This weeks post was written by Cleve West. Cleve has won five RHS Gold Medals, as well as the BBC/RHS People’s Choice Award at the Chelsea Flower Show. You can read more about him at his website: www.clevewest.com
I wouldn’t describe myself as obsessive but when it comes to tools there may well be something going on that’s not altogether healthy.
A well-made spade carries as much fascination for me as the flower of Michelia yunnanensis just about to burst its furry-brown indumentum (that’s a hairy casement to you and me). The sensation of a pair of loppers comfortably slicing through a one-inch woody stem is as satisfying as the smell of freshly cut grass.
Old tools carry the fascination a stage further. Well made; well used; each with its own peculiar dent, nick or scratch, they carry the ghosts, not to mention the sweat, of previous owners. But antique implements don’t always approve of being brought out of retirement. Shafts and handles tend to be more brittle and have to be used with respect if they are to last. Some that I’ve bought are never used but stored with the idea that someday I will find a suitable wall on which to display them as icons of honest hard work.
A brand new tool is always a treat and it pays to buy the best you can afford. It’s very much a personal thing so I would never buy anyone tools as a present unless I knew exactly what they needed. A tool must feel part of you; an extension of your being. The weight, height and shape all have a bearing on how comfortable or annoying a tool will be. A well-chosen tool can last you a lifetime.
Most of my time visiting garden centres is spent looking at tools rather than plants. Just the other day I was looking at a post-hole digger knowing full well that I don’t have any post-holes to dig and have no plans for any in the future either for me or anyone else. But tools, like the Sirens of Greek mythology, know the art of seduction and whisper things like “Ah yes, but look at how efficient we are.” I nod to myself thinking “yes you are a fine piece of invention, why on earth did I struggle with a spade all those years of building gardens?”
The next thing I know I’m holding it, slightly annoyed that the blades are taped up and there isn’t a patch of earth for me to dig a perfect post-hole. I set them back on the stand and consider their form before walking away. It’s a bit wanting in the aesthetic department if we’re honest and I really don’t need a post-hole digger. But it’s not finished with me yet. “OK I’m not as beautiful as the onion hoe you have in your loo at home,” (how on earth does it know that?) “But I could make light work of fencing your allotment in and keeping out all those pesky rabbits.” I have it in my hands again. Beads of sweat are now forming on my forehead and my hands are quivering as I do my best to wrench myself away. I know I don’t need it and money could be better spent on a pair of loppers or extendable pruners. “You know you want me,” it says nonchalantly knowing full well it has the upper hand.
People are looking at me now as a low, resigned moan goes on for little longer than would be considered normal in A & E let alone a garden centre. I make a last, Herculean effort to wrench myself away. “The rabbits…remember the rabbits!!” it says panicking, “you lost half your crop of lettuce to them last summer, your carrots were a joke and this spring they’ll be multiplying like…well, rabbits. You need me!”
It has a point but at the same time it has told me exactly why I don’t need a post-hole digger. You see the rabbits live under my shed so in effect I’d be fencing them in. This is my chance. I make my way quickly to the exit, quietly pleased with this uncharacteristic measure of self-restraint but I’m stopped short of the door by another voice, this time the cashier. “So, er…shall I put that on your account then Mr West?”
I look at the post-hole digger in my hand with a mixture of contempt and unbridled joy. “Oh yes,” I say, meekly, “sorry about that…too much on my mind.” And I have. I’m thinking of my new toy, wooden posts, nails, chicken wire and how fencing the rabbits in and keeping them off other people’s plots is about as community-spirited as it gets at an allotment.
See? I needed it after all.