’ve also seen them at Agway stores, and they’re probably available at other farm/feed stores and garden centers.