By Sarah Preiss-Farzanegan, M.D.
UCCE / El Dorado County Master Gardener
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What is your favorite garden tool? The only tools that occupy the small corner of the shed designated for my gardening hobby are several different sized trowels, a pair of trauma shears, two pairs of pruning shears and a full-sized shovel. The rest of the shed is dedicated to my husband’s “gardening” tools: a gas-powered backpack leaf blower, wood chip mulcher, lawn mower, weed whacker, fertilizer cart, branch trimmer, one rake and two shovels. Obviously, we have very different definitions of gardening. And between the two of us we have a lot of tools in a very small shed.
It is easy to take for granted the wide variety of tools we have available to assist us in our gardening endeavors. There are tools for every possible outdoor task conveniently located at your local home and garden center. Within each category there are several different models as well, for every skill level and price range. A few short centuries ago, tools like these, shovels, rakes, etc., were custom made and hard to come by. People’s livelihoods directly depended upon their garden tools since they were used to cultivate the fields that fed their families. According to the Camden County Historical Society, in Camden, N.J., by the mid-17th century garden tools had evolved from simple, multipurpose agricultural devices into a wide range of implements designed for specific tasks such as hedge shears, pruning shears, cultivating forks, trowels and almost every non-mechanical tool we are familiar with today. So the next time you reach for your favorite garden tool, I encourage you to pause for a moment to acknowledge its deep historical roots.
My favorite tool is my wide, sharp hand trowel. It fits in my hand just right. Gripping it with all my strength trying to pry loose the stubborn rocks and roots to make way for my garden plants is a therapeutic adrenaline rush. It is my weapon in the fight against the chaos that would take over my carefully planned oasis of flowers and vegetables.
The way it slices through the soil is very satisfying. I am renovating and creating something amazing. It stirs up an intoxicating, earthy aroma that will permeate the rest of my day and perpetuate the peaceful calm instilled by my careful and vigorous digging. It is a handy ruler, with measured increments gorged into the metal blade that ensures I never sow a seed too deep to germinate. It doubles as a low-budget slingshot for the snails that somehow manage to climb several feet in and out of the raised beds every day; I admit I have not the heart to crush them.
My husband’s favorite tool is his two-cycle gas-powered motor that can be fitted with various attachments. Currently he has an edger, hedge trimmer, tiller and chainsaw. These are his most “practical” attachments at the moment and he has plans to add more superfluous models to his collection. He finds great satisfaction in maintaining neatness and order in the yard and somehow the loudness of his method is his meditation.
This small study group of two hardly proves anything, and in fact scientifically it proves nothing, but it does offer an interesting question. What does your favorite tool say about you? For example, I am determined to create an organized system with room to grow into controlled chaos as the plants flourish. My time spent in the garden is very meditative and involves careful planning of new plantings and inspection and maintenance of existing ones. My life is so busy and full of words and talking all day that I cherish the time alone or with my daughter. If my 2-year-old daughter is with me she likes to dig in a corner of a bed with her pink plastic spade, and every so often she wanders off to the slide or to snack on fresh basil, mint or tomatoes. I enjoy showing her the fruits of our labor and teaching her which tomatoes are ready to pick and how to water newly planted seeds.
My husband’s goal of keeping order in the yard has similar roots, yet his method is slightly different. He too, seems to meditate as he strides through the yard with his leaf blower on his back, enjoying his favorite rock playlist, and looks very happy to be dripping sweat pushing the mower up the hill. I see him tuning out the world and losing his worries in physical labor that produces immediately visible results.
You could say then that we have different means of reaching the same end. A state of mind where your balance is restored, you achieve a sense of accomplishment, your muscles are tired and you are in serious need of a shower. I wonder — no matter what your favorite tool — if we are all looking for the same thing in the end. If that is the case, then I think it matters more that you get outside and do it, whatever “it” is, in the best way that you know how, with whatever tool suits your fancy.
What is your favorite garden tool?
UCCE Master Gardeners will introduce you to pruning tools and techniques at the Saturday, Jan. 8, class on “Pruning Fruit Tree.” The class is free and starts at 9 a.m. Class location is the Veterans Memorial Building, 130 Placerville Drive in Placerville.
Master Gardeners are available to answer home gardening questions Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, by calling 530-621-5512. The office is located at 311 Fair Lane in Placerville. Walk-ins are welcome. For more information about our public education classes and activities, go to our Master Gardener Website at ceeldorado.ucdavis.edu/Master_Gardener/. The schedule of classes for January through June is now available and can be downloaded from the Website.
With all this rain the hillsides are starting to green up and before you know it, spring will be here. Plan to come to the second Master Gardener Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 16, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 130 Placerville Drive in Placerville. The sale promises a great selection of perennials and annuals as well as vegetable starts. In addition, Master Gardeners will be giving demonstrations on popular gardening topics. Don’t miss it.