My gardening experience spans 40 years and five suburban yards. Throughout that time and those yards, I have always stored my small garden tools in a low, rectangular, plastic container with a handle: a tote.

I did not find my garden tote at a plant nursery, the garden department of a big box store, or even at an upscale, hoity-toity garden supply store that sells stuff to people who only pretend they get dirty. This tote is designed to hold cleaning supplies.

One advantage to having all these small garden tools collected in one place is that they appear consecrated — set apart — from other stuff that tends to multiply around a home. My family knows these tools belong to Mom and carry the caveat: ask before borrowing and be sure to return.

For the most part, my garden tote sits patiently on the potting bench where every tool is oh-so-conveniently within arm’s reach. Then there are those times that I need to traipse around the yard and can enjoy saving precious time and steps by having my tool assortment at hand because, of course, my garden tote has a handle. Genius!

Add to that all the times I have headed off to garden elsewhere: a friend’s yard, a school, a church or the Sunken Gardens, which are maintained by the Georgetown Garden Club. Always, always I can grab my garden tote and go with the confidence that I’ll have what I need.

So what do I need that I have collected in my tote over the years?


Pruners, three sizes: regular bypass pruners, smaller snips, and tiny snips for stems like moss rose, which require the patience of a saint
Scissors so I won’t use pruners to cut things I shouldn’t
Dibble (or dibber depending who’s talking), two sizes: a sharpened birch branch and a chopstick, which I actually had to purchase because I’ve never ordered Chinese takeout
Plastic knives to serve as plant labels when propagating, (I purchase a box of 500 at a time), and they’re longer lasting than the wooden tongue depressors I used to use
Sharpie pen to write on the plastic knives
Weed knife — there is solace, to a point, in the monotony of digging weeds
Kitchen knife from Goodwill, not from your kitchen set; easier to use than the weed knife for smaller weeds or for painstakingly digging tiny violets to transplant
Long-handled kitchen serving spoon that is no longer needed in my mother’s kitchen and perfect for scooping soil into containers
Whisk-broom to rid the potting bench of spilled soil that didn’t reach containers
Trowel, yes, for digging holes, but not used nearly as often as the hand-hoe.
Hand-hoe, which is the one garden tool I could never be without because it digs small planting holes infinitely easier, quicker and with less effort than using a trowel
Envelopes recycled from all those credit card offers that come in the mail and handy for filling with harvested seeds
Twine and bamboo stakes when the occasional plant is vertically challenged
Rooting hormone on the off chance that I’ll actually take the time to use it during plant propagation
Glass jar to capture insects for close examination
Mosquito spray, enough said
Gloves that are virtually untouched by human hands
Band-Aids for all the times I should have worn gloves

So there you have it, the essential tools that live in my garden tote, ready to use or ready to travel. So, let’s take this less-busy-outdoor season to take inventory of our tools. If we organize, clean, oil and sharpen tools now, we’ll be in tip-top shape when spring arrives.