The Gardener’s Bag of Tricks

Gardeners choose tools that work well and stick with them.

You never know what you will find in a gardener’s tool bag.

What do you carry in your garden tool bag?

I became intrigued by this question while working with Program Assistant Jean Hersey in the Green Spring Family Garden. We were doing some direct seed sowing in the garden, when Jean turned to me and said, “Here, take my fondue fork.  I never go to any garden job without a fondue fork.”  I was puzzled.  I have never heard of anyone using a fondue fork in the garden.  “Oh yes. I use it to make holes to sow seeds and use it to mark where a plant should go. It has all kinds of uses. Oh yeah. And duct tape.”  Fondue forks? Duct tape? 

So I started asking gardeners: What do you carry in your garden tool bag?  The unanimous tool favorites among Green Spring staff were the Japanese Hori Hori soil knife for digging into tough clay soil and cutting through root balls (hori is Japanese for “dig”), the Japanese angle-necked weeder for working up shallow-rooted weeds, a good pair of pruners for keeping plants trimmed up, a pointed trowel, and a tip bag or trug to collect weeds.

I agree.  These are tools every gardener should have and the reason why the Green Spring Garden gift shop keeps them in stock.  I started giving angled weeders away as gifts because people were loath to return mine once they tried it. I also love the Hori Hori knife except for one design flaw: The natural wood handle blends in with the garden surroundings and I have all too often misplaced it.  I lose it in the fall and find it in the garden sometime in early spring, somewhat the worse for wear.  Needless to say, I own lots of replacement Hori Hori knives. Gardener James Van Meter says he sticks his Hori Hori knife straight into the ground instead of laying it down flat so chances are better for finding it again.  Another solution would be to wrap the handle in bright tennis racket grip tape (or Jean’s colored duct tape) so the knife is easier to spot.  As I relocate them, I’ll be sure to do that.

Propagation specialists Judy Zatsick and Mary Frogale both named the root knife as a multi-purpose tool of choice.  This knife has a serrated edge and curved tip and is designed to cut through root systems to divide plants. It is also great for opening containers. Along the same line as the fondue fork, gardener Carol Miranda carries chop sticks to sow seeds, mark plant locations and to stake small plants that flop over.  A little twine or a twist tie, and your plant is once again standing proud. My sister-in-law gave me a spool of cut-to-length twist tie that she purchased at a hardware store for just this sort of purpose.  Very useful. 

Local horticulturalist Karen Rexrode carries an inexpensive camera in her tool bag so she can document changes in the garden.  Great idea. This is especially handy in noting where your flowering bulbs are buried.  Heaven knows we have all mistakenly unearthed a few bulbs.

Green Spring Manager Mary Olien says she always has flower scissors in her bag to help with deadheading annuals and perennials.  The scissors make for quick, precise cuts with little damage to the plant.  But, sometimes you want the flowers to set seed and horticulturalist Nancy Olney is prepared. She always carries coin envelopes and a pencil in her tool bucket to collect seed from prized plants to sow for the next gardening season.  She even offers envelopes of seed to her garden volunteers.

 So what do I carry in my tool bag?

 In addition to  the must-haves (Hori Hori knife, angled weeder, pruners, trowel, and trug),  I carry a small spray bottle of rubbing alcohol to immediately disinfect my tools before putting them away.  A light spray on my pruners and I can reduce the spread of plant viruses and fungus. The alcohol doesn’t promote rust and evaporates quickly. I also carry tongue depressors and a sharpie in case I need to label something, like the location of my hostas before they go dormant for the winter.

So what have I learned? Gardeners should, and do, think outside of the traditional tool bag and we should always keep our minds open to new uses for nontraditional tools.  One thing that I already knew: Gardeners are happy to share their ideas and knowledge if you just ask. Thanks to everyone for sharing their favorite tools with me.

Written by Susan Eggerton, Green Spring Gardens program coordinator

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 11 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2008. Another Park Bond Referendum will be held in November 2012. Today, the Park Authority has 420 parks on approximately 23,168 acres of land. We offer 371 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park System is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: o Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist. o Eight golf courses including Laurel Hill, our newest, upscale course and clubhouse located in Southern Fairfax County o Five nature and visitor centers. Also seven Off-Leash Dog Activity areas o Several lakes including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax o The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter o Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel o An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter o Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel o Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent o A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly o A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale o Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community o Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center o Provides 274 athletic fields, including 30 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 500 school athletic fields PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: • A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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