Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: Necessary Gardening Gagets: A Felco and a Hori-Hori

By Ron Sullivan
Friday May 19, 2006

Gardening is like fishing in some ways. You can do it for dinner, or just for the halibut; you can do it for purely recreational or aesthetic reasons, or both. It can give you peace and relaxation, or vein-popping frustration. It helps a lot to know the natural history of the place and of your target. You can do it for very little money, or you can go broke buying fascinating tools and gadgets.  

I’m a collector at heart but also nearly broke most of the time, so I hover between the extremes. I have more tools than many folks because I worked as a pro for some years. But my favorites, the reliables I use most often, can mostly fit on my jeans pockets plus one hand for the long ones. It’s a good idea for a new gardener to start with the basics and then add the equivalents of Victorian specialty silverware, the asparagus tongs and the left-handed runcible spoons, as the garden progresses.  

The two things I always have in my pockets are my Felcos and my hori-hori.  

I don’t endorse commercial brands often, but Felco brand pruning shears are the only ones worth buying. They’re a big investment at first—in the $50.00 range—but if you don’t lose them they’re the last pair you’ll ever have to buy, because every part is replaceable at a reasonable price. Blades are easy to sharpen, and after a few years of hard use or abuse you’ll pay under ten bucks—usually about six—for a new one. Felcos come in many sizes and configurations, including left-handed, and you really need to try them on like shoes. It’s worth the effort; you’ll know when you have the right fit.  

Between the fit and the sharpness, you’ll save damage to your joints and other vulnerable bits, and to the plants you cut. I keep my Felcos sharp with a couple of inexpensive hones that look and work like emery boards; got them at a cutlery shop.  

A hori-hori is a Japanese farmers’ tool that’s become popular here too. It’s a broad, heavy knife, not terribly sharp, with a scooped central channel and one serrated edge. It has a wooden grip and a full tang: the metal of the blade runs all the way through, the handle. This makes it very strong; I frequently use mine by sticking the blade under a stubborn weed and stepping on the handle, to lever the thing out. I’ve never damaged a hori-hori this way. 

In fact, I’ve never damaged one significantly at all. This includes the one that spent at least a year under a compost pile. When Saint Anthony finally got around to answering those prayers, the hori-hori was rusted and the handle just a bit loose. That full tang meant the loose handle doesn’t compromise its function one bit, and the rust came off with a few uses, so I didn’t even have to scour it. In fact, I used it brutally enough to wedge some clay under the grip and it’s not loose anymore. 

In future columns I’ll talk about bigger and weirder tools, and the places I like to get them.