My favorite tools

I am deeply attached to my favorite gardening tools.  They are the things that make my job simpler, more comfortable, and some days more homelike.  And I think almost all gardeners have their favorites.

My pruners, Felco 2s, are deeply beloved.  And I mean beloved in the pry them out of my cold dead hands kind of way.  I’ve had them for years now, and I love that I can take them apart and reassemble them whenever they need cleaning or sharpening.  I have them adjusted so they spring just so in my hand.  Plus, if anything needs replacing, I can order just about any part I might need.  They cut beautifully, which suits my love of pruning perfectly.  I’m usually at my happiest in the garden with a shrub or tree to corral back into shape.  There’s something soothing about pruning.  I usually finish the job with sore arms and bits of twigs and leaves in my hair and down the shirt, but I always feel better about life.

And while I’m on my everyday hand tools, the ones I carry constantly in the garden, I would be remiss if I forgot to mention my soil knife.  I use one from A.M. Leonard which I really love. It fits nicely in my hand, and I use it for everything from planting to weeding to cutting twine and opening bags of soil.  The only downside of it for me is that the blade gets dull within about a year, but it does see heavy use with me.  I have always been hard on my tools– especially the ones that see daily use.  I have also been coveting this glorious knife from Barebones Tools. I ran across it at the AHS River Farm plant sale last week and I loved the weight of it.  It has excellent heft, and it’s tremendously sharp.  I also really enjoyed that the pommel end doubles as a hammer.  I hate having to carry a mallet around when I need to put stakes in.s0g1qkuycp_hori_hori_gardening_tool_1_original

Plus, it’s gorgeous.  It’s hard not to admire a beautiful tool when I find one.

I could go on about my handsaws for days– that love of pruning means my saws are so important to me.  I use a Silky Zubat and a Silky Pocketboy most of the time, and they go through wood like butter.  The Zubat makes large cuts easy and quick and it’s probably one of the best saws I have ever used.  The Pocketboy is great for smaller cuts and tight spots, plus it actually fits in my pockets.  It’s definitely convenient for pruning season, when I already feel like I’m carrying around a ton of stuff, between my saws, pruners, pole pruners, plus a spray bottle of alcohol.  And then I have to carry all this stuff up a ladder, and boy do I hate ladders– I climb them for the sake of the trees.

But enough about saws and trees– on to weeding, and another tool I love.  This is the last one, I promise.  I adore my scuffle hoe for weeding in the vegetable beds.  It saves so much time on hand weeding and it just knocks the weeds right down.  The one I use has a sharp blade and an easy action for pushing or pulling.  My preferred scuffle hoe is one from the Garden Tool Company, and I’m actually on my second head for it.  I wore through my first one’s blade last year, but they do see really heavy use.  Even more than the sharp blade, I think my favorite thing about this scuffle hoe is the wonderfully long handle.  It makes it so much on my back and neck to not have to hunch over my tools.

That’s pretty much my favorites– I mean I definitely have favorite shovels and rakes and hoses and sprinklers, but the list would go on all day, and these are probably the tools I use the most.  I can’t help having favorites, especially when these are the things I use every day.  Hopefully some of you will tell me about your favorite gardening tools– I always love to hear about new things!

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Race like falcons to crash and burn

This has been a weird, uneasy season for me.  February was mild, the temperatures higher than normal.  Daffodils and magnolias and fruit trees are all blooming right now.  My roses have flower buds.  It is the first week of March.

Last weekend we took advantage of the weather and headed to the National Arboretum to enjoy the early flowers.  As a gardener, I can’t help but regard the early spring with suspicion.  There’s always something nasty hiding in it.  But last weekend, there was only the beautiful weather and the flowers.

img_0045These cherries were blooming in February in the Arboretum’s collection.  They were stunning.

img_0021This lovely azalea was blooming in their azalea collection.

img_0061This is a praying mantis egg case in the branches of a Prunus mume.  Some of the Japanese apricots were already finishing their flowering.

img_0078This magnolia was in full bloom and it was glorious.

Today, it is likely a mass of browned flowers thanks to the cold snap we had this weekend. We have returned to more seasonally appropriate weather, at least for now. The coming week looks to be mostly in the high 50s and 60s, so it will be a short-lived cold period.

My summer loving self doesn’t really mind.  But a small part of me is staring at my flowering peach trees (which should be blooming in April) and wondering.  What if this is the new normal?  We had a record breaking year last year, and the year before.

I am a horticulturist, not a climate scientist, but this isn’t normal, and it isn’t right.  And the current administration’s attempts to undo environmental progress and stop climate change research screams of head-in-the-sand.  We cannot keep hiding from the way the world is changing.  The fear-mongering and hiding from the truth is unsustainable.  My hands are in the soil more often than not, but I can see that things are changing.  And guys, really, we only have one planet.

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I found this very powerful.

Libba Bray


You have woken the witch that lives deep inside me.

You have removed the slumber chains from the giant of old.

You have handed me a box of matches and no chaperone

And a world made of lies and polyester.


You have barked up the wrong bitch.

Proclaim it:

I have shucked off the good, southern lady’s cloak,

Of the homecoming court, the cheerleader,

The preacher’s daughter, hands gentled in her lap.

They tied it at my neck with a bow, a Gordian girl-knot,

When I was young and bossy and sure-footed

“For protection,” they said.

Whose protection? I wondered.


I have sent that shit out to the dry cleaners

I will not pick it up

They can sell it for a profit from a rack on the street.

From now on,

I’m exposing the raw pink edges of my true skin to the sun.

Some things…

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We are not your property

I realize that I normally talk about gardens here, but I need to talk about politics.  It has been a long, hard year.  I have spent most of it feeling burnt out and worn down.  Living in NoVa has made the political cycle even more vicious and real than it usually is.  The garden couldn’t comfort me.  I could take my nerves and anger out on the grapes, on deadheading, on savaging weeds out of the ground, but it wouldn’t fix anything.

And November 8 rolled around, finally, and it would all be over within 24 hours, and I breathed a sigh of relief, too soon. I stayed up, watching the returns, and when I saw the shape of things, I couldn’t sleep.  And I felt numb.  The anger took a while to settle.  And since it’s settled, it hasn’t left.

I have been angry. And also feeling helpless, trapped and uncertain.  I have been unhappy with the leader of our country before.  But this is different.  This feels more encompassing.  I have a hard time putting it aside.

I have to move.  I have been frozen for too long.  I need to shake it off and act.  That is my resolution.  I will not be silent.

resist_socialmediaphotoImage credit to Ladies Who Design

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Feeling stretched thin

It has been a long hot, occasionally horrible summer.  It is September now, and I just want it to be over.  And of course it’s not.

The heat has been accompanied by a stoppage of rain.  After a spring so wet it felt like we were drowning, the summer has been dry.  The soil is either baked hard or powder dry when you dig in it, and all we do is water.  It has been too hot to plant the fall vegetables, with days still creeping into the 90s.  It’s September, shouldn’t this be over now?

The heat has started to wear on me.  It’s just one long hot day after another.  I am tired, exhausted all the way down to my bones.

I got home the other day, and I was feeling burnt out, starting to feel like the soil; dry and ruined and like nothing would grow in it, but I had to water my plants.  So as I’m dragging my watering can back and forth from the sink to the porch, I notice movement.  At first, I thought it was just a plant moving when I’d bumped it, but then I saw it again, and I definitely hadn’t touched anything that time.  So I looked a little closer, and realized that there was this big fat toad, who had hollowed out a space in one of my pots.


He was enormous.  And all of a sudden I felt a little better, a little less tired and dried up.  Seeing something living in my pots was such a relief.  And I hope he stays, and keeps eating the insects in my yard.

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They see sky

In the last week, it feels like spring has exploded. The flowers have begun to bloom, and the lambing is well underway.  We have started planting, and things are growing again.  Things are dreadfully early, of course, but it is wonderful to see living things pushing forth from the ground.

Seeing the daffodils and hyacinths in bloom is such a cheering thing. And it is especially nice to see the fernleaf peonies beginning to grow, since that was newly planted this fall.

But the best part for me is being able to resume the tasks that make me feel like a gardener again.  It is time to weed and rake and weed some more. And it is time to build trellises for peas and clean the vegetable beds for a fresh start.  And it is time to plant seeds.  This morning, when I looked, my peas had begun to germinate, and my spinach too.

And it feels like waking up.  Let me wave my nerd flag around for a minute.  This return to weeding and “real” gardening reminds me of the episode of Firefly where they have been transporting cattle to another planet and River says of the cattle, “They weren’t cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot. Now they see sky, and they remember what they are.”  I feel like the cows.  Like during the winter, I have forgotten who I am, but now I remember.  It feels like waking up.

Spring is here, and I leave you with that. And a picture of a brand new lamb.


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Winter found me

All last we week the news was telling us about this snowstorm that was bearing down on us.  It will be a monster, they said.  It will be more snow than we know what to do with, they said.  And I laughed, because hey, I’m from up North, and we know what to do with snow where I come from.  But I’m in Virginia now, and snow is a totally different ball game down here.  So I have some pictures of the before and after.

Getting ready for the snowstorm that will end the world. (And really weather people, any time you want to stop naming snowstorms, that would be fine by me.)  The silly fuzzy hat is borrowed for fun.  But the annihilated milk section in the grocery store– every time there’s a storm coming, I swear, let’s buy all the perishables!  I had to go back because I forgot my snow day cider.  Walked right past it and said I would come back for it, but promptly forgot.

Friday it started snowing around 1.  It didn’t get bad for a while– we only shoveled twice before we went to bed.

deck window

This is what we woke up to.  Snow day surprise! This is over a foot of snow against the sliding door to the kitchen.  And it was still snowing.  After a leisurely breakfast, we ventured outside to clear the paths and shovel out the cars.  We took a short walk down the street– sometime in the night someone had plowed the middle of the road, so the snow was piled about three feet high for a six foot stretch in front of the driveway.

digging ouy

We took this photo just before noon on Saturday.  It was still snowing steadily, but the wind hadn’t picked up yet.  The snow is almost to my knees here, and I would say we got at least another 6 inches after we took this picture.

Sunday, I headed into work for a day of snow removal.  We shoveled a lot, but I had the time to take a few photos.

You can’t even see the parterres under the snow in the upper garden, and there were some massive icicles.  The mansion looked beautiful all coated in snow.  And in the last picture on the bottom right, you can see the sheep huddled behind the wall of snow in their shelter.

east lawn me

A coworker took this photo of me out on the East Lawn as I was about to take a picture of the house.

It has been a hard, snowy couple of days, and I am sore all over, but this was a pretty storm for sure.

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