ISSUE 23  |  Summer Color

5 Essential Tools for the Urban Gardener

June 07, 2012 2:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

To give you a sense of the size of my garden, somebody asked me the other day what tools I’ve been using since I moved to New York City two years ago. I thought very hard and finally came up a comprehensive list: a dinner fork, a soup spoon, and sewing scissors. Urban gardens deserve better.

True, my raking chores consist of smoothing out the pebbles in a terrarium. The extent of my “pruning” is to snip some herbs. Any plan to expand my tool collection would be constrained by the size of my “storage shed” (aka: the floor of the coat closet). And yes, I know it’s boastful to mention that I have an actual coat closet in Manhattan but, hey, you’d drop it casually into conversation, too.

In a perfect world–and by perfect, I mean one in which there’s a chicken in every brownstone backyard and extra basil growing on your next door neighbor’s fire escape–upon signing a 12-month lease, we’d all be issued a gardener’s kit bag:

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Above: Room for five tools–and more. A commodious, 20-inch Canvas Mason Bag with a heavy duty leather bottom is $105 from Hickoree’s and doesn’t require any more storage space than a handbag.

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Above: Compact hand tools should be of high quality, sturdy enough to stand in for a full size shade, hoe, or rake. A trowel with a cutting edge, like the DeWit sharp-edged shovel, can do double duty when it’s time to slice through roots to separate overgrown container plants. The three-piece DeWit Garden Tool Set–including a hand shovel, a cultivator, and a dibber–has ash handles; it’s $69.40 from Kaufmann-Mercantile.

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Above: For serious digging in a backyard or to transplant a pot-bound tree on a balcony, a D-handled spade–which has a shorter handle than a full size shovel–is easier to maneuver in tight spaces. The Ladies Spade With D-Handle by Sneeboer is $134.40 from Garden Tool Company.

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Above: To snip herbs or cut stems when you’re arranging flowers, Tajika Flower Shears, made by a Japanese company that has been producing handmade tools for four generations, are useful for other household chores too; $56.42 from Analogue Life.

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Above: Technically, it’s a sixth tool. But you don’t have to count it against your tool allowance if space is tight; Natural Garden Twine from Nutscene is useful for a multitude of tasks beyond tying unruly tomato branches to the fire escape. It’s perfectly reasonable to store twine in a kitchen drawer; tell the garlic peeler to move over a little to make room. A 500-foot roll of twine in a tin is $14.90 from Kaufmann-Mercantile.