What’s Your Favorite Gardening Tool?

Gardeners from novice to professional know how valuable high-quality tools can be to make your gardening chores easier and more enjoyable.  It is always interesting to talk with the professionals and see what they use to groom and care for the beautiful gardens here at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  I interviewed some of the staff horticulturalists and other volunteer gardeners to get an idea of what favorite garden tool they use to get the job done.  Overwhelmingly they all answered – pruners and soil knife.  After that their answers varied mostly by garden site.  Here’s what the experts had to say:

Susie R. (Climatron) – To tame the rapid growth of lush tropical vegetation, Susie recommends a Japanese folding hand saw, pole saw and long-handled pruners.  She also said that the pen and paper tucked into her pocket was invaluable.

Senad D. (Japanese Garden) – To maintain this beautiful manicured garden, Senad uses a wide variety of mowers, trimmers, blowers, ladders and saws. Specialty items like a wooden blunt-toothed rake create the water patterns in the dry gravel gardens.  The crew even uses a canoe to reach the island areas in the lake for maintenance, hauling all equipment and trimmings each time.

David G. (English Woodland Garden) – As expected, David’s most valuable tools used to maintain this densely wooded area were saws: hand, pole and chain saws.  His helmet and climbing equipment are always available as having a certified climbing crew on staff is a necessity to maintain the hundreds of mature trees found here.

Dana R. (Victorian Gardens) – The meticulously maintained Victorian District Gardens require a keen eye and sense of perfection.  Dana achieves this with her two workhorse tools – a sharp pruner and her multi-purpose soil knife which she uses to dig, cut, scrape and plant with.

Marissa S. (Rose Garden) – Caring for roses requires you spend a large amount of time working near the ground.  Marissa’s list of go-to items includes a kneeling pad, pruners and gloves with gauntlets.  She also keeps her phone handy and a cup of coffee at her side.

Julie H. (Seasonal Displays) – Since Julie is in charge of designing, calculating, ordering, installing and maintaining the annual displays for the North end of the garden, she shared an out-of-the-ordinary tool to help her get professional results.  She uses the website – www.landscapecalculator.com.  Just plug in your square footage and it will give you the number of annual plants you need at whatever spacing you choose.  You can use this website to calculate mulch too. Julie also offered a good piece of planting advice “If you have a choice, go for more of the smaller, less expensive plants to fill a larger area.  They’ll grow and you will end up with a more satisfying display.”

Jennifer S. (Kemper Gardens Supervisor) – In her job of overseeing the Kemper Demonstration Gardens, Jennifer introduced me to a Dutch hoe – her favorite tool for keeping the beds tidy and weed free.  Using a pushing and pulling motion, the tool blade is used to skim the just below the soil surface, cutting weeds off at the roots.  The long handle of most models makes work easy on the back too.

James K. (Kemper Flower Border) – Tending to hundreds of perennials on a daily basis couldn’t be done without pruners and a soil knife but one handy tool James always keeps in his pocket is a Swiss Army knife.  He especially likes the version with the mini saw blade using it to help remove deadwood in tight areas where pruners can’t fit.

Glenn K. (Horticulture Information Manager) – When Glenn has the chance to escape from behind his computer screen, he grabs his favorite Corona hand weeding tool and goes to work.  With its comfortable gel grip, this version of ergonomic hand tool is useful for planting and weeding.  The teeth along the edge work great for cutting off weed roots and the forked tip can help dig and pop out weeds in a snap.

Chuck B. (Master Gardener Volunteer) – Not only is Chuck a MG, but he is a former enlisted Marine and it makes sense that his garden favorite is an entrenching tool.  This collapsible spade used by the military is handy because it is bigger than a trowel and smaller than a gardening spade.  You can dig a good sized planting hole with one hand while placing the plant with the other.  It’s a great tool for getting the job done fast.

Paul S. (Volunteer and Former Garden Center Owner) – Owning a garden center means tools, common and unusual, are part of your life at all times.  Paul has seen and used them all but finds the help of a mini tiller to be invaluable in his garden.  That being said, Paul did say there was one more “tool” that is probably his favorite but doesn’t get used as frequently as it should and that was… his easy chair.

This quote from the website Common Sense Homesteading sums up the feelings of all our experts here at the Missouri Botanical Garden: “A good tool is like a good friend – they make a job a lot easier, and they won’t break under pressure.”

Jan Gowen
Kemper Center for Home Gardening

Videos by Nora Thiemann

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