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Tooling Around

diggit garden tool

Original Article: Seattle Times, June 10, 2001 – Reprinted with permission. View article on the Seattle Times web server.

Tooling Around: New equipment can save time, frustration and chiropractor's bills

I've never been the least interested in tools, gadgets or any other gardening accouterments. My kitchen, I'm afraid, is as ill-equipped as my garden shed. I still use the blender and mixer we got as wedding presents 26 years ago. Dull shovels and bent-handled trowels, as well as near toothless rakes, are my usual outdoor equipment. I just haven't paid attention - when I'm outside I'm thinking about the plants and how to care for them.

But recently I've realized I need to care for myself, too, when I'm out there in the garden pulling, stooping and lifting. I've always thought yoga would keep me limber and strong enough for any garden task, but when I heard that a local yoga teacher herniated a disc in her back while gardening, I began to think about all the wrenching moves that have caused me sore and strained muscles. Particularly lately.

Sharp and appropriate tools can make the hard work of gardening easier, safer and far more efficient. In most other areas of my life I've grasped the concept of working smarter, not harder - an especially important principle as I seem increasingly to have less time, and tire more quickly. It's an age thing. So I set out this spring to update my gardening tools in an attempt to save my back and hands.

I'm afraid that some of the new, shiny things I've bought are as clean as the day I brought them home. It just seems more trouble than it's worth to pull them out of the garden shed. A few items, however, have been a revelation, and now I can't imagine working without them.

Believe it or not, one of my favorite acquisitions is a Presto Garden Bag, a lightweight but sturdy bag that stays open when you pile it with twigs and clippings to lug to the compost bin. Now I don't load up a huge garbage can and kill myself off hauling it up or down stairs, but take more frequent trips and clean up as I go along. Amazing. What's more, it folds flat, rose thorns can't puncture it, and, because it's waterproof, wet stuff doesn't drip all over your shoes.

I bought the Diggit Duck because it was so appealing, with its vivid orange grip and curved beak (steel blade). The Diggit line of small hand tools is made here in Seattle, with cushy, bright handles that make them comfortable to use and hard to lose. Slim and pointy, the tempered steel blades split and remove weeds easily, even in gravel or between cracks in concrete. For those of us who pull weeds rather than spray them, these tools make life easier, and sure beat that rusty trowel for getting dandelions out of the lawn. I used to wear out the fingertips of my gloves every few weeks, digging down after weed roots. We won't even mention what that did to my fingernails.

How the Diggit Works


Sharp pruners may be the most important gardening tool, since we perform those cutting and clipping motions so often they could - and no doubt do - cause carpal-tunnel problems. Bypass pruners work like scissors, with a cutting blade that slides past a hook blade, making clean, close cuts. Pruning saws work on larger branches, and Felco makes the best and most expensive versions of both tools.

I love my adjustable fan rake (that expands from narrow to broad width) which saves me bending down to clean out the beds. It works beautifully to thoroughly yet carefully clean up leaves and debris around plants without crushing or tearing them. Several local tool buyers recommend the Butlerforge brand.

And finally, there's the beauty of having good-quality nozzles such as those made by Nelson or Gilmore. Nozzles on every hose let me put water just where I want it without wasting a drop. Then again, in these drought-conscious days maybe it's a good idea to stick with a soaker-style hose for even more efficient water use.

It's dawned on me that my new tools are one more thing to clean and care for, or they'll end up as beaten and bent as my old ones. It helps to remember that the work will be worth it when I can cut cleanly through a clump of perennial roots instead of having to jump up and down on the old shovel without much success.

Now In Bloom: Yarrow (Achillea) is a drought-tolerant perennial with wooly, green to silver-gray foliage and flat clusters of long-blooming flowers. The many cultivars of A. millefolium come in colors more interesting than the familiar yellow; `Cerise Queen' is a bright magenta-pink and `Paprika' is orange-red fading to copper. The Summer Pastel series is more compact, with nonfading flowers in shades of apricot, rose, cream and lavender.

Valerie Easton is a horticultural librarian and writes about plants and gardens for Pacific Northwest magazine. She is the co-author of "Artists in Their Gardens" from Sasquatch Books. Her e-mail address is