Tom Atwell says he can do all his gardening work with three tools – but he doesn’t let that hamper his love of gadgets. Mark Herreid/

Three pieces of equipment accompany me every time I step into a garden: a trowel, hand pruners and a pair of gardening gloves.

It would be possible to accomplish everything that needs to be done in our old and well-established garden with just those tools, but some tasks get done a lot more quickly by expanding the tool kit – digging with a spade or garden fork, for example, instead of the smaller trowel.

These reflections are prompted by an email I received from a reader. Her five essential tools are Showa nitrile gloves, garden fork, Felco pruners, shovel and steel rake. Her next five are a cart or tote bag, watering can, weed whacker, loppers and – finally – hand trowel.

Her list leaves out two that I use regularly, a pruning saw or a lopper for those branches too large for hand pruners; and a gardening hoe, which allows the gardener to do many of the things a hand trowel does but while standing up.

Garden tools are personal, and involve personal preferences. While the reader likes nitrile gloves, I use nothing but Showa Atlas 300, and my wife, Nancy, uses Showa Atlas 370. All of them prevent cuts and scratches and keep soil from accumulating underneath the fingernails, but comfort is everything. Gardeners should use what feels best for them.

The reader mentions Felco, and that is the best known and among the finest hand pruners. Nancy and I both have Felcos – me now because this spring Nancy found a pair I’d lost two years ago, buried in mulch near some vinca. I spent a good part of a rainy April day cleaning and sharpening them, and now they work fine again. Other quality brands include Bahco, Fiskars, Corona (nothing to do with the virus!) and Gonicc.

Because, as you can see above, I tend to lose expensive pruners, I often use an inexpensive generic brand from Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester. I much prefer bypass pruners because they don’t crush branches the way anvil prunes do. But again, pick what suits you.

I have used a lot of different hand trowels over the years and finally settled on Wilcox, made in America of a single piece of stainless steel with a red (important because it shows up when forgotten in the garden) rubber handle. It has measurements on the blade so you can dig holes of the proper depth for planting bulbs and such. The 14-inch size is probably the most common.

The steel rake smooths the garden and gets out rocks. I prefer rakes with a flat steel edge on the opposite side from the tines, so that, with the tines pointed skyward, I can create a perfectly flat section of soil when needed for planting tiny seeds like lettuce or carrots or in preparation for covering with a thin layer of mulch.

I wrote a column last October on hauling things around, so I’ll skip suggestions for tools that do that here.

Just because gardeners require only a few tools, that does not mean that is all they will have. Humans, many of us anyhow, have a natural attraction to gadgets.

A spading fork is excellent for turning the soil in the vegetable garden for new plantings, and I use the one we inherited from Nancy’s grandparents regularly. But I also have a broadfork, which does the same work as the spading fork but more quickly and with less effort. I use it each spring in the vegetable garden.

And I have several shovels – for snow, for mulch and for digging soil. All have unbreakable steel or fiberglass handles, because I have broken many handles in my life.

Except for the snowblower, I have given up gasoline-powered tools. They are noisy and polluting, emitting more poisonous gases than an automobile for the time used, not to mention pollution from the fuel that is carelessly spilled on the ground. Our lawn mower is electric with a rechargeable battery. I have a corded electric trimmer that I have yet to use this year on our property because I’ve been trimming the edges instead with hand-run scissors.

Maybe I haven’t picked it up because what’s the rush when I’m stuck at home, anyway. But mostly it’s because I like the quiet in our garden.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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