Jenny Mollison on gardens: Louise varies her tasks to minimise strains

Give me a good border fork, a sharp hoe and a hand fork and I am pretty well kitted out for my allotment. For a new plotholder the choice of equipment can seem both bewildering and expensive. Advice from books can only ever be general. It’s easy to end up with unnecessary purchases after a trip to a garden centre.

Perhaps the best guidance comes from local gardeners who know what works well for them. Our soil is light and sandy, but if it was clay I would probably go for different tools.

I’ve been a volunteer gardener at the National Trust for Scotland’s Inveresk Lodge Garden for a long time. I like to think I’ve made a difference there, but the benefits are far from one-sided.

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Working alongside professionals, it is easy to pick up practical tips. I’ve had the chance to work with a range of tools. Subtle differences in the weight and height of spades and forks only become apparent with use. I’ve learned that wheelbarrows with pneumatic tyres are easier to use than flimsier alternatives.

The right tool for the job not only makes light work but can spell the difference between a good workout and a bad back. I notice how Louise, the head gardener, varies her daily tasks to minimise strains. This is a good idea on an allotment where after half an hour’s digging it’s best to take a break and do something different for a bit.

It’s taken me years to work out why gardeners choose expensive secateurs. But now a generous present has made me realise how superior they are to ones picked up in a pound shop. They are made to last a lifetime, with replacement blades and springs and an ergonomic design. I am guarding them carefully. They are definitely not going out on loan.

But not everyone can find time to do as I have done. So what are the options? Ask advice from people who know. Watch professionals at work in gardens open to the public and note what tools they use. It’s even worth asking about watering cans. Some are awkward to fit under a tap and badly balanced when full. The most expensive are not necessarily the best. I leave mine full of water for two reasons – so that the water can reach the ambient temperature and so it does not blow off my plot in a strong wind.