Every week, Telegraph gardening expert Helen Yemm gives tips and advice on all your gardening problems whether at home or on the allotment. If you have a question, see below for how to contact her.
Back to Basics
Choosing gardening tools is a highly personal thing, I know. My aim here, in airing my own choices, the result of a huge number of years of (literally) trial and more than occasional error, is to help readers to make their own decisions. So here goes: the Yemm Analysis, starting with…
Spades and forks
As with so much that follows, it is all about weight. Try to handle them before buying (rather than shopping online). The best material (in my book) is stainless steel: lightweight and easy to clean.
Those with little serious ground-breaking to do may reach for a fork more often than a spade. A recent, already beloved acquisition is a light fork with slightly shorter tines than usual and a comfortable T-handle (burgonandball.com).
My go-to, useful for dozens of garden tasks, is a flat-tined, straight-ended plastic lawn rake (gardena.com) rather than a traditional garden rake. It is part of a range with interchangeable heads known as multi-tools (which I regard as fiddly and don’t otherwise go for).
Growers of veg in rows need hoes, others may not. On my allotment, on breezy/sunny days (so upended weedlings have no chance of revival), I use a strange-shaped “Swoe” (wilkinsonsword-tools.co.uk).
Trowels and hand forks
Again, weight is key, as well as a really substantial handle. You need both trowel and fork (you really cannot weed efficiently with a trowel: it has to be done with a gloved hand and fork), and it pays to invest in quality. The wooden handles of sturdy Sneeboer tools don’t budge (even surviving “burial” in a compost heap, on one occasion).
However, a budget, heavy-duty, soft-grip rubber-handled trowel that I have used for aeons (drapertools.com), still available as part of a hand tool trio, I notice, is a surprising star in my trowel galaxy.
I am not sure yet what to make of the rather Bear Grylls-y Hori Hori (Japanese trowel/knife), bought during last summer from niwaki.com.
Felco (worlfoffelco.co.uk) is the go-to for quality-conscious gardeners, it makes a weight and type of secateurs to suit everyone who can afford it. Burton McCall (burton-mccall.co.uk) runs a Felco renovation service, too. Cheap, supermarket Felco lookalikes just don’t cut the mustard, but Wilkinson Sword has an excellent range, while the truly self-indulgent might go for the Japanese Okatsune brand (also from Niwaki).
I have two secateurs that I particularly love, Posh and Becks. Becks (unlosable Gardena turquoise) sits in my back pocket for on-the-go snipping. Posh is for roses (OK, confession, they are Okatsune…).
Lightweight again: I use Burgon & Ball, extra light, long-ish handled and short-bladed shears for small trimming jobs, and for tougher duty I like my intriguing tri-bladed, extendable (but fairly unwieldy) Darlac shears.
Heaven knows, I have written enough in praise of my indispensable one-handed shears for cutting down perennials (handshears.co.uk).
Lastly, I must add to this list a small foldable Burgon & Ball pruning saw, mostly used for cutting the gnarled old roses and shrubs, and telescopic pruners (from Darlac).