7 essential garden tools to make your gardening life really easy
Invest in good quality versions of the 7 essential garden tools. Then build up more useful tools gradually as you find you need them.
The 7 essential garden tools
- a spade
- a digging fork,
- a rake,
- a hoe,
- a hand trowel,
- a hand fork
- a good pair of secateurs
This post features the tools I’ve used for many years. You can click through to buy them via Amazon, which is an affiliate link (see disclosure)
At the end of this post are some extra tools that I’ve also found useful.
And if you haven’t had a good tool sort-out recently, now is the time to winkle trowels out of trugs, scrabble in the backs of shelves for secateurs, rootle around in the potting shed for hand forks and search all your nooks and crannies for stray gardening gloves.
They need their annual clean-up. And it’s time to chuck those bent forks and dinky little painted trowels, and get yourself a set of garden tools that really work.
Beyond the basics
Within these seven tools, there are options. Many gardeners have several sizes of each, but that’s probably not always necessary if you have a middle-sized garden. And if you have a professional gardener, they usually bring their own tools. Find out more about finding the perfect gardener for your garden here.
Almost all garden tools have varying sizes which suit different jobs better.
I have a smaller, more lightweight spade because full size spades give me backache. The one I use is called the Kent & Stowe Garden Life Spade. It’s also a useful spade for digging up a plant in a confined area, such as a packed border. There is also a lightweight digging fork in the same Kent & Stowe Garden Life range.
When it comes to secateurs, don’t buy the cheapest. I bought a pair of Felco secateurs over 30 years ago. And I still use them. Other cheaper secateurs have driven me mad – their springs go, their handles loosen…
And if you’re doing all your pruning yourself, you will need a pair of loppers and some good shears.
The best shears I’ve ever handled are my Niwaki shears. They cost from around £70, they’re not cheap but so easy to use. Spending so much on them makes me treat them reverently – I certainly don’t leave these sprawled on a damp lawn just because I’ve had to rush in to answer the phone.
And do visit Great Dixter one day. I visited in February, when pruning is key to creating the wonderful borders later on in the year. Pruning is at the heart of why it’s such a wonderful garden – you can improve your pruning with 10 Great Dixter pruning tips they told me about.
So what else is worth buying?
If you want to expand on your gardening basics, then see my post on The Best Garden Supplies for three great weeders.
A pruning saw (£35-£159) is then the next choice – but if you get someone to help you with your pruning ( I do), then they will bring their own tools.
The biggest mistake when choosing tools?
The biggest mistake is to choose the cheapest tools. The saying “buy cheap and buy twice” is very relevant for garden tools.
Ten years ago, we were given a Snoeber Long Thin Trowel as a present from a friend. It is as solid and sparkling as it was the day it arrived, in spite of complete neglect from me.
The same cannot be said for a succession of useless hand trowels and forks, from various gift shops and supermarkets – or given away as freebies by garden companies that don’t make tools.And it’s not just irritating when a hand fork snaps – you can hurt yourself.
How do you spot a poor quality tool?
A tool that is painted rather than one which is plain metal is probably going to be of poorer quality. Paint covers up cheap wood and metal. Paint will flake away quickly and the metal beneath will rust. And if the wood and metal is cheap, then the tools themselves are more likely to bend or break.
Personally, I think any garden tool with flowers painted on it is probably just gift shop fodder. And price is a clue. Good work costs money. You don’t have to buy lots of tools, just a few good ones.
And there are creative solutions: if you want to get really good quality loppers, for example, you probably won’t be using them every weekend, so why not share a pair with a friend?
What about vintage tools?
I live in the historic market town of Faversham. We have markets every Saturday, plus a vintage & antiques market on the first Sunday of every month. And there are lots of vintage/second-hand/charity shops, too, including a vintage tool shop, down on the ancient Faversham Harbour.
I also enjoy going to car boot fairs, where there can be some really excellent vintage tool finds. However, prices are going up, as vintage tools are becoming fashionable (although I think they are often used as ornaments now, or as accessories for styling).
Vintage tools look lovely, they are solidly-made and they can be a way of getting good quality tools for less.
However, they’re often a bit heavier than many good tools made today, so see how they feel when you hold them in your hand and lift them. Car boot and yard sales could also be a good place to find second-hand tools.
Proper care makes essential garden tools last longer
Once you’ve bought your essential garden tools, you need to look after them. They will often last for decades if you do.
Brush dirt or garden debris off my tools after use with a stiff brush. A quick wipe with an oily cloth prolongs the life and performance of your tools and saves you from a big tool cleaning job over winter.
I have asked Mr Middlesize if we have any oily cloths, and he has donated an old cotton shirt to the cause. And you can use linseed oil, which you can usually get from hardware stores.
Service your secateurs
Secateurs are another thing that appear in gift sets for gardeners, but there’s nothing more uncomfortable than using a badly-made pair of secateurs.
Secateurs are one of the seven essential garden tools, but cheap ones can tear stems and damage plants.
If you have good secateurs, like Felco or Niwaki, it’s really worth looking after them. If you have Felco secateurs, you can send them away to be serviced for £19.99 (includes return postage) by World of Felco. Felco also have spare parts, if the secateurs break, plus lots of information about sharpening and oiling secateurs, which would be useful whatever brand you have.
And the all-purpose tool
At the other end of the spectrum you have the all-purpose tool, which many gardeners swear by. Fern Alder of Full Frontal (a national community garden initiative to green up front gardens) uses the Kirpi from The Organic Gardening Catalogue (£18.95, pictured below).
Does an all-purpose garden tool save you buying all the others? Not quite but you can do alot with it.
Back to the middle-sized tool trug
The clear-out has yielded six matching pairs of gardening gloves (a real bonus!), which I put through the washer at 30 degrees. I made myself throw away several lonesome gloves whose partners had deserted them.
Today, I will clean and sharpen everything, ready for spring. Have I left out any of your essential garden tools? Do leave a comment here, or on Facebook or Twitter. And if you make high quality garden tools painted with flowers, do feel free to leave an enraged comment…thank you!
I do quite alot of my digging with a hand trowel - it feels better for my back somehow. I use a hand trowel where many would use a spade - it takes a bit longer but you get there in the end.
Paying a bit extra for a strong trowel like this is really worth it - I hate trowels that bend as soon as they have to deal with our heavy clay soil.
Burgon & Ball are endorsed by the RHS. I have always found them easy to use and very durable,
I think I probably use my hand fork more than any other garden tool - it's so useful when weeding, planting or dividing plants.
Often called a 'border spade' or a 'ladies spade', this spade has a smaller head, which makes digging easier, especially if you have a bad back. I find any other size of spade completely impossible - far too heavy - to use.
If you're very fit and want to dig up a very large garden, you'll probably want a full size spade. But smaller head also does the job, so unless you're digging up acres and acres of garden, you'll be fine with it.
This size fork is invaluable in any garden. It's particularly useful if you have a compost heap - jam the fork deep into the compost heap, then work it round in a circle with the handle. It's an excellent way of getting air into a compost heap if you don't have the strength to fork great lumps of compost up in the air.
Also very useful for all planting.
I do love my Felco secateurs. I've had a pair like this for longer than I can remember - decades probably. Other secateurs come and go. These seem to go on forever, and you can have Felco secateurs repaired and serviced.
Definitely a good buy.
A hoe is a classic piece of garden equipment, and very useful for weeding between rows of vegetables. I don't tend to use it in flower borders so much, as there isn't the bare earth you get in the early season on veg patches.
If you don't grow vegetables, you might manage without a hoe, but it's also a good way of loosening the soil if you sow seeds directly into it.
Linseed oil keeps tools from rusting.
Keep a bottle of linseed oil and a clean - or relatively clean cloth - in the tool shed, then give your tools a quick wipe at the end of every day. They will last longer.
Kent & Stowe digging fork
This fork is compact and lightweight, which is easier to use if you're around 5'5" or shorter.
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