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Leonard Moorehead the Urban Gardener: Gardener’s Wish List

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Photo: Leonard Moorehead

My all-time favorite gift was a wheelbarrow. A sturdy, extra full sized, quiet plastic bodied thick wood handled wheelbarrow. Blue. Wheelbarrows are simple machines, the wheel and lever, they are perfect for compost, soil and squealing children, tipsy-turvy. Some urbanites desire many bathrooms, granite counters, exotic climates in distant locales. Excellent. For the gardener, open another can of worms. Like wheelbarrows and shovels, the gardener has special interests. 

Nurture, grow, provide.

Gardeners nurture, grow, provide. For me and anyone else who gardens, there are tools of the trade, objects of desire, key elements to success, options perhaps out of our budget but firmly in our hearts. Urban gardeners are do it yourself types who dream a lot. Gardening is a thinking person’s game. Nature inspires, need is an incentive, color, scent and form are guides. We must adapt each plot, container and avail every opportunity to grow and provide. Urban gardens are endlessly rewarding. I lean towards the simple and non-mechanized approach even as I keep an eye pealed for labor saving techniques and machinery. Like all else in urban gardening, resilience is desirable. All gardeners have wish lists and from a gardener’s perspective, we’re easy to please with the obvious and maybe, not so plain. 

The mustard seed.

Like the mustard seed, great results originate small. Let’s take a look at the tools people have developed since the great dividing line in pre-history when we domesticated plants and animals. Both are related and each is pushed further into the past as science informs history with new data. Many urban gardeners are fascinated by the evolution of plant domestication and maybe you too share the desire to learn where, why, when and how we’ve firmly attached ourselves to gardening and plants. Some would make the case plants have attached themselves to us, just now let’s talk about how we’ve made gardening more efficient, productive and enjoyable. There are many ways. 

Mother’s table: a tablespoon.

My first garden tool was from mother’s table: a tablespoon. Plants are inextricably linked to soil or others, have translated the media to hydroponic systems. Consider the wonderfully complex ecology of soil and the myriads of life forms essential to healthy plants’ nutritional needs. It is only human to dig, manipulate and prepare soil for successful growth. Every gardener has favorite hand tools. Does the gardener in your life have a trowel? The best trowels have thick handles that are easy to grasp.

Experience will instruct, a handy extra feature on a trowel will include inches marked on the blade to help gauge depth, necessary for the requirements of setting out bulbs, seedlings and transplants. No gardener has too many trowels, they are easily lost in mulches or oversight to emerge long afterwards, along with eye glasses, gloves and coffee cups, the detritus of gardening. Variations on this theme include narrow bladed trowels for selective dagger like thrusts into pernicious tap rooted plants such as dandelions and plantain. This type trowel allows a final solution with the least disturbance to surrounding growth, such as turf. No big holes or persistent sprouts. A serrated blade on one side is a plus. 

A long handled shovel

A long handled shovel is the gardener’s friend. Again, an extra thick wooden shaft is easier for hands of all sizes to grasp. A long handled shovel saves the back. Avoid translating joyful physical experience into labor. Really wish to impress? Find a shovel with serrated teeth in the blade. This type shovel cuts through obstinate soils and roots with ease. Technique is acquired through experience. Oval blades are best. Shovels of many kinds are designed with tasks in mind. A shovel for snow is not for the garden. 

Photo: Leonard Moorehead

Rubber or plastic tined rakes.

Rubber or plastic tined rakes are the way to go. Peace is a gardener’s benefit. Our urban centers are noisy places, the din of progress. Relax and grow into the joys of raking leaves. Metal tines are traditional but nothing irritates more than scratching cement pavement with metal. No thanks! If you must have one rake, go for those with wide spread teeth for more sweep. Hard landscaper’s rakes are for grooming seed beds, most commonly for turf. Few urban gardeners are slaves to large expanses of lawn. A hard tined rake has fewer applications than the soft tined leaf rakes. 

Sharp snippers.

Sharp snippers save time and effort. Grooming, trimming, and harvests are all improved with a pair of sharp bladed snippers. Cutting tools are made in various sizes. Start off the most commonly used, the smaller, one hand type. If the gardener in your life has a couple, they wear out, an extra is always welcome. Go larger, every gardener has learned that larger stems or branches require more leverage from handles to successfully loop off extra growth.

No one can trim a privet hedge with scissors. However, a strong pair of scissors are perfect for harvesting lettuce, spinach, endive, chives and other soft tissue greens. Don’t scoff, scissors are handy. Dull blades cut. Sharpen blades or dispose. Safety is paramount, injuries to children or the distracted can be avoided. Let’s not hurt anyone. Gardening is fun.

Capture a five gallon bucket.

Capture a five gallon bucket from any dumpster. Re-purpose plastic five gallon buckets from dumpsters across the city. Ignore “Soy sauce” logos and really, do you need to pay money for a bucket in some chain store color with logo? Clean thoroughly and avoid any bucket with unknown chemical debris. Those really shouldn’t be in dumpsters anyhow. Some chain shops or bakeries have stacks of these buckets clogging the back alley.

Rescue them, they have endless purpose. Step up a little: inexpensive liners with various size pockets slip inside five gallon buckets and hold all those small tools gardeners stuff into their pants pockets. Defend your view from gardener’s crack with this accessory. Our culture’s increasing interest in organization works in gardener’s favor here, soon the five gallon bucket will become a portable toolshed. 

Now for the fun stuff! 

Now for the fun stuff! Don’t sneer, gardeners are breeds apart. I once nearly kissed the person who wrapped colorful Sunday comics around a bale of peat moss and put on a red bow. Gardeners can always use more peat moss. While we’re at it, bone meal, dried blood, and large sacks of perlite are welcome any time of the time, never spoil when properly stored in metal garbage cans or in toolsheds. Maybe this sounds too pedestrian for you or outside the loop. All gardeners grin with joy with these thoughtful basics. There is much more, look around, dolomite limestone, ironite and basic 10-10-10 fertilizer and a bag of grass seed are all permanent features in the gardener’s tool kit. 

Photo: Leonard Moorehead

Seeds, bulbs, and trees.

Seeds, bulbs, and trees are lovely options. Go local for shrubs, bushes, and trees whenever possible. Small local growers are apt to have the tried and true varieties for your climate. A local grower knows their customers and they them. When you acquire locally grown plants you’re getting plants that have endured your type of winter, prevailed over local infestations and you have more recourse than a replacement plant. Advice and friendship comes along with the receipt.

This includes a live tree for the holidays. A fine tradition is somehow perverse when its realization also means cultivatable grounds are taken away from food production or become a disposal problem. There is no joy in sidewalks full of cut trees festooned with decorations. Shredded in landfills for compost is one thing, another is to consider the transport, fuel, eternal aspects of plastic or glass ornaments ground into smaller pieces for composting. 

Gardeners are easy.

Gardeners are easy to please. Watch any gardener peruse garden sites and catalogs and watch their lust for another colored daffodil, the specials on tulips, wishful examination of scarce heirloom seeds. Respond to the generous nature of the gardener in your life. Don’t have one? Be one! I started gardening with a tablespoon and a mother who sent her children outdoors to play. “wash off the spoon before you come in” was good news; the young at heart and everyone else enjoys a good splash. Wet kids and dogs were always welcome, leave muddy shoes at the door, but then you know that, don’t you? 

Leonard Moorehead is a life- long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence, RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit tree. 


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