It’s never May until it suddenly is.
And then everything related to growing food and flowers in New York’s climate—buds opening, seeds sprouting, weeds racing ahead of veggies, days lengthening into sunny, sustaining eternities—happens so wicked fast that it’s a challenge to catch up.
But with the right garden tools in your hand, an exquisitely designed and made tool in particular, there’s nothing you cannot do.
Which is where the folks at Garrett Wade come in. This company, based in DUMBO and Cincinnati, was founded in 1975 to introduce Americans to high-quality hand tools—the sort that used to be made and used in this country, put in service over many decades, and passed down from one generation to the next. Founder Garrett Wade Chinn has a mission of reconnecting men and women to the experience of using their hands. We recently stumbled upon them and got to test drive some of their garden offerings, and now we can’t imagine life without them.
Their prices are comparable to standard offerings at your local hardware or Loew’s store but packing more beauty and integrity. Whether you are trimming a tree—or large house plant—planting your first raised bed, chopping wood, looking for a gift for your favorite gardener or wanting to up your landscaping game this season, a walk through their online catalog is bound to inspire. Here are a few of our must-try picks.
The mattock is my favorite tool in the garden. Not just because it makes me feel like a badass from Thor Ragnarok, but because it feels good in your hands and even better when you’re swinging it. There isn’t much you can’t do with a mattock. In spring, I love it for doing a light turnover of the garden soil, making troughs for planting seeds. By summer, I use it to clear weeds on either side of vegetables and berries. The broad side unlodges the most persistent and pernicious weeds. The chopping side lays waste to any large weed roots. The swinging motion of a mattock also feels more athletic and less jolting than the dig and pull of a shovel.
The traditional German mattock from Garrett Wade is essentially two garden tools in one. “The hoe end is a heavy chopper edge that will bite into and loosen dirt and pull rocks,” Garrett Wade notes, “while the axe side is great for cutting through roots, vines and other gnarly materials.” Garrett Wade chose the ash handle for it’s durable, shock absorbing qualities—fewer sore palms and shoulders—and solid forged steel head for a lifetime of use. Garden gnomes beware when you’re sporting this “serious tool.”
If the traditional mattock feels like a little too much, especially for those who like to garden on their hands and knees, Garrett Wade makes a mini version. Like its larger cousin, the mini hoe is two tools in one, with a hoe for moving dirt around and plant matter into place on one side, and a 2-prong grubber for extracting weeds on the other side. Garrett Wade sells this in a two tool set, along with a 5-tine hand rake made by Dutch blacksmith company Dewit, so you sort of get three tools in one. Once the heavy lifting is done, this elegant combo could probably get you through the entire rest of the season.
When it comes to weeding, most gardeners have their favorite tool. Some like a hula hoe, some prefer a mattock, others like a tool with multiple tines to ensnare whatever plant it encounters. Also in the hand tool category for work close to the ground, this Japanese triangular hoe is a bit more targeted than the mattock.
Over the centuries, Japanese gardeners and farmers refined the design into an exceptionally efficient working tool. As this video demonstrates, “The inward curve of the sharp pointed blade coupled with the deliberately acute angle of the blade and the short 13-inch-long wood handle means that as you swing the handle the natural movement of your arm pulls the blade toward your body as it enters the soil—an example of logical ergonomic design centuries old.”
Beyond these options, Garrett Wade offers a virtual rainbow of garden tools for weeding for every style and body type of gardener. From the ingenious, but little known, Grampa’s Weeder, whose design dates to 1913, to the ultra-sharp heart-shaped hoe that can part the most compacted urban soil.
You cannot effectively water your garden without a good hose storage strategy. A hose left uncoiled inevitably gets knotted, kinked, blasted by the sun and compromised. Most options for hanging your hose are flimsy or ugly or both. Not this hose rack. It’s gorgeous, so you’ll smile every time you see it hanging on your home or garden fence. With solid cast aluminum with a beautiful curved shape that’s kind to garden hose loops, Garrett Wade designed it to be the last one you’ll ever buy. And if you have lots of ground to cover and are looking for a next-level sprinkler solution, this Italian-made sprinkler sled will allow you to water sections of your lawn or multiple garden beds with ease.
Garden tools break. It happens. My shed is filled with splintered shovel and fork handles and orphan shovel and fork heads. Some day I plan to repair them. In the meantime, I’m investing in all-steel digging tools that can handle the most enthusiastic approach to tending the land. Made with an alloy steel blade and handle and fully welded, these feel powerful in your hands and won’t bend or break. As Garrett Wade notes, “You will not find these tools locally as they are made for professional gardeners.” Like the solid hose rack, these are designed to last a lifetime even under tireless use.
There comes a time in every gardening session, and usually at the end of the day, when you’ve got to clean up. If you tend to garden spontaneously in whatever shoes you happen to have on—sneakers, flip-flops, dress shoes (gasp!)—you’ve got to put a premium on removing soil, compost and muck from your foot gear. Consider this all-metal door mat solution. We tested it on a variety of shoes and found it scraped everything clean. It’s also easy to hose off and doesn’t retain water like brush mats. And if the palette of your garden and home includes stainless steel, this is a no brainer.
I’ve come late to wearing an apron in the kitchen. But now that I’m completely convinced of the benefits of keeping my pants clean and having an easy place to wipe wet or dirty hands, wearing an apron in the garden is a natural extension. When I test-drove this one, I quickly filled the pockets with seed packets, zip ties, assorted knives and pruners and other items I would otherwise have stuck in my poor pants pockets. Stabbing my own thighs and tearing holes in my pockets would have ensued. Plus, my daughter complimented how nice the gardening apron looked on me and asked if she could have her own.
If Batman were a gardener, both of these garden tools would be in his tool belt. (They also pair nicely with the gardening apron above.) Like other Garrett Wade items, they benefit from a commitment to long-term durability and ingenious design thought. This holster is made from heavy grain leather with strong stitching. The end has a small hole so that bits of dirt debris can fall out. And while there are plenty of options for single-tool holsters, holsters for holding two tools are rare. You’ll be ready for a quick-draw with these garden essentials.
Pruners are a must for tending fruit trees, berry bushes and even large tomato plants as the season progresses. I’m not a big user of knives in the garden, but I used this tool to cut through a massive dock weed, and now I’m a believer.
Garrett Wade started out making woodworking and carving tools. They still offer a wide range of implements for the home woodshop. And they also make incredible axes, log splitters, wedges and mauls.
For pruning trees and large bushes, they have found a handy folding saw. It’s small enough to store in your garden apron but large enough to handle serious tree work. Here’s what Garrett Wade says about it: “This is the best Japanese tooth-pattern folding work saw we have discovered. The blade is a full 10 inches long with a tooth depth of 3/16 inch—so this is a very fast cutting tool. The rubber-covered handle is all steel, the pivot is robust, and the blade lock is totally secure.”
There are pruners. And then there are pruners. Garrett Wade put endless thought into this one they call their ultra-sharp. Its high-carbon blade can handle almost a full inch of capacity (large enough for largish fruit tree branches and age-old blackberry patches). Plus, one handle is slightly longer than the other, giving the pruner more cutting torque. The “gold” upper blade is titanium nitride coated to preserve “unusual sharpness.” The handle is corrosion and sap-resistant brushed aluminum.