Home & Garden

Master gardeners talk about tools that have a grip on them

Abe Fosson, left, with his swoe, and Susan Umberger with her bayonet knife (that she uses to separate orchids, shown) on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 in the Herald-Leader studio.  This story is mostly a photo essay about master gardeners and their favorite gardening tools. We're photographing five master gardeners, separately, in the studio. They are wearing gardening attire and each will bring his/her tool.   Photo by David Perry | Staff
Abe Fosson, left, with his swoe, and Susan Umberger with her bayonet knife (that she uses to separate orchids, shown) on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010 in the Herald-Leader studio. This story is mostly a photo essay about master gardeners and their favorite gardening tools. We're photographing five master gardeners, separately, in the studio. They are wearing gardening attire and each will bring his/her tool. Photo by David Perry | Staff

When it comes to choosing useful horticultural tools, master gardeners possess a wealth of knowledge and on-the-ground experience, which they're happy to share.

Many of these gardeners can trace their involvement and love of growing to previous generations, and they cherish the vintage tools they have inherited. The sturdy and well-made tools have endured the test of time to become treasures for garden lovers.

We asked several master gardeners for stories about their favorite tools. Here's what some had to say:

Stephanie Zingale was inspired by her grandmother Irma Pelleschi, who worked in her garden in Cleveland until she was 103. Zingale cherishes a small, flat-edged shovel and a pair of grass shears that she inherited.

"They are just beautiful, and aged, with worn red painted handles," she said. "Their value to me is priceless. Every time I use them and hold them in my hands, it's like touching and holding something that my grandmother did for years."

Karen Angelucci's family lived next to her grandmother Emma Lou Wade's Cynthiana farm, where a large country garden sat between their homes.

"She grew tomatoes, corn, beans, asparagus, dill, and celosia everywhere in between; always flowers in the front row, for beauty," Angelucci said. "She was my mentor and taught me how to enjoy gardening."

Now, the antique three-pronged hand cultivator that her grandmother used hangs from a garden bench that her dad, Nelson Williams, made for her.

Angelucci, author of the children's gardening book Grimy, Grubby Gardening, has shared her enjoyment with the next generation.

Orchid enthusiast Susan Umberger found a Camillus knife about 26 years ago while inspecting under some vacant substandard housing. The World War II standard-issue trench knife, with a seven-inch blade, proved to be a fine tool for digging and weeding.

It also comes in handy when separating orchids, which are sometimes difficult to get apart.

"It has history," she said. "Sometimes I wonder who it belonged to."

Abe Fosson found his favorite hoelike tool, a swoe, while on sabbatical in England in 1978. He's now on his third one, which has a stainless steel blade. It's the only weeder he uses in his garden, Fosson said. "It cuts off weeds just under the soil's surface and can do this in three directions with a back-and-forth motion."

Pruners can require some muscle, but Curtis Absher has an easier solution. With a power-packing pair of extension-handled ratcheting lopper, the human force required to snip through a three-inch branch is reduced dramatically. "I've had surgery on both shoulders, and this allows me to prune limbs that I could not otherwise cut easily," he said.

Linda Corridoni inherited an old-fashioned fan trellis from an elderly friend.

"It is dilapidated, faded, and I keep repairing it," she said. "I have other trellises that are, frankly, prettier, but neither clematis nor most other vines will climb them the way they cling to the old one."

Missie Wood, a member of the Little Garden Club in Versailles, has a narrow-blade spade that club members had ordered many years ago but now are difficult to find. "The elderly friend who owned it called it a taproot digger," she said.

Some Master Gardeners find useful items while observing others at work. Nan Starkweather found a collapsible canvas wheelbarrow at the Cincinnati Garden Show. The device is available in online catalogues.

"I keep it in the trunk of my car so that I have it when I need to haul things to the garden at the Arboretum or carry a basket of peaches at the farmers market," Starkweather said. "No matter where I use it, people ask where I got it."

At a Park Seed Co. Flower Day in Greenwood, S.C., Ric McGee, executive director of Ashland Terrace, discovered the action hoe, which she calls "a lifesaver, especially in the spring, when every square inch of soil yields weed seedlings."

For shorter-handled weeding purposes, Karen Miner recommends a Martha Stewart weeding tool, which she has used to eradicate the violets overrunning her lawn, one root at a time; that, and persistence. Helena Taulbee finds a similar Cape Cod weeder "simple yet effective."

Kathy Gross finds that for lighter jobs, she likes her Felco No. 2 pruners, "Perfect for deadheading as I walk around the yard," and her Atlas Nitrile Touch garden gloves, which are "inexpensive (about $6), lightweight, comfortable and provide good protection." And to keep everything organized and comfortable, Rosemary Ewen finds her Ames Garden Buddy, a rectangular wheeled box with storage divisions, beverage holders and a place to sit, helpful for scooting along rows while working, especially for gardeners with a touch of arthritis.

"Saves those knees," she said.

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