Garden Tools, Lotti

In the June of 1994, Alvin Straight, veteran of both WWII and the Korean war, was facing a tough decision. His 80-year-old brother Henry had suffered a stroke and was incredibly ill. Straight, aged 73, hadn’t spoken to his brother for nearly a decade and decided that now was the time to make amends…but he lived in Laurens, Iowa and Henry in Blue River, Wisconsin: 250 miles away. Alvin’s age and failing eyesight meant that he didn’t have a valid drivers license and he had a deep distrust of the public transport system.

So what could he do? This could be his last chance to see his brother alive. By July, he’d finally made his decision. He loaded up his trailer with food, water, petrol and camping equipment and hitched it up to his reliable ride-on lawnmower and set out to see his brother.

straight story
Alvin Straight, played by Richard Farnsworth in David Lynch’s ‘The Straight Story’

Alvin Straight had only travelled around thirty miles on his lawnmower before the engine blew. He was towed home, the lawnmower a write-off and the trailer still full of provisions.

Maybe it was a sign; perhaps the universe was sending him a message to invest in a bus ticket instead. Or perhaps it was sending him a message to buy a more reliable lawn mower.

Upon returning home, Alvin bought a 1966 John Deere riding lawn mower and once again set off at a whopping speed of 5 miles per hour on the 250 mile journey to Blue Water (roughly the same distance from Portsmouth to Leeds). He waved goodbye to his wife and daughter and headed down the U.S. Highways, shunning the winding country roads that he’d favoured before.

This time, it took four days (and only twenty-one miles) for Alvin to once again run into troubles as he plodded down Highway 18. The John Deere mower had a slew of mechanical troubles which he was forced to stop in West Bend, Iowa for repairs, paying around $240 for a new generator, starter, and spark plugs. But Alvin was stubborn and would not be deterred, and after paying for the various repairs once again set off.

long road

His next bump in the road came 90 miles from West Bend when he ran out of money. The veteran lived off of social security cheques, and his next installment wouldn’t be for two weeks. With a tiny engine that only held around 5.6 litres of fuel, petrol was one of the highest costs of the journey. Undeterred by this seemingly minor setback, he parked his lawn mower and trailer at the side of the road and camped out while he waited for his money to come in. With a trailer packed with groceries, a foam rubber mat to sleep on and a camping stove, Alvin spent two weeks in his makeshift camp, waving to the cars that passed him by.

If it wasn’t faulty parts or money stopping Alvin Straight, it was the weather. Just thirty miles from Wisconsin torrential rain forced him to stop once again. Nearly blind already, the poor conditions made driving impossible. In an interview with the Washington Post, Straight said “I’m not crazy enough to drive in the rain…If you can’t see, get off the damn road.”

Finally on the home stretch, with the weather cleared and his money woes behind him, the road ahead seemed clear for Alvin: but there was one final moment of bad luck in store for him. A mere two miles from his brother’s home, the mower broke down for the final time. A passing farmer helped him push the Deere and the trailer the rest of the way, arriving at the house on August 16th, six weeks after setting off.

John Deere tractor

Alvin Straight stayed with his brother and family for several weeks. During this time, news of the lawn-mower road trip had reached national news organisations and offers were pouring in for interviews and TV appearances. He turned down the chance to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, choosing rather to stay away from the spotlight. He did, however, accept a fee to appear in a local John Deere dealership’s advert. He also traded his 1966 mower for a brand new one worth $5000 with the owner of the Texas Equipment Company, who displayed his old one as a curiosity.

Several weeks later, Alvin Straight reluctantly accepted a lift back to Laurens with his nephew in his truck. After his recovery, Henry followed his brother and moved back to Iowa to be closer to his family.

You’d think that his six week, 250 mile trip was enough adventure for Alvin, but nearly two years later he set off again (on his new mower) for Idaho. At 1100 miles, the trip was nearly four and a half times as long as his journey to Wisconsin. He made it 400 miles before being found in South Dakota, suffering from sunburn and dehydration. Straight returned home but never fully recovered, and passed away after a stroke in November 1996. True to form, his funeral procession was accompanied by a John Deere mower.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Garden Tools, Gardens, Tyler

Winter is in full effect so it’s time to think about winter care for your garden tools and how to do it. If you look after your garden tools well then they should last you for years and will also save you money! So grab your tools and follow this guide so that you won’t have to deal with the consequences next year.

winter care for garden tools

Winter Care for Hand Tools

Start off your winter maintenance by cleaning all of your hand tools. Simply scrub all tools using a cleaning brush, making sure dirt and mud are removed from the metal part. Follow up with a dry cloth to wipe down the remaining soil left on the tool. If rust remains, sandpaper can be effective to rub any rust away. Wooden handles may also need to wiped down with sandpaper to ensure all splinters are removed.

You’ll want to oil your hand tools next. The reason many would oil their tools is so it prevents them from rusting over the period they are out of action. This all depends on the quality of the metal but to be sure, apply a thin layer. Use Linseed oil for the wooden handles so that the handle doesn’t become dry over these cold months.

Storing your tools away from rainfall and other elements that’ll make all your hard work lost is essential. You can store them in your greenhouse or rack them up in the shed, ready for you to use on the first day of spring.

Winter Care for Power Tools

There are different things that’ll need to be done for each power tool. If you have a tool such as a lawnmower or grass trimmer, you’ll need to ensure that all grass and grass clippings are removed from the machine as this will avoid the blades from jamming when next used and make sure to store in a cool and dry area.

If you have petrol powered tools, make sure that no fuel is left in the can and drained as over time in these cold conditions, it can go stale and you may struggle to start it up again come spring. Quite the opposite is needed for the oil though as this will need to be checked and topped up so that the machine remains in good working order.

lawnmower care

Sharpen Your Tools

Sharpening your tools is a great way to save money long term. After summer use, your hedge trimmers, chainsaws and hori trowels can become worn down and blunt. A quick job of the appropriate file tool to sharpen them up will ensure that your tools are as effective in 2019 as they were in 2018.

Tyler at PrimroseTyler works in the Primrose Marketing team, mainly working on Social Media and Online Marketing.

Tyler is a big fan on everything sports and supports Arsenal Football Club. When not writing Primrose blogs and tweets, you can find Tyler playing for his local Sunday football team or in the gym.

See all of Tyler’s posts.

Garden Tools, Guest Posts, How To

For most at-home horticulturalists, the shed at the end of the garden is often given little thought. It’s merely a place for your tools to go when they’re not in use, right? And, for some, this is fine. But, if the time has come for your shed to undergo a much-needed organisational update, you’ve come to the right place – because, in this post, we’re going to be breaking down expert shed organisation with a straightforward beginner’s guide.

garden shed organisation

Hang tight and read on for our best tips and tricks when it comes to priming your garden shed for practicality.

Step 1: Throw out the unused items

Now, as Brits, we’re all at least a little guilty of stockpiling bits and bobs that we never actually use. Whether it’s a broken lawnmower you’ll “get round to fixing one of these days”, an old-fashioned cutlery set your great-grandmother gifted you on your wedding day or a motorbike you swore you’d ride every week when you bought it, there are bound to be things in your home taking up unnecessary space – and the shed is no exception.

The first step to true garden shed utopia is a purge of all of those types of items. It can sometimes be difficult to make the call, so it’s best to adopt the 12 month rule: if you haven’t used it in the last 12 months, and if you don’t plan to anytime soon, it’s probably time you get rid. It’s best to do this before winter sets in – as you can lay out your shed’s contents on the lawn while you dig through.

If you’ve removed the non-essentials but your space is still overflowing, it might be time to consider upgrading to something more suitable. Primrose stocks a whole range of spacious, high-quality garden sheds ideal for the avid gardener.

Step 2: Apply a thick coating of TLC

Now that the unused items are out of the equation, it’s time you give your garden shed some long overdue TLC. With the space freed up from clutter, dedicate an afternoon to cleaning out cobwebs, dirt and dust, fixing any maintenance issues like leafy roofs, damaged guttering or draughty windows and giving the shed a fresh lick of paint if this is needed. Giving your shed the attention it deserves will ensure you can maximise the potential of the space and keep the contents protected from the elements – so don’t cut corners!

If you’ve had your shed for a long time and you’re just now seeing its full state of disrepair, it could be worthwhile investing in a new one – as there’s little point in making it an organisational masterpiece if it falls apart in a year or two’s time.

garden shed storage

Step 3: Get clever with storage

So, you’ve thrown out the unnecessaries, you’ve cleaned up the interior and exterior and you’re ready to dive straight into organising your revitalised garden shed – but where do you start? Instead of rushing into things, take proper stock of what you’ll be storing inside by listing your ‘inventory’ and grouping them into relevant categories.

For example, you might group rakes, shovels and brooms together, and keep any power tools in their own separate lot. This will keep your tools in order in the long term, avoiding the lean-against-a-wall approach many gardeners end up relying on when their space isn’t fit for purpose.

Now that you have an inventory, you can begin to think about the different types of storage systems you’ll need to see your vision come to fruition. First things first, assess the space you’re working with – but don’t just think about floor space; your walls and ceilings make for valuable resources when it comes to storage, too. The back of the shed door is ideal for baskets to keep smaller tools in, for example.

Of course, the most effective way to keep clutter at bay is by installing proper shelving. Get creative when it comes to sourcing, as you might find that high-quality garage shelving units make for an ideal long-term organiser, better than flimsy shelving models you might find elsewhere.

Additionally, use a variety of other systems to make sure you’re maximising the space’s storage potential. For smaller tools, use magnet strips on the wall for a cost-effective and simple solution to an often messy aspect of your shed. If there’s enough space for a workstation, bring in a tool wall or peg board so that your in-use gardening instruments are kept in check. A shovel rack is best placed by the door, to keep mess brought in from these often dirty tools from finding its way too far inside – and also for making sure some of your most regularly used equipment is immediately accessible.

And, voila! You have yourself an organisationally optimised garden shed primed for use at any time of year. The secret now is to keep on top of it – don’t become complacent and let tools sit wherever they like, as you’ll be back to square one before you know it. With a splash of planning, a little willpower and a tactical approach, you can create and maintain a gardening station designed to make your favourite pastime even more pleasurable.

Simon MitchellSimon Mitchell has run successful companies in Europe and the US that are focused on delivering exceptional value to clients – while Action Storage offers a diverse range of storage products, along with the technical expertise to help clients’ businesses operate more efficiently. In Simon’s words, that’s a rewarding place to be.

Garden Tools, Gardening, Ross

The growing reputation of the hori hori trowel has cast a long overdue spotlight on historic and artisanal gardening tools. Appearances on TV and radio call-in shows have raised the stock of more classical gardening tools and their uses in modern gardens.

Artisanal tools like the hori hori trowel are not simply for show, after all. They have survived this long because of their versatility and consistency. For some, though, gardening tools are bought more for flair than function. Collecting tools isn’t the worst of hobbies for the passionate gardener, and certainly there are enough variants to please all manner of collectors. Granted, you’re not likely to find any golden tools at your local garden centre, but there’s no reason to believe you can’t find some glorious little collectibles.

So today, let’s take a look at just a few classic tools that, for their beauty, history or timelessness, could adorn your shed wall.

Hori hori trowels

Hori hori trowel

Let’s start with the aforementioned, then; the hori hori trowel. The name of the tool has a simple and enjoyable root; hori not only means “dig” in Japanese, but it is also considered onomatopoeic for the sound of digging (I can’t hear it, personally, but perhaps I just don’t dig enough).

Many of these sorts of Japanese tools were created using similar forging techniques to those used by the Samurai; they were built to get the job done. The trowel has survived for as long as it has because of its enormous versatility; with a serrated edge, a concave design and a depth scale etched on either the handle or blade itself, the trowel can be used for digging, cutting and weeding, among others. It is a true one-stop-shop for jobs in flower beds and other small areas of your garden.

Prime amongst its pros are its durability, too; given the wide variety of tasks it can be employed for, the workload demands that the blade stand up to the rigours of its usage. The best hori hori trowels are forged from a high-quality stainless steel that resists rusting and blunting, unlike some cheaper variants. The hori hori is a gardening tool for nearly every occasion, and takes pride of place among many a tool shed.

Copper tools

Copper & bronze tools

Copper and bronze tools are wonderful things. For a start, when you polish a bronze tool, it breaks out in a golden sheen that mimics the look of a true golden tool. Now not everyone wants their tools to look shiny and lovely, of course, but for collectors that you can be dazzling pieces of art when hung on a shed wall.

The best part about bronze and copper tools, though, is the effect they have on soil. A biomimicry experimenter by the name of Viktor Schauberger conducted a series of experiments to prove that copper tools were would be more enriching for soil and plants than iron tools, which were the preference of his day. His three main hypotheses were simple: it did not follow that using a tool so prone to decay and rust, as metal tools were, could help plants grow; that heat could not cultivate, only kill, and the soil friction created by metal tools would only hinder plant growth; that iron, as a sparking metal, would deplete the electrical charge of rising groundwater, which would leave less for the plants to feast on. Copper and bronze, he argued, were not so prone to rusting, caused less friction and would allow a strong electrical charge to reach the roots in rising groundwater. Bronze tools would even leave enrich soil with copper-trace elements, which created the conditions for valuable micro-organisms to develop. His experiments proved him correct; plants treated with copper tools yielded stronger, healthier crops with fewer pests than their iron counterparts.

What copper tools offer, then, is not only a classy aesthetic that shines like gold, but a number of subtle, practical advantages over iron and steel that help cultivate plants and encourage growth. Not bad for something usually dismissed as all form and no function.

Kunai

Kunai

The kunai has a rather colourful history; first designed as a farming tool, it was later adopted by the ninjas thanks to its strength, shape and versatility.

Kunai are forged from soft iron and only sharpened at the tip, since the edges are used to break and smash softer materials such as wood or plaster. A fair comparison would be to a crowbar; the kunai is perfectly capable of prying open gaps and its strength has spawned a number of ulterior uses. The most notable, as previously mentioned, was its adoption by the ninja. It was used at times a weapon, but its true use came in more practical forms. The ninja used it to gouge holes in walls, smashing through softer material just as it did in the tranquillity of the garden. Its shape and strength also made it perfect for climbing; it could be reliably driven into trees or into pitons (a crack in a climbing surface which can help anchor you to a wall) thanks to its strong, compact design. The pommel at the top the handle was perfect for tying a rope to, which allowed the kunai to be tied to a stick and used as a spear, thrown like a Chinese rope dart or simply tied around the handle to give the user more grip.

In spite of all of this, the kunai was never primarily a weapon. It was a tool, used by farmers and warriors alike. It, too, has withstood the test of time thanks to its strong, simple design, and while the kunai has lost some its popularity as a garden tool to the ninja connotations, it is an excellent example of how an ancient tool can find new niches.

Plastic dibber

Dibbers

What a wonderful word that is, too – dibber. Most us are familiar with them any many of us will own one already, but in terms of its history, many underestimate the years in which the dibber has been a staple of the gardeners tool belt.

Its first recorded appearance was during the Roman Empire, and its design has remained consistent ever since. Dibbers, as I’m sure most us know, are pointed sticks used to make holes in which to plant seeds or bulbs. Over the years a few variations of the classic variant have evolved; t-shapes curved handles, straight dibbers that look a little more like the stakes one would employ to slay a vampire.

It was only during the Renaissance that dibbers became manufactured items; some moved away from simple wooden designs and made the tool from iron, perfect for penetrating harder surfaces like clay. The dibber was also a time-saver for farmers; one would walk with a dibber making holes in the soil, and another would follow behind planting seeds in each and fill them back in. Classic wooden dibbers are a vintage little addition to a tool shed, and many prefer the feel of smooth wood to modern plastic or metal handles. As another little nugget for you, it was revealed on an episode of the BBC’s “Would I Lie To You?” that comedian Lee Mack has donated his dibber to the British Lawnmower Museum. Proof that any old tool can become a collectible if marketed properly, I suppose.

garden hoe

Hoes

I can’t write that word without thinking of the Two Ronnie’s “Four Candles” sketch. “No no, o’s! O’s for the gate, mon repose, o’s! Letter o’s!”

Anyway…

So you may be thinking “why no Earth are we discussing something as common as a garden hoe in a blog that features hori horis and kunais?” Well, dear reader, that’s because the hoe has a rather brilliant historical backstory. The hoe actually predates the plough and may only have been preceded by digging sticks. As one of the oldest tools in our shed, it has evolved to accommodate developing technologies and has seen its head redesigned to meet a wide variety of needs. The hoe is even divinely inspired according to some myths and ancient colonies. In Sumerian mythology, its invention is credited to the chief council of the Gods, Enlil, and Shennong (“The God Farmer”) in ancient Chinese culture. The hoe was even depicted in predynastic Egyptian art, and mentioned in ancient documents like the Book of Isaiah and the Code of Hammurabi from the Babylonian Empire. And here’s another little fact for you, fellow hoe enthusiasts; the short-handled hoe is banned in the US state of California, who deemed it an unsafe hand tool after farmers developed crippling lower back pain after years of usage. The more ya know, eh?

So there we have it – just a smattering of the classic, historical or artisanal tools that could and perhaps should adorn your shed wall. Quite uplifting to know your hoe may be divinely inspired, isn’t it?

Ross at PrimroseRoss works in the Product Loading department and gets to see all the weird and wonderful products that pass through Primrose. Ross is a life-long Southampton fan and favours jazz music, reading and a quiet place to enjoy them.

See all of Ross’s posts.