WEEDING MAKES A GARDEN. Weeding is hard work; it is time consuming. It requires both an eagle eye and an intimate knowledge of plants. Few of us enjoy weeding (though some will admit to getting into a meditative state while doing it), but think about this: Weeding is the one essential gardening activity. You could have a garden by taking advantage of plants that introduce themselves. (It wouldn't be a very diverse garden, but you could have one.) But you could not call it a garden if you didn't weed it.
Weeding also requires the right tools. The top photo shows four that I would not weed without, including my favorite gardening tool of all time: the Hori-Hori, or Japanese farmer's knife. As a bonus, all of these tools are inexpensive. From left to right, they are:
- A large, lightweight bag that stays open when you set it on the ground. This is for collecting weeds and dead stems. Garden supply companies and garden centers sell these in a variety of styles; Lee Valley, which ships in both the United States and Canada, has one that doesn't resemble mine but would probably work just as well. (Look for it in their gardening index under "Harvesting & Preserving"/"Pails & Trugs.")
- A garden kneeler. I like to do my weeding while sitting or kneeling close to the ground. I wear heavy work jeans, so in a pinch I will just sit or kneel directly on the soil. However, it's a lot more comfortable to use the kneeler, with its padded cushion. Garden kneelers can be found at most stores that cater to gardeners, and often can be purchased on sale. Some of them fold; I haven't found that to be particularly important. I do like the ones that can be flipped over and also used as stools. (Look for one that has a cushion on both sides of the "seat.")
- Gloves. Although I wear leather gloves for some tasks, my favorite all-purpose gloves are the Gripper gloves, which are widely available in garden centers and from garden supply companies, including Lee Valley. (Look under "Clothing"/"Gloves.") A closeup of them is shown at left. They are moisture and puncture resistant, lightweight, and flexible. As the name implies, they are good for gripping. And they come in five sizes.
- My Japanese farmer's knife is a relatively inexpensive, practically indestructible tool with a serrated edge, knifelike in appearance but with no sharp edges. Shown in the photo next to my Gripper gloves, it is by far the best all-purpose gardening tool I own. You can slip the flat side under a mat-forming weed such as lawn grass, then pull the weed up, or plunge the knife point-first into the soil in order to pry up a tap-rooted weed such as dandelion. The serrated edge, though not sharp, does a remarkably good job of sawing through roots. Although there are other tools that work better for these purposes, in a pinch you can also use your Japanese farmer's knife to divide perennials or break up hardened soil.
Unlike the other items in my must-have list, Japanese farmer's knives are not easy to find. However, Lee Valley sells two versions of this tool: the traditional carbon-steel version, which is shown in the photos, and also a stainless-steel version. (To find them at the Lee Valley website, look under "Trowels"/"Japanese Farmer's Knives." Mysteriously, Lee Valley has not chosen to list these tools under "Weeding.") An Internet search on "Hori-Hori" or "Japanese weeding knife" will turn up websites for other suppliers.