Gardening gadgets

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A useful gadget for when sweeping paths is this long-handled dustpan

In general, I am highly suspicious of gadgets. They always seem so alluring in their advertisements, promising so much, but in practice they usually have some fatal flaw, are impossible to clean, don't actually do what they are meant to do or somehow make a simple task pointlessly complicated. My kitchen was once littered with such gadgets as an automatic crepe maker, an electric juicer, an egg slicer and even a dedicated egg-poaching set. I have found myself looking longingly at waffle-makers, electric yoghurt centres and automatic rice cookers at times in shops, but have managed to restrain myself. Gardening gadgets are generally less insidious and can be a bit of fun, offering a source of presents to us gardeners from our desperate relatives and friends. I have had my fair share of special weeding widgets, odd-shaped bulb planters, self-watering pots, mini-greenhouses, cloches, a strap-on headlight for night gardening, tool belts, bespoke watering cans for hard-to-reach plants, trugs and niche gardening clothes.

Some of these gadgets I have actually found to be truly helpful to me in the garden, such as my velcro garden knee-pads and the plastic seed-sower with a sliding opening for dispensing the smallest to the largest of seeds. Another handy gadget is one that makes sweeping paving easier. It is simply a big dustpan with an upright long handle (pictured at the start of the blog), so that a large amount of garden debris can be collected without bending down, whilst using a normal outdoor broom. I bought it from a hardware shop and it has been one of my better gizmos. But some of the most useful gadgets I use in the garden are generally old household objects that I have commandeered for use outdoors.

Old knives are useful in the garden

For example, a couple of old knives from the kitchen are constant companions to me as I go about my garden chores. They are so useful for separating seedlings, winkling out weeds (especially between pavers)and cutting up congested clumps of perennials. Occasionally I supplement the knives with an old machete when dividing very tough clumps of plants, such as Agapanthus or orchids, and I enjoy having a few murderous blows with this lethal-looking instrument that I think was once used for cane cutting. I remember seeing someone carry out similar tasks with a small, short-handled hatchet, and that also seemed a useful gadget to have.

An ancient nappy bucket is a useful garden gadget

Several old plastic buckets are also vital tools. I carry these around with me as a go from bed to bed: one holds nasty weeds destined for the green bin, another holds prunings and dead plants that can go into the compost heap and yet another is for old rocks, defunct plant labels and other debris that is found whilst digging, to be put in the garbage bin. Sometimes these items can be the cause of some nostalgia, as a long-lost Barbie shoe is unearthed from a play session in the garden many years ago, or a tiny teddy bear, or a butterfly hair-clip that was once the pride and joy of a little girl. My containers are not fancy, being in fact nappy buckets from more than 20 years ago! These are a good size, being bigger than a normal bucket. The buckets at other times are used to carry compost when I set off to plant a new specimen - useful because I can take them with me into deep borders where the wheelbarrow cannot navigate.

Propagating box for cuttings

Old plastic tubs, once used to house toys (or in more recent times as receptacles for drinks and ice at teen parties), make excellent mini-greenhouses for cuttings. The best ones are clear plastic with a well-fitting lid. I punch holes in the bottom of the tub and put my potted cuttings into the tub and close the lid. The tub is placed in a shaded place and once the cuttings take root, the lid is gradually opened more and more until the plant is acclimatised to normal conditions. Before these tubs were available, I used to use old soft-drink bottles cut off at the base, placed over the top of potted cuttings.

When I used to grow a lot of seedlings, I found that old school lunchboxes best containers for raising seedlings. I drilled holes in the bottom of the boxes and they had a good depth and as well as sufficient area to plant a number of seedlings. I still have these, stacked up and awaiting the time when I may go back to seed-raising, the boxes charting my children's progress at school in the indelible markings of their name and class over the primary school years. I remember using an old flour sifter to gently sift seed-raising mix over the top of the seeds after they were sown in their original punnets.

Speaking of indelible markings, a good marker pen is vital for noting plant names on labels. I always think I will remember the names of the cuttings I put into my humidicribs, and I am always disappointed to find that I never can. I have found that felt-tipped pens sold as 'laundry markers' are amongst the best for this purpose.