WHEN KEN DRUSE and I talked on the program a couple of weeks ago about putting our tools away for the winter, all cleaned and oiled, one part we failed to mention: We’re both eyeing some new tools, too, for the year ahead.
All of them would make great gifts, we think, so that’s today’s topic: stuff we love or covet, for gifting or treating yourself to. ‘Tis the season and all that, right? So ho, ho, ho.
You all know Ken Druse, author of 20 garden books and an old friend, who’s here to talk garden gear, including for gifting. To celebrate the holiday season, we’ll have a giveaway of his latest book, “The Scentual Garden.” Enter for a chance to win by commenting in the box near the bottom of the page.
Read along as you listen to the December 13, 2021 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).
garden gear we love, with ken druse
Margaret Roach: Hi, Ken.
Ken Druse: That’s very nice.
Margaret: Yes. I think that would be a nice thing to give somebody for a special holiday treat. So why not? It’s a beautiful book, and we could all use a whiff of beautiful fragrance to get us through the winter.
Ken: Well, it’s interesting that you mentioned a book, because you were talking about tools, and I started making a list of things that either I’ve gotten or I want, and not all of them are tools.
Margaret: I know; me, too. Me, too.
Ken: Yeah. All sorts of things.
Margaret: Yeah. Well, where do we want to begin? Do we want to begin with tools? Do we want to begin with books? Do we want to begin with… what?
Ken: I want to begin with something completely different.
Ken: But it’s related, of course.
Ken: Well, there was a magazine for a hundred years called “Horticulture.” And as you remember, we used to bow down to “Horticulture” magazine. It was the thing. The place to write, if you were a writer, or read, if you were a gardener. People religiously followed “Horticulture” magazine for a hundred years.
Margaret: In the U.S.; it was a U.S.-based magazine.
Ken: That’s right. It was out of Boston. It started as the magazine, I believe, of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. And you’re going to check that and find out I’m wrong and have to print something.
Ken: So then, it got kind of shabby, and magazines didn’t do so well, and it got sold to one company. And I think it got sold to another company, and it was trashy and cartoony, and I just ignored it. And accidentally, Louis brought home a copy from work.
Margaret: This is Louis Bauer, recently retired horticulture director of Wave Hill, your longtime husband, partner, etc., and fellow gardener in New Jersey.
Ken: And who rarely brings home things that I should see, but he did. And it’s completely different and it’s good. It has Niki Jabbour writing for it, and Tom Christopher. It has all the top people, and it’s a real magazine.
Ken: Like, the fifth reinvention, but I thought that’s something to mention, because perhaps that’s a gift, a subscription.
Margaret: O.K. Good idea. Good idea. And so what’s next?
Ken: Well, you and I always talk about how you can’t get pots [laughter].
Margaret: I know pots is tricky, because a lot of the stuff at the garden centers, it’s either too… I don’t know. They don’t have soul, a lot of them. They’re too mass-manufactured-looking for me, and I want something that’s a little more artisanal or something.
And so I have one great place near me in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Campo de’ Fiori. And they actually, I think, do ship as well now. And they have moss-covered things [above, an example from their website], and all kinds of very nice pots. So, that’s one place. But what about you?
Ken: Well, that was on the top of my list to talk about, because they’re not as expensive as Seibert & Rice.
Margaret: Right, which are gorgeous. And, I will say-
Ken: Also, weatherproof.
Margaret: …weatherproof, right.
Ken: And hard-fired. It’s a completely different animal, because Campo de’ Fiori are less expensive, but they’re also not as high-fired and they’re easier to break. But they often come kind of mossy. I mean, they look great. You just can’t leave them out over winter.
Margaret: Right. Right. And the Seibert & Rice pots, which are a big, big, big investment. I have some that, I’ve had them for 20-something years and they’re in perfect condition. And one that even days out and so forth. They’re from that Impruneta clay, the terra cotta of a certain part of Italy. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Ken: But you don’t want to necessarily give a $300 pot for… Well, maybe you do.
Ken: And much less expensive. And they have flat sides, so they’re like dishes, and it would be beautiful filled with moss or used for a table arrangement.
Margaret: Oh, filled with little bits of succulents, like a centerpiece-y kind of thing.
Ken: Absolutely. Right.
Margaret: Oh, interesting. Interesting. Oh, good idea. O.K. All right. So some pots, and we’ll all keep looking. And if anybody wants to chime in, in the comments on and tell us some places where they mail order great pots, let us know.
Ken: Big pots, big pots.
Margaret: Yeah, especially big pots. I mean little pots, it’s easier to find charming little pots than to find big ones. So yeah. So next on your list?
Ken: You want me to keep going? O.K.
Margaret: Well, you could give me one more, and then I’ll throw a few at you. Sure.
Ken: O.K. Well, the best gift I think I ever got, ever, was a Hasegawa ladder[photo below from the Hasegawa website].
Margaret: A ladder.
Ken: Lightweight ladders that are aluminum. And they make a safety one that’s really… It’s great. Because the top, you can’t go too high. And then it has this part that you can lean over. But they’re tripods, they’re three-legged ladders.
Margaret: Right, right. Orchard ladders.
Ken: We call them orchard ladders. Right. And you can stick that one leg right close to the trunk or even through the branches of a tree, a small tree, because they’re for fruit trees and stuff. But, I mean they start at like 4 feet, and go up to 15 feet.
The ones that aren’t safety, don’t cost quite as much. They’re more like $400 for 10-foot, which is a lot of money. But I mean, you’ll have it the rest of your life, for sure.
Margaret: When I first came here with the old apple trees that I have, I got an orchard ladder, but I got a wooden one. This was back in the day. And, I still take it out a couple of times a year, and it’s a tripod. It’s a three-legged ladder that, as you say, can get in among the limbs and gives you more stability on terra firma, than a ladder that’s meant for carpentry use in the house or something. Right.
Ken: Yeah. But that must be kind of heavy.
Margaret: It’s very heavy. But again, it was back in the day and it’s beautiful, and it’s lasted all these years. So however much I spent for it then, I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Because there are some tasks that… I mean, I don’t go up 25 feet or anything in the apples, but, but there’s certain things that I can do that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. And I can do it with a degree of safety, assuming someone else is present. I don’t go on a ladder when I’m by myself.
Ken: Well, the aluminum ladder is easy to carry. You can carry a 10-foot ladder of this brand, of the Hasegawa you can easily carry a 10-foot ladder, even if you’re a little person. So it’s really a great thing.
We always want a sky hook. Have you ever heard that?
Ken: We want a sky hook. It’s kind of a joke. There’s no such thing.
Margaret: Oh, a sky hook. What would it do?
Ken: You would hang from it, so you could go to the top of trees.
Margaret: Oh, I see what you mean [laughter]. You’d be suspended over the trees doing your work. O.K. All right. Yeah.
I mean most of the time, I’m more with the long-reach pruners, the ARS brand, the aluminum hollow handles—the handles are tubular aluminum. You can get a 4-foot or a 6-foot, or one with a saw that’s even longer and so on and so forth. And so from the ground, let alone from your aluminum ladder that you just mentioned, you get that extended reach. And that’s a big, again, safety factor.
Like for me to be able to take all the water sprouts off the limbs of my magnolia next to the house, from the ground… I can do most of it from the ground. They get those… And apple trees get it too, fruit stuff gets it, crabapples. So if it’s just a 10- or 15-foot tree and you’re on the ground and you’re 5 or 6 feet tall and you have this six foot thing in your hand, well, you can do a pretty good job snipping from the ground. And that’s great. A lot safer. Right?
Ken: I think that, if you’re strong or if you’re two people, they make ones that are, I think they’re like 20 feet long.
Margaret: Yeah. But obviously that’s for super-professionals. I’m talking about the stuff that I think people listening and ourselves could use the 6-footers or the whatever. Yeah. And some are telescoping.
Speaking of tools, years ago, someone gave me a trowel. You said your favorite gift was a ladder. And someone gave me a trowel [above] and it was by Sneeboer, the Dutch company. And it just changed everything. I mean, the trowels we sell in the stores for the most part in the United States, boy oh boy, they’re not trowels, they’re just bludgeons. I don’t know what they are. You know what I mean?
They don’t have a sharpened edge. They don’t have the right curvature of the head, the bowl or whatever. And the Sneeboer trowels, they have models from 2 inches wide, the head, to a 4 or so inches wide. And some are half-round and some are a little flatter. And depending on what you want to do, and they’re stainless, hand-forged stainless, and they keep an edge. And boy, they just slice into the… More like a hori-hori knife does, they just slice right into the ground. It was a real illumination for me, compared to the junky, thick, metal stuff that we usually see in the stores that isn’t nice.
And stainless is great. I think stainless tools are great. So anywhere I’m upgrading, I’m always picking a stainless replacement for something that’s gone by.
Ken: Yeah. I find that they don’t hold an edge, but you’re saying that it does.
Margaret: Oh, these are completely different. It’s not the stainless like… It’s not the shiny, plated-looking stainless. It’s a different animal all together, really worth looking at. Garden Tool Company down in Texas, formerly in Colorado, they turned me on to them long ago, and they used to be one of the only places you could get Sneeboer tools. But now a few other places have them, but that’s a great source for those.
So what else?
Ken: Well, do you have anything on your list that’s just pretty?
Margaret: [Laughter.] No, everything’s really ugly. I don’t know. I mean, I have some books, that are things that I give over and again. Nothing really pretty. No.
Ken: There’s a golden spade, the Japanese golden spade designed by Niwaki [photo above from the Niwaki website.] And Niwaki, that’s a big tool company that has mostly Japanese tools, but they’re promoting their golden spade. It’s also utilitarian, but it also gold. And somebody’s selling it with a leather case for too much money, but they’re not that expensive, actually. And that would be pretty and useful.
Margaret: So it’s gold in color, not gold in metal content?
Ken: Correct. Correct. It’s got some kind of coating that’s gold-colored.
Margaret: That’s funny. That’s funny. Yeah. If I remember correctly, I’ve seen you use Japanese hand tools for various cutting tasks, don’t you? Do you know what I mean? Like, little saws and things like that? Don’t you use-
Ken: Yes. And there’s one that we use to cut grasses in the fall and also cut Siberian iris foliage, because that’s where the voles hide. I can’t remember what it’s called [update: a Japanese stainless steel serrated blade hand sickle]. It’s got a curved blade, but you can get that stuff from A.M. Leonard. And I think Niwaki also sells a version of it, because I believe it is Japanese.
Margaret: So it’s like a mini-machete kind of a thing? Do you know what I mean?
Ken: Yeah. Right. But the blade is curved.
Margaret: Right. Right, right. And you use it to cut down things at the end of the season.
Ken: But we’ve talked about it, most things we don’t cut down, but some things where those voles hide, we do. It’s mostly for grasses. Actually, I think it’s for rice in Japan.
Margaret: Oh that makes sense. That makes sense. Yeah. Yeah. It’s got that curved blade, but very razor-sharp teeth.
Ken: Have you ever used a hairpin frog?
Margaret: A hairpin frog? You mean for arranging flowers? I have a whole collection of frogs, but I never use them. They’re beautiful. Flower frogs, meaning the base you could put in the water, in the base of a vase or dish, to arrange flowers and to stick the stems in and position them. Yeah.
Ken: And most of them have needles. But there’s a kind that I’ve never used, I’m going to try, that they call hairpin frogs. And instead of having needles, they have bent wire that you stick the stems in between. Because I have stuck myself with one, and it’s nice to get that green sticky clay, too, to hold it in place.
Ken: But frogs are great. You should use your frogs.
Margaret: I just like looking at them. I have a whole shelf of them.
Ken: Oh, they’re beautiful.
Margaret: My grandmother had a lot of them, and they’re very beautiful.
Ken: So that’s a nice gift to give different sizes.
Margaret: That’s a nice gift. And you know what? That would be really nice with, either a gift certificate for some dahlia tubers, when the places open up and ship them again in spring. Or with some packets from like Select Seeds, for instance, of some favorite flowers that are great for cutting. You know what I mean? That’s a great idea.
Like, a flower frog and maybe a pair of snips, a little pair of hand snips, like ARS or even Felco makes what they call the fruit pruners. You know, the little needle-nose kind of smaller, not big pruners. And a couple, few packets of seed, that could be a great kind of, “Hey, grow some cutting flowers and don’t be afraid to try arranging them,” kind of a gift. That’s sweet idea, maybe with a vase, too.
Ken: Oh my, now you’re talking 200 bucks.
Margaret: Well, but you know, sometimes those of us who tend to be hoarders have a little of this and a little of that that were willing to pass along. So maybe I have a vase I’m going to share and I can find a couple packets of seed and a frog. And yeah, that could be good.
Ken: O.K. You’re in business.
Margaret: All right. So, I love to give books that sort of celebrate the nature connection. And I don’t have any new ones this year. I’ve been doing so much with the Times column and stuff. And you and I, for people who don’t know, we did a sort of test-drive, beta-version of our Virtual Gardening Club, sort of a three-month online gardening club, meetup kind of thing. And that was a lot of work, but it was really fun. We’re doing it again, starting in January. We’ll have news about that coming up soon.
But I’ve been busy, is all I’m trying to say, so that’s my excuse. So I haven’t been reading as much as usual.
But there are certain books that, when I’m wanting a hostess gift or when I’m wanting whatever—something that makes someone feel-good. There’s a few books, classics that celebrate the nature connection. And obviously there’s many, many.
But just a few, like some newish ones like Marc Hamer’s “How to Catch a Mole”[affiliate link], a story about a guy who has a mole trapper for years and how he stopped doing that, but how it made him understand life and nature. And it’s just this beautiful little book. And, he has a new book out, “Seed to Dust.” He’s over in the UK. I think “How to Catch a Mole” was like maybe two years ago or something.
And older, maybe 2010, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating,” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, about a woman who becomes ill—the author, it’s a memoir—and she’s bedridden. And a friend on the way in to see her picks up a snail out on the front and brings it in. And they put it in a vessel of some kind beside her, on the bedside table. And this sort of terrarium-to-be kind of thing that happens, and her close proximity to this animal, this other creature, through her recuperation—it’s just this beautiful, beautiful tale. And you learn all about snails, but you learn all about intimacy and life and all it’s beautiful dimensions. It’s just, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating,” a total winner, whoever you would give that to.
Margaret: Yeah. A beautiful book to give. A beautiful little book. These are little books. Or, “Goat Song,” from around 2009, I think, by Brad Kessler [affiliate link]. He wrote one of my favorite novels ever, called, “Birds in Fall,” which is not about autumn birds, but about planes falling from the sky and what happens after a plane crash [laughter]. But, a novel.
But, this is a memoir about his leaving the city for the pastoral life, becoming a goat herder and making chevre and so forth. I don’t know.
Another recent classic, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass,” which was maybe four years ago or so.
And I mean, of course, the “New York Times” columnist, Margaret Renkl, her “Late Migrations” book, which is a memoir, but also celebrates her connection to the earth and nature.
Ken: Is that her brand new book? Because she has a brand new-
Margaret: No. No, no. This is the one before, which, again, it’s just small and beautiful. It’s these little essays. So those are just some of… You know what I mean? If I want to give someone something a little more intimate, to tell them about something that’s helped me or transported me, those are some of the books on my list.
Margaret: FloretFlowers dot com. Yeah. [Photo of Floret belt in black, above, from their website.]
Ken: Yeah. They have a tool belt and I thought it was cool. It’s leather. And you can get it left-handed or right-handed. They’re like holsters for your tools, or fanny packs. And one has a rubber pocket, you can get extra, that attaches, so you have more to carry. That’s very useful.
Margaret: And that one’s a little pricey. It’s very, very good quality, I believe. And on Etsy, for instance, you can get a lot more variety. And I’ll give a link to the less expensive version, and you can comparison shop a little bit. But, that is something that I should probably have. Because I mean, how many of us have stuck our pruners through the pocket of our jeans or whatever. I mean, oh, it’s ridiculous.
Ken: I’m raising my hand. You can’t tell.
Margaret: Or lost them in the grass. So, a few more things.
Ken: Well, Louis has the holster. I never have had one, and he’s a quick-draw, let me tell you [laughter].
Margaret: Yeah. Last winter I gave my sister for Christmas and her husband, I gave them LED strip lights for seed starting to replace their older fluorescent lights on their light stand. And those are great. The SunBlaster brand. And they come in different lengths. They have them at Amazon. They have them at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. But great, and so lightweight. And so, it’s not hard to set up the stand, to raise them up on pulleys or whatever, which you can also buy.
Ken: So, do you know the name of the brand of the lights?
Margaret: Yeah. It’s SunBlaster, one word with a big B in the middle. SunBlaster, the LED strip lights[affiliate link]. And they come in 2-footers, 4-footers, etc. They’re great.
Ken: Because I couldn’t find exactly that.
Margaret: Yeah, yeah. No, no, that’s a great one. And they loved it. Oh boy, they set it up right away. They went crazy and grew a million flats of everything, too much to fit in the garden [laughter]. You know, the usual.
Ken: As you know, and I’ve talked to you about this, I transformed my fluorescent 4-foot light unit things to LED, and after doing three of them, I have one more to do, or there’s actually two more to do. And I thought, “I can’t do this.” [Laughter.]
Margaret: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well the SunBlasters [above] make it pretty easy. They’re lightweight and easy. In the time we have left, do you have one more thing you want to shout out? Because I have one, but I didn’t want to take away the-
Ken: Well, no. I mean, it’s ridiculous to talk about secateurs again, because we have a favorite brand and we always talk about Felcos, and I’ve used so many different ones. Well, the company that you like that makes-
Margaret: ARS, the Japanese ones.
Ken: Yeah. They make a nice secateur that’s a lot like the-
Margaret: And that’s not a cicada [laughter], it’s like a secateur. It’s like a secateur.
Ken: Is that what you call it? Secateur?
Margaret: I have no idea. I always say secateur, but I’m probably saying it wrong.
Margaret: So don’t worry. Don’t worry. You say tomato.
Ken: They’re the hand pruners. I like the number 2 Felcos. I can’t tell you how many I’ve given of those.
Margaret: Yeah. And I’ll just shout out one last thing, which is that I’m addicted to following the weather. So I always buy a lot of Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ acrylic rain gauge[photo above from Johnny’s website]. It’s like, $7 or $8 or something. I give it as like a stocking-stuffer and a gift all the time to people, which is my low-tech analog version. But then I also have a digital weather station, and I’ve had it forever. In fact, my original one—I have the Davis Vantage Vue[affiliate link], up on a pole on the hillside, and it transmits wirelessly to a console in the house.
Margaret: Yeah, it’s fabulous. I mean, my original one, I gave to my neighbor and it’s still running strong. I mean, it must be more than 15 years, I don’t know. And I got a slightly different one, because there was a new feature that came out maybe five, seven years ago. And I just love it. I just love it, love it, love it. And I love how many hundredths of an inch, and what’s going on, and it keeps the records—what’s happened this month and so on and forth. Anyway, we’re out of time.
Ken: Oh, that’s pretty cool. You’ve got to bring that other one in, because it’ll crack on the ice, right?
Margaret: Yeah, I do. Of course. The little analog one just comes in for the winter.
Ken: That’s great.
Margaret: All right.
Ken: Good idea.
Margaret: Ho, ho, ho. Ho, ho, ho, over there [laughter]. All right. Do some shopping. Contribute to the economy.
Ken: Listen, I have a list now. I’m buying for myself [laughter].
Margaret: All right. I’ll talk to you later. Thanks.
Is there any garden gear you covet, or love to give?
No answer, or feeling shy? Just say something like “count me in” and I wil,, but a reply is even better. I’ll pick a random winner after entries close at midnight Tuesday, December 21, 2021. Good luck to all.
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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its 11th year in March 2020. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the December 13, 2021 show using the player near the top of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).