Christmas gifts for gardeners

Running out of time?Stuck for ideas? Here’s a few that won’t leave your gardening loved one grimacing! From tools to courses give them something they’ll love this year and appreciate for years to come…

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This post is was inspired by some of the worst gifts, given with love and misguided ideas on what a gardener values obviously, I have received over the years. Saying this feels really ungrateful as the people who bought them for me really did care and had taken time out to get me what they believed were things id find useful etc but the reality was I never did find that radio shaped like a watering can useful and would actually have valued a watering can far more.

So in the spirit of helping non gardening folks to present their loved ones with gifts that will bring huge smiles to their faces upon opening them, that they will treasure for years to come I give you my top selections for gifts for gardeners!

Continue reading “Christmas gifts for gardeners”

Potty about #Glee18

A quick look at what’s new at #glee18 the horticultural & gardening trade show
Pots and tools that caught my eye. @woodlodge_uk & @BurgonandBall stood out from the crowd

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It was that time of year again when a myriad of the Horticultural trades trek up, or down depending on your perspective, to Birmingham. GLEE is the trade show behind the horticultural industry attracting all the big names, suppliers of tools, products, sundries, you name it they are there. It’s a chance for the likes of myself to see what’s new, meet people who are incredibly knowledgeable in their chosen areas, listen to seminars and catch up with friends.

This year I only went for the one day, I would’ve loved to have stayed longer but real life is just way too busy at the moment. This did of course mean I had to stay focussed … and I almost managed it!

I found myself very drawn to look at stands featuring glossy pots, perhaps im nesting? I kept imagining how wonderful my life would be if I could finally achieve that minimalist look ive always dreamed of and failed to achieve as im a horrendous hoarder of clutter. I have real issues with throwing anything away. Seriously its painful! It drives me insane that I can’t let a set of candlesticks go just because they belonged to my gran. They match nothing, add nothing to my life but they thought of giving them to the charity shop fills me with horror. I may well have found a cure though!

If I can declutter I feel I can reward myself with a few nice, well chosen beautiful things now I have a lovely house to go with them!

The first to catch my eye and please forgive me that this is a ‘trend’ at the moment was a stand featuring all manner of houseplants. Houseplants have seen an almost ,meteoric rise in popularity. Driven partly by a need to have green things in a life which feels increasingly removed from nature. Writers such as Jane Perrone have helped bring this to the forefront of people’s minds and her ‘Off the ledge’ Podcast

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I fell totally in love with these glossy jars, a modern take on the 70’s terrariums I saw as a kid. I’m pretty sure we had one, at least until I was 3, I can’t remember it after moving though. Im sure it never held a bromeliad, in fact I think the only thing in it was probably a spider plant.

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Javado are trade suppliers only, these are the guys that sell in bulk to your local garden centres and probably a million other outlets so although you can’t buy direct from them looking at their stand gives you a good idea how strong the houseplant and sundries market has become over the last few years. catering to the super chic tastes right through to a beautiful bit of kitsch madness!

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Going potty for pots? Another trade supplier which had some fabulous examples is Scheurich

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They were good enough to take me on a tour of their stand and show me their new range of retro plant pots. Their colourful industrial style make them the perfect home for tiny cacti and succulents.

The full range look delightful together!

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What I did find really interesting about GLEE this year was how many manufacturers where showing off their environmentally friendly, recycling credentials! Speaking to a rep from Strata, the manufacturers of Sanky and Ward brands, she was quick to explain that literally everything they produce is recyclable and the factory produces no waste products themselves as it all goes back to the start of the manufacturing process!

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Woodlodge also are at the forefront of recycling with their new range of Eco-Terra plastic pots. Made with the look of permanence and a modern style these pots can be easily recycled. The woodlodge stand is a pot lovers dream though! If you’re looking to pimp your patio their range comes in all shapes and styles including a very funky display in primary colours!

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But personally I fell in love with the William Morris range

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But what of tools?

Burgon & Ball are always leaders in quality products, and this year was no different! As a maker of shears they have always been ahead of the game being in the business since 1730!! They really have dominated the market in high quality gardening tools for at least 50 years and now their range of gardening sundries is beyond compare. Well designed, stylish, dependable and endorsed by the RHS, what more could you want!

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If you’re looking for gifts for the gardener in your life, look no further!

Gardeners are an inventive lot and will use whats to hand, this can often be frustrating when forks, knives, screwdrivers and other tools go missing and end up in the potting shed being used as dibbers or for pricking out seedlings. So get yourself a happy gardener by giving them tools custom made for these jobs!

we’d never buy these for ourselves as we’re saving our pennies for seeds and plants, obviously! But Burgon & Ball have created a range perfect for stocking fillers, birthday prezzies or just an everyday gift to stop your cutlery from migrating to the potting bench…

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and so my flying visit to GLEE was over for another year, cant wait till 2019! Hope you’ve found this useful!

 

 

 

STIHL FSA 130 brushcutter and AR 1000 backpack battery – Review

STIHL FSA 130 brushcutter and AR 1000 backpack battery – Review
Considering going battery? the cordless range from STIHL is worth looking at
Tools of quality from a trusted name

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Disclaimer!

The guys at STIHL have very kindly given me this kit to trial and review. I have received no payment from them.

There, now we’ve got that out of the way I can tell you all about it!

A while back, at GLEE, the lovely people at STIHL told me their battery powered kit was equal to any petrol driven kit on the market, including their own!

That’s quite a claim to make! So I went up to RHS Hyde Hall to see their Chainsaws in action, after all if you’re looking to challenge battery vs petrol a chainsaw would be one of the toughest challenges, right?

So on a chilly November day I turned up to see some of the STIHL products on demo… and see Matthew’s giant pumpkins obvs!dsc_0391

After watching an expert Chainsaw artist at work carving an owl, which really was a truly stunning display of skill – don’t try this at home folks! I got to see the battery powered option in action, ridiculously quiet in comparison.

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Dave
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A battery chainsaw making short work of this log

The guys on the STIHL display stand were really happy to chat to me and take me through the pros and cons of battery vs petrol and reassured me that their battery options have come on in leaps and bounds since id last tried one out including various battery sizes to suit different needs.

I was asked if id like to try out one of their chainsaws but as im not licensed to use one I politely declined and instead went for something which doesn’t get as much visibility as it deserves, a brushcutter!

Most of us know about strimmers and they’re a handy bit of kit for gentle tasks around the garden but if you want something with a bit more ‘WOOF!’ what you need is a brush cutter.

How do they differ?

A strimmer has a nylon cord which feeds through the head and effectively whips things to death by revolving incredibly fast. The downside of this is when you come up against things that have a bit more structure to them, say for example a reedbed, a meadow or even small tree saplings. The strimmer cord wears away very quickly and you find yourself replacing it on a regular basis.

A brushcutter has a metal blade, this allows you to tackle pretty much all the same jobs as with a strimmer head, with small exceptions which ill come back to, and then go on to tackle some of the bigger jobs which a strimmer just isn’t built for.

I figured that if I was really going to test battery vs petrol it needed to be on the kind of work that would really challenge it. Something you normally associate brute strength given by petrol engines on. So they suggested I try out the FSA 130 with the backpack battery AR 1000

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So I started it off on ‘Twist’, this is our annual wildflower meadow bit around the sculpture of that name. After flowering we would normally strim this down so the seeds get a chance to be dispersed but a strimmer isn’t great at scarifying which gives the seeds a chance to get themselves in a position to germinate, a brushcutter can do that. obviously you’re not looking to strip the ground, just cut into the top vegetation sufficiently to allow the seeds to get down to the soil.

At this point I had no clue how long the battery would last or how quickly I could get through the job. The backpack battery has a handy little readout on the back which when you press a button it will light up a series of indicator lights to give you an idea of how much charge it has. This obviously isn’t an indicator of time as there are many variables which come into play regarding how long your charge will last. You can also buy different battery sizes to fit your own needs which will fit the entire range of STIHL cordless products. So if we decided to get the cordless hedge trimmers in the future this battery pack comes with an adaptor to fit them and the backpack has the advantage of holding a larger charge and distributing the weight for the user better than a petrol model.

The backpack model I was using weighs just 5.5KG in total which genuinely is barely noticeable in use. I’m not a big person, I weigh 53KG wet through and stand at just 5ft3 so you really don’t have to be Jeff Capes to use this kit. On that note if I have one criticism of the backpack it would only be that its made for someone taller than me. As you can see from the pic getting it to sit right is a bit of a challenge for someone with a short body and a more curvy frame, shall we say, than your average bloke

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It sits higher on my back than I suspect it is designed to do and it has an unfortunate placing on the chest webbing which I can deal with but I suspect if I was more buxom would become a serious problem. This is often a problem when it comes to power tools, and tractors for that matter, as traditionally it has been great big strapping blokes using them and its taking manufactures a while to catch up and take into account that some of us are more slightly built. I am lucky as I find ways round this but it might be something in the future which might be worth considering given that about 50% of the workforce in horticulture is female. Perhaps an option of harnesses could be given?

That said, this is a small criticism, and not one I would reject it over.

It took around half an hour to cut down this area and the brush cutter makes far less of a mess than a strimmer to clean up.

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When I checked to see how much battery life I had left I was pleasantly surprised to find I’d barely dented the charge so I thought id give it a bit more of a challenge!

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Around the edge of our pond we have lots of annoying reeds which have gradually moved further and further out into the grass, obscuring the edge and potential hazards, like tree stumps, when mowing. You can strim these but you go through cord like no tomorrow and it just doesn’t do as good a job. In order to weaken the reeds and re-establish the mowing line cutting them down is the most effective method. Yes I could spray them off but its less than 3M from a watercourse. I couldn’t use a broadleaf weedkiller as it wouldn’t affect reeds so my options on which chemicals I could use are severely limited and we just don’t have the time to physically dig them out.

The brush cutter made short work of these annoying invaders, allowing us to take the ‘edge’ of the grass right back to the more ornamental grass which lurks nicely on the waterline.

We ended up clearing about 6 trailer loads of debris away!

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We can now decide how much of these guys to allow to creep back in for wildlife and aesthetics and keep them looking tidy.

Even at the end of this I still hadn’t managed to completely drain the battery despite running on full power for most of the time.

The FSA 130 has interchangeable heads available for different jobs, as I’ve said we chose the brushcutter attachment, a general all purpose blade, but you can fit a strimmer head. A choice of metal blades for different purposes and a circular saw blade!

This obviously makes it a very versatile piece of kit but it should also be treated with respect. There is always a danger of kickback and flying objects. When you’re using it it’s always advisable to walk the area first to ensure any hazards are noted and small animals such as hedgehogs or snakes have been ushered into a safer place. Also ‘don’t do as I do’ advice. Spot my deliberate mistake in the pics? As the weather was so hot I stupidly decided to wear shorts, something I wouldn’t normally do at work for H&S reasons… I got an excellent reminder why this shouldn’t be done! Not only did I get hit by bits of debris (which isn’t so bad till you hit a slug or something gross) but just as seriously I got bitten by a tic which I didn’t know anything about till a week or so later. On this occasion I think I’ve been lucky but it’s really not worth taking any chances over!

Overall I can say I’m honestly pleasantly surprised by its performance and I’m now looking for more areas we can used the FSA 130 in! I’ve gone brushcutter happy!

If you have any questions on it and want a brutally honest answer I’ll be happy to answer them from an end users point of view, if you’re looking for a more technical reply I’d advise talking to the lovely people at STIHL

Overall how happy with it?

It’s quiet, lightweight, powerful, holds charge for ages!

I’m bloody delighted with it and I’d recommend to anyone!

 

Six of the best from #glee17

#glee17 is over & the bloggers are here to tell you what we loved, heres my view

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For those of you on Twitter I’m sure you will have seen a lot of this #glee17 hashtag but for those of you not perhaps I ought to explain. GLEE is and has been for over 20 years the “must go to” show for the horticultural trade. It’s where the suppliers to the retail industry launch new products and as a buyer it’s where you get to make the interesting contacts, see the tools & of course meet friends, eat cake & listen to seminars from the likes of Nick Bailey (heart flutters) & James Wong etc.

I had wanted to go last year but it clashed with the Landscape Show, which was awkward, so sadly I didn’t get the chance but this year I had myself fully booked from as early as March! Then myself & others were invited as VIP guests of Hornby Whitefoot PR, it seems the blogging community is really being welcomed with open arms now which is wonderful for all concerned.

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I haven’t been to GLEE since I was a student. My tutor at Pershore pushed all of us to go & see & make contacts. I was young and wasnt as ballsey as I am now so spoke to very few exhibitors and frankly was a bit overwhelmed as the show was and still is HUGE! This year I had a game plan of people I really wanted to see, things that could be of benefit in particular to Ulting Wick & our work there … but best laid plans etc… it’s always easy to get distracted by shiny things and cake!

Anyway, here are some of the lovelies I saw and in some cases will be trialling over the next year to see how they stand up to constant use (& maybe a bit of abuse) from a full time gardener. After all if I can’t break them you might not be able to either…. maybe?

Haws Watering Cans

These guys have been going since time began & have become a byword for quality in the hort trade. I honestly can’t think of a place I’ve worked that hasn’t had a Haws, or several! Wonderfully balanced for ease of lifting and watering, they have a range of brass roses (The bit the water comes out of) for seedlings to a direct jet for hard to reach pots.

Weird fact! I lived opposite the factory for just over a year when I was studying to become a Jeweller. It’s a small little world.

I’ve also had one of their beautiful mini watering cans which was a pressie for around 15 years, it’s still in absolutely perfect nick.

They have a funky range of powder coated rustproof watering cans now to run alongside their classic plastic range. I totally fell in love with their copper watering can on their stand this year. I honestly don’t think I’d ever use it, its way too nice, just keep it highly polished and look lovingly at it.

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The lovely chaps also answered a question that’s been bugging me forever about their products. Have you ever noticed that you sometimes come across the odd watering can with a broken handle, predominantly in red, apparently this was a fault in the manufacturing which has since been sorted and the nice people at Haws will happily send you out a replacement handle! Easy to fit too!

Spear & Jackson

Spear & Jackson are a well known name in gardening, constantly updating their range & looking for new solutions for us gardeners

In the next few months I’ll be trialling a couple of their products out, firstly their range of professional quality secateurs…. well, actually it will be my dad, only don’t tell him as he doesn’t know it yet. He has some lovely apple trees which he has grown from maidens that he regularly updates me on but frankly his secateurs are a mess.

I will be giving their most recent introduction a run for its money!

The dinosaur headed zombie killer range!

Jokes!

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This is the Allotment Hoe… but wait it’s so much more than just a Hoe. The arrow head shape is designed with creating furrows for sowing your seeds in and the serrated flat head for pulling the dirt back over. How cool is that! why take 3 tools to the allotment when you could just have the allotment hoe!…. I’m so excited to give this one a go and will be reporting back soon!

Burgon & Ball

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If you only buy one tool this year make it a Burgon & Ball tool!

It genuinely doesn’t matter which one but if you have heavy clay soil or borders where plants are crowded on top of each other I would recommend this weird looking implement! A genius idea, it’s basically a cut down border fork. Two main prongs which are designed to slip between plants for lifting or aerating the soil but it has a full support for your foot!

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Another tool which I look forward to trying out are these wonderful, shaped, stainless steel spades. We have a lot of planting to be done at Ulting Wick so I can see it being very useful and I’d like to see how it holds up against my old favourite spade.

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The last genius idea I saw on their stand was a range of flourescent tools! Amazing! I can’t count the times people have told me they’ve lost secateurs, hand forks etc, only to have them turn up in the compost 6 months later!

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Fito “Drip by Drip” feeders

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Now we all know how incredibly precious I am about my Orchids, right? …. Well I am!

I currently use feeds that have been recommended by other Orchid growers but the lovely people at the Blument stand assured me I would be delighted with the results of their Drip by Drip feeders. The idea being the plant receives a constant, gentle supply of the nutrients it needs (which honestly in the case of Orchids is very little).

I’m still waiting on the technical data, eg NPK ratio’s, but I am going to give these lovelies a go and I’ve chosen one of my most awkward buggers to trial it on. A rescue Orchid which despite being repotted and given various locations in the house has stubbornly refused to thrive…. or die! It just sits there looking at me sadly…

Fingers crossed this may be what it needs to jolt it into action!

Next up…

World Botanics range Johnsons seeds

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Johnsons seeds were established in 1820 & are now part of the Fothergills range which also includes DT Brown.

Their World Botanics range though steps a bit outside the norm for what you would expect from a larger company which is nice.

It gives your average gardener a chance to try something a bit more exotic or unusual, I hesitate to say rare as obviously the seeds offered are easily produced in their millions but they can definitely be a bit different from your normal urban gardens fodder.

We have about 10 different varieties which we will be trialling here at Ulting Wick next year & I’ll be giving you the full run down on these nearer christmas!

Thompson & Morgan

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The people on the Thompson and Morgan stand were incredibly helpful and were happy to talk about some of their garden favourites as well as some of their newer exciting introductions, like these Radishes! How cool are they! I cant wait to try them out in a salad next summer. They also had an amazing Breadseed poppy, something unusual for your Kitchen garden & the Tagetes that actually does repel whitefly, Tagetes minuta. I’ll go through the others in more detail in a later post.

Last but by no means least!

Goldleaf Gloves

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A lot of you will have seen a lot of us bloggers raving about Goldleaf on social media recently, there’s a reason for that, they’re AMAZING!!

It’s not just that the products are exceptionally high quality, it’s not just the thought and care that goes into every single detail, the thing that makes Goldleaf so different is that it’s a real old fashioned family business!

Started by Peters father as a hobby after he retired in the early 70’s it supplied gloves to the engineering trade from his fathers garage. When Peter & Kelly took over just before the birth of their first child Peter realised there was a gap in the market for a well made high quality glove in the gardening market. Their gloves are made from deerskin leather and are incredibly soft and supple, giving you the dexterity normal gloves just don’t. Their history of making gloves tough enough to withstand the rigours of engineering has also allowed them to produce gloves which are tough enough to allow you to grip a rose stem, hard, and not feel a single scratch. I tried it, I actually broke the thorns on the rose and they didn’t come close to even puncturing the leather! Awesome!

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Goldleaf have just launched their new range, the RHS Collection, for which the won the GLEE exhibitors Award. Kelly regaled me with stories of sitting crosslegged on the sitting room floor prior to launching it going over samples with a fine tooth comb. As a family they REALLY care about what they’re doing.

The RHS Collection has a choice of 3 lovely designs to choose from which makes them a perfect gift. Named after 3 famous RHS shows & on the back is also an explanation for the language of flowers!

Rose, symbolises friendship

Iris, symbolises wisdom

Poppy, symbolises remembrance… a lovely way of telling someone they’re in your thoughts!

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For those of you who read this far I wonder if you can spot the deliberate mistake I made on the title of this blog…. 😉

A forgotten love affair rekindled…

As I head off to #glee17 this week I’m thinking tools & which ones I love.
My Wolf Garden “claw” is high on my list so here’s my review…

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We all have our favourite tools, some have been passed down to us from beloved family members or bought as presents giving them an extra sentimental value. Some are those that we spend years hankering after before finally justifying the cost to ourselves (then wondering how we ever lived without them). Some, like mine, we’re an almost accidental purchase.

You see I wanted a particular Wolf Garten tool, I remember it clearly. My family and I were at the Gardeners World show & I’d set my heart on a small hoe/fork combination tool but it came as a pack of 3 tools, the other 2 didn’t really set my world on fire but I was desperate to have this attachment.

I bought myself the small handle to go with it, I already had the long handle, I figured that between the 2 I’d be well set up.

I got home & like any kid in a sweetshop I ripped the packaging open and tried out the 3 tools one by one, leaving the rather lethal looking claw till last… in a moment my life had changed!

The hoe/fork attachment was exactly what I’d expected & would be perfect for using on the veg beds, it’s narrow profile slipping between the rows easily, the other tool too was satisfactory. If I’m honest I can’t even remember what it was. The Claw though was exemplary!

At the time I was gardening on Birmingham clay, not the toughest in the UK but still gave tools a run for their money!

The Claws three prongs slipped through the compacted surface, digging themselves deep into the ground and breaking the soil with minimal effort! Weeding and hoeing in one fell swoop, I was delighted!

I tested it out thoroughly, weeding the whole of my garden in record time, then took it to work! Work at that point was Ryton Organic Gardens, their soil was far lighter, siltier & generally speaking in far better condition than mine at home but even the bog garden, which was the toughest test I could give The Claw, yielded before its mighty prongs!

I then moved to Kent, where the soil was the heaviest clay going! Seriously you have a 2 minute window between it being like dairylea or concrete to work it. The Claw didn’t care! The Claw bit into the the hard cap like a hungry cougar on steroids! Once more proving it’s worth & securing it’s place deep in my heart.

Then disaster, I had to move as I took on a different job. Financial circumstances meant I had very little storage space & taking your own tools to this job was frowned on so The Claw went into storage, consigned to a friends shed for nearly 2 years along with a lot of other equipment that I dearly loved.

Two weeks ago I finally got some of them back, it was like Christmas! I had remembered my weed burner & also my Wolf Garten rake attachment but not the trio of attachments I’d bought those many moons ago at Gardeners World. Seeing them brought back so many memories. It honestly felt like a different person had bought them so much had changed since they came into my life.

I got The Claw out & stared at it lovingly, I’d missed this workhorse. The next day I started using it & the love affair was rekindled. Weeds in gravel were no obstacle, unlike a hoe The Claw could slip through the stones easily, catching the roots and bring them to the surface. Fallen branch in the pond? No problem! Just fit the longer handle & The Claw has you covered. Dragging that annoying branch back to land. Compacted ground under the sorbus? The Claw doesn’t care! It’s nimble, nifty & versatile, there is practically no situation it can’t be used in!

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This week I’ll be visiting GLEE, the horticultural trade show, and one of the stands I’ll be making a beeline for is the Wolf Garten stand. I saw another tool I like the look of… I’ll let you know how it goes…

Also, if you’re looking for The Claw yourself it goes by a far less evocative name of “grubber” which is far less exciting.