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Every gardener needs these 16 tools in their kit

Professional gardeners will use secateurs on an almost daily basis
Professional gardeners will use secateurs on an almost daily basis - getty

Serious gardeners need serious tools – ones that do the job efficiently while lasting for many years. My carefully chosen, personal tool kit has been with me for decades and it’s fairly basic. I’ve only ever owned three border forks in the past 50 years, for instance, and my forks get plenty of use. The last one’s been with me for 20 years or more, purely because it’s well made. The wooden handle may be getting a bit gnarled, because I’m not very good at nourishing it with boiled linseed oil, but the metal bit works as well as ever. Getting it out of my shed is like being reunited with an old friend.

Basic tool design stretches back into distant time, for gardening tools have hardly changed since the Roman era, as archaeologists will verify. The earliest popular gardening book, Thomas Hill’s The Gardener’s Labyrinth (1577), has woodblock illustrations of gardeners using rakes, watering cans, spades, forks and hand tools, all of which we would recognise today.

I stick to traditional shapes, because they’ve worked for centuries, but the materials have changed. My border fork has carbon-steel tines and my small spade is stainless steel, but both have traditional wooden shafts. I rarely use a full-size digging spade or fork in my flower-packed borders, although they do get an occasional outing on the allotment. When choosing tools, my top tip is to go for quality, not price, and then it will last.

Buy quality tools to ensure years of use
Buy quality tools to ensure years of use - getty

Cutting, edging and pruning

Many years ago, the late Lord Carrington contributed this sage advice to my Daily Telegraph column: “Never go into the garden without your secateurs!” The problem is, which ones? A lot of secateurs only last for a matter of weeks before the spring leaps off into the shrubbery, or they seize up. You’ll never have this problem with red-handled Felco bypass secateurs (worldoffelco.co.uk). They are the chosen tool for most professional gardeners, who use them on a daily basis. I use Model 2 (£74.99) and the more-compact Model 6 (£69.99) and these are available in left-handed versions as well. They’re not cheap, but mine have been with me for years. Genus gardening trousers and shorts (from £99), comfortable essentials for me, have two stab-resistant pockets for secateurs and knives.

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Felco Model 2 secateurs (£74.99); Model 6 secateurs (£69.99)

I’m also dedicated to my red-handled, scissor-shaped Jakoti hand shears (£40). They make cutting down herbaceous plants quicker, and it looks neater. The simple scissor action is easier on the shoulders and arms and they don’t give me blisters on my fingers. The soft growth on woodier shrubs needs a different pruner and I favour the long-handled, ultra-light ARS KR-1000 Professional Garden Shears from Sorbus (£105.19). They’re easy to manipulate, due to their light weight, and you can grip the handles in the best place for the job in hand. Admittedly these are double the price of traditional pairs of shears, but they will stay sharp and they won’t make your arms fall off.

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Sorbus ARS KR-1000 shears (£105.19); Jacoti hand shears (£40)

The ARS shears are ideal for clipping hedges and box bushes. However last year’s wet summer concertinaed garden maintenance into short windows of opportunity, so I found myself under the cosh. I decided to go over to trimming my 20 or so box balls with Stihl’s battery-operated HSA 26 hand clipper (£199). Using a mechanical clipper turned an all-day job (or more) into two hours at most. Box blight is rife, so it’s best to have dedicated equipment that’s only used in your garden, because fungal spores can be transferred from garden to garden via communal tools. You can also trim the lawn edges with this, although I prefer a traditional long-handled lawn edger.

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Clockwise from top left: Henchman tripod ladder (from £299); Spear & Jackson ‘Lopper’ (£44.99); Stihl HSA hand clipper
(£199)

My fruit trees need long-handled pruners when they’re lopped in winter. This year there’s a lot of new top growth to shorten, after all that rain. Spear & Jackson’s Razorsharp Advance Heavy Duty Telescopic Ratchet Anvil Lopper (what a mouthful) allows me to reach the taller branches and the five-stage ratchet mechanism cuts through tough wood in a series of stages (£44.99). The arms extend to 104cm and the carbon-steel blades stay sharp. My safe-to-use Henchman tripod ladder (from £299) allows me to get higher when needed, hopefully without falling off.

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Genus three-season women’s gardening trousers (£139)

Digging, weeding and cultivating

Choosing garden forks and spades is a minefield these days as most British tool suppliers get their metal components made in other countries because they’re cheaper. Sadly, quality has definitely gone down in the last 20 or so years ago and that’s a good reason to explore buying a heritage tool from the past. Garden & Wood, which exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show, sells superb tools and gardenalia. My small hoe, another essential, is a vintage find. Whenever you acquire a fork or spade, try to test the weight and balance so that you make sure it suits you. Border forks are smaller than digging forks, but they should still have four long tines.

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Border fork (£42.99); Spade (from around £30)

Stainless-steel spades cut through the ground really well, but they’re impossible to make in one piece. Poorly made ones tend to come apart, so it’s worth paying a little more. Burgon & Ball offers a lifetime guarantee on its RHS endorsed range, and if I had to buy a border fork I would buy one from here (£42.99, ).

Bulldog’s Premier tool range also offers a lifetime guarantee and its spades are forged from one piece of manganese steel, an alloy chosen for its flexible strength. The wooden handles are buried deeply within the shaft, which also helps to strengthen them. I prefer the feel of warm-to-the-touch ash handles in preference to chilly metal, which tends to bend anyway. Plastic is liable to snap after time. I prefer a D-shape to a T-shape handle at the top: the latter can pinch your hands. Bulldog’s Premier spades cost from £31.03. There is a potential downside to them, however: steel forks and spades are heavier to handle than stainless steel and that may be a consideration.

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Spear & Jackson Neverbend hand tool gift set (£24.99)

Stainless steel hand trowels and hand forks are vital pieces of kit for me as well, especially since I rediscovered the joy of weeding on my knees during the pandemic. Trowel shapes vary hugely, but a traditional design and wooden handle, without any blister-inducing leather thong, suits me best. Spear & Jackson’s Neverbend stainless steel trowel and weed fork are perfect (£24.99 for a set of weed fork, trowel and transplanting trowel, B&Q).

Raking and tidying

Come autumn, there’s some tidying up to do and my go-to tool is my Bulldog Wizard rubber rake (£26.07), because you can drag this soft 22in tool over the ground without wrecking your plants – as long as you’re gentle. It’s also good for smoothing vegetable plots out before planting and sowing. There should be one in every serious gardener’s shed. Bulldog has just started doing a 10in wide Merlin rake (£28.73), designed to get into tighter areas. It’s already in my shed.

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Merlin rake (currently £28.73) both Bulldog; Wizard rubber rake (currently reduced to £27.08) both Bulldog

The leaves I collect make excellent leaf litter, a process that takes a year, so a good wheelbarrow is an essential, and I don’t like anything too vividly coloured or large. Lasher Ecobarrow, 70L is light, nimble and easy to manoeuvre and empty. Finally, a good stiff broom dustpan and brush does wonders for your paths and Burgon & Ball’s set (£12.99) is just the ticket.

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Lasher Ecobarrow (£139); Burgon & Ball dustpan and brush (£12.99) both Zoro