In the Garden December 2016

By Rhiannon Allen

Writing this letter each year affords the opportunity to reflect on what I want for next year’s gardening. This autumn has been hard work in the garden.

Each fall, I remove expired vegetables, and plant garlic and spring bulbs. As my garden has matured, I also divide overgrown perennials like irises and crocosmia. As often as not, I prepare a new garden bed. All this involves heavy digging. So this year, I’d like to offer my digging wish list.

I already have a trustworthy forged steel garden shovel. (I am not going to get into the distinction between shovels and spades, and naming disagreements!) Its broad, rounded blade with a flat tread or foot flange for my boot makes jamming the instrument into compacted soil quite easy. Its medium-length wooden handle that ends in a sturdy D-shaped or closed-Y grip makes leveraging shovelfuls of soil manageable.

It’s my go-to tool when I need to dig up a garden bed or make a new one. However, this has been virtually my only digging tool for my entire life, and I think that this might be the case for many gardeners. After many decades, I suspect that it has cousins out there that would make gardening easier.

At a recent raucous and most enjoyable Point Roberts Garden Club meeting in which we each demonstrated our favorite garden tool, one member introduced a spade I would love to have.

This spade goes by many names, including “The King of Spades,” but is most commonly called a “transplant spade.” Its digging blade is narrower and somewhat less curved than my trusty garden shovel. Because of its relatively small blade, it is not going to make the same short work of vigorous digging that a garden shovel will.

As the name implies, this spade was developed for transplanting tasks. It’s lighter in weight than a regular garden shovel. The cuts it makes are straighter, which also makes it handy for edging garden beds.

My gardener friends assure me that it is the perfect tool for working in tight spaces to dig holes for new plants or to remove old ones. Aside from the narrow blade, transplant spades share some variations with garden shovels.

The spade I’d like has a foot tread like my garden shovel, necessary for foot comfort when you step on the top of the blade to force it down into the soil. And for my size and strength, a medium length handle with a D-shaped metal or wooden grip makes for easy work.

Of course, sometimes I don’t want a spade for digging and transplanting. That happens particularly when I want to dig in rocky soil or remove a plant whose root system might be entangled with the root system of another plant.

In some areas, a spade might also slice through a spring bulb, and I want a much smaller digging edge to minimize the chances of such an accident.

This is where a garden or digging fork comes in, and I definitely need a new one of those after I badly bent a tine on a stubborn rock. There are lots of garden forks to choose from. I know that thinner tines are better for digging up potatoes and bulbs because their smaller digging edge is less likely to pierce your object. But I personally prefer one that has big, sturdy tines that will not bend under pressure.

As with spades and shovels, a sturdy wooden shaft with a D-shaped metal or wooden grip makes for a long-lived comfortable tool.

I can think of a few more digging tools that I would love to see under the tree. These are all small, and easy to disguise in a gift bag.

The first is a planting trowel, a handheld miniature version of a garden shovel. When you have to get down on your knees to plant a vegetable start or wee bedding plant, this is the tool that gets the job done. There is a variety to choose from, Santa, but I think that I would like one that has a metal blade 5 to 8 inches in length.

Smaller than that and it won’t get the job done, larger and it will be too awkward to wield using its short handle. If you can find one that actually has inch markers on its blade, that would be ideal for planting bulbs at recommended depths.

Other than that, please give me one that is robust and looks unlikely to break or bend if it is used to pry up small rocks or other resistant objects. The material of the handle doesn’t matter as long as it feels comfortable to grip.

I’ll leave the other digging tools to your imagination, but you can check Nielson’s Building Supply or retail nurseries for more ideas.

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