I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my brother here before, and shame on me for that. If it weren’t for him, I probably would have ended up with a rather different career path, in field crop or soil science instead of getting to enjoy gardening as both work and play. While his main life passion is playing ice hockey and training goaltenders at his school (Tim Ondra Goalie Training Center), he has also worked as a professional gardener since he was a teenager, and he got me my first estate-gardening job over 25 years ago, when I needed work experience for my agronomy degree. In the decades he’s been gardening, I’ve never known him to get excited about a new tool, so when he stopped by last month with a new pair of shears he said I had to try, I wasn’t quite sure what to think.
Like many of you, I’m sure, I find it much easier to get enthusiastic about plants than tools, though I’ve certainly collected my share of both classic tools and over-hyped gadgets over the years. My most recent disappointment in the the latter category is those crinkly, lightweight, flexible hoses that expand when you turn on the water and contract when you turn it off. My first one lasted two weeks before it started to leak; the second one lasted two days. There won’t be a third.
It was interesting to see that while Consumer Reports initially gave the products a favorable review (Flexible Garden Hoses Expand to Meet Your Watering Needs), they got so many negative responses from their readers that they did a follow-up article (Flexible Garden Hoses Get Mixed Reviews from Our Readers). And, after snapping off the entire head of a Fiskars digging fork on the first day I used it, I’ll never again be tempted to stray from the un-ergonomic but dependable fork and matching spade that my Rodale coworkers gave me when I bought my first home 20 years ago. (I kept the broken head of the Fiskars fork, though, in the hopes that I’ll eventually think of something silly to do with it.)
I also own a couple of traditional shovels—one with a thin, light blade for moving mulch, and one with a thicker, heavier blade for serious digging—but my favorite is a mini D-handled shovel, which I use for most of my planting and transplanting projects. It’s barely 2 feet long, so I can use it either kneeling or bending over, and its small size makes it easy to work with in even crowded borders.
As with my good spade and fork, the handle on my mini-shovel is so worn that I can’t even tell for sure what brand it is, but I think it was this one from Black & Decker. There are a couple of other brands too, and since all of them sell in the $10 to $20 range, you probably couldn’t go far wrong with any one of them.
Another tool I’d hate to be without is my hori hori knife. It takes the place of a trowel for planting annuals and bulbs, and the serrated edge makes it my tool of choice for dividing all but the biggest or toughest perennial clumps. Mine is about 6 years old now, and though the handle is a little loose, it’s still a joy to use.
This knife used to be somewhat hard to find, but there’s a variety of brands at a range of price points now. I’ve tried a few cheaper versions, with plastic handles, but the blades dulled quickly, making them little better than an ordinary trowel. When I decide to replace my good one, I’ll be looking at one like this: Hori Hori Knife on Amazon.
For cutting, I own a half-dozen of so pairs of pruning shears, all currently in various states of disrepair. My two pairs of Felcos need replacement parts, which I continually forget to order, so I’ve ended up buying cheaper Corona shears and just using them until the blades twist or they’re too far gone to sharpen effectively. I was beginning to wonder how I was going to get through my garden cleanup this season when Tim arrived and handed me his “you have to try these” shears.
The Jakoti hand shears are exactly what I’ve been wishing for for years: one tool that serves the purpose of pruning shears, garden scissors, hedge shears, and grass shears, and that you can use with just one hand (either right or left).
Now, to be fair, they’re not meant for “real” pruning on woody plants; for that, proper pruning shears are still best. I’ve used the Jakoti shears to cut through woody stems up to about 1/4-inch in diameter, just to see if I could, but I’m not inclined to take the experiment much beyond that because I really don’t want to find their breaking point. I did try them for trimming a boxwood, though, and they made a really nice cut. I wish I’d had these when I had to hand-trim topiaries and parterres on gardening jobs.
Where the Jakoti shears really shine are for general garden cutting tasks. So far, I’ve used them in place of my usual garden scissors for harvesting lettuce and other greens, for gathering herbs (even tough-stemmed ones like rosemary), and for tidying up some late-blooming perennials, like Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus).
I can already tell that they’re going to be fantastic for my main plant-shearing projects next spring and summer, when I give most of my perennials a hard cut-back to control their size and/or delay their bloom time. The long cutting blades should make deadheading perennials and groundcovers go a lot more quickly, as well.
What I’ve mostly been using the shears for during the past few weeks is for my end-of-the-season garden cleanup. As I’d hoped, they are terrific for ornamental grasses. In the past, I’ve used the technique of bundling the tops with a bungee cord and then using hedge shears, which worked fine when I could remember where I last left the bungee cords.
But with the Jakoti shears, the job has been going a lot faster. You can hold the shears in one hand and use your other hand to hold the stems while you cut, then easily toss the tops into a wheelbarrow or tarp.
They cut right through dried corn stalks, too, and through the fabric strips and baling twine I’d used to tie up the corn plants back in the summertime. They’re also doing a good job for tidying perennials with tough leaves, like yuccas…
…and for cutting down those with woody stems, like bluestars (Amsonia) and asters (Symphyotrichum).
(I’m actually right-handed, but since I needed that hand for the camera, I had to use my left for cutting when I was taking pictures by myself, which is how I know that they work equally well either way. I tried to convince Tim that we’d need a couple of hours for me to take pictures of him cutting back various things here, but he caught on pretty quickly that I was just trying to get some free labor out of him.)
Anyway, when I poked around on the web to see what others had to say about the Jakoti shears, I was surprised to see that, so far, they’re not well known here in the U.S., and they’ve just started catching on with gardeners in the U.K. in the past 5 years or so. Even more interesting for me was seeing who else has been raving about them: folks with small sheep farms, who have to do their own shearing. Oh…but what about alpacas? Sure enough, I found that they’re recommended by Marty McGee Bennett of CAMELIDynamics, whose gentle training and handling techniques I use daily with Duncan and Daniel. Like her, I prefer to shear my guys while they’re standing, instead of hiring professionals who usually take them to the ground, tie their legs, and stretch them out to use electric clippers on them. Sure, that would be a lot quicker, but I can’t even imagine my boys having to go through that, even if it would save them the indignity of walking around half-done between our hand-shearing sessions.
Normally, I buy a pair of Fiskars Softouch Scissors for each of them every spring. These scissors do a fine job, but they’re really not meant for this sort of heavy use, and they’re usually pretty much shot by the time we’re done. I can’t wait to see how the Jakoti shears will work out, but it’s obviously the wrong time of year for full shearing. I do like to trim behind their ears now, though, to let their halters fit more comfortably, so it was time for another experiment.
Even after a few weeks of use in the garden, the “self-sharpening” blades were still sharp enough to do the job. I asked the boys what they thought. They conferred.
You really want to know what we think of the new shears? Honestly, we can’t tell the difference, but if Mom likes using them, we’re all for anything that will keep her in a good mood. Can we have something nice to eat now?
Yes, thank you for that rousing endorsement, Daniel. I do think the Jakoti hand shears are great, and so does Tim…so much so, in fact, that he is now selling them online to gardeners and farmers in the U.S. at Jakoti Hand Shears or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, I have only one thing left to wish for: a place that sells right- and left-handed gloves separately. I know I’m not the only gardener who wears out one much sooner than the other—usually the left one, since my right hand is almost always holding whatever tool I’m using—so someone must have realized how useful it could be to sell replacement gloves individually. Anyone know of a source? Or are you still on the hunt for your own dream tool?