Old Garden Friends

Time spent with good friends and good gardening tools is time invested in seasons to come.

You have certain friends for certain things. We need good friends that will save us from Cherry Garcia ice cream. And true friends who won’t. I have a friend that gives me a start of a plant or some seeds every time I see him. My husband digs holes. He will dig a hole for a new tree or dig up and rescue abandoned farmhouse peonies. You can’t get a better friend than that.

We have certain garden tools for certain reasons, too. Tools to loosen the soil and tools to cultivate it. Serious hard-working tools for the long row and precision tools that will work in crowded garden spaces.

One of my best garden friends is an old wood handled, heavy steel trowel purchased at a gardeners estate sale. It has been used in another garden for many, many years.

Still, every fall, there comes a time when the last hole is dug, the last bulb planted. The garden season has ended. It’s time for a rest.

One morning you wake up before everybody else and you hear the honking sounds of geese flying over. It is a day old garden friends just recognize. It’s time. Time to go see an old friend. Better do it now. It may be the last time you see each other for a while.

Only the most stubborn leaves are hanging on the trees this morning. That’s when I make a mug of honey mint tea. I pull on my favorite worn and comfortable sweater and bring the mug with me to the tool shed for our last visit. I bring something for the tools, too.

Old rags and oil, maybe a file to sharpen the hand tools. There are more sophisticated ways and faster ways to clean tools. Sitting cross-legged on the wooden bench in the garden shed, using the hand tools to help clean each other is my idea group therapy. And, I think the tools might like it that way too. The spade is happy to help scape away any mud on the shovel. We help each other. It’s therapy. A reunion of sorts. The pruner and I just smile as we remember what a time we had with our first attempt at herbal bonsai.

This is the season’s last garden party. It gives me time to visit and evaluate the tools. I like being in the company of these old friends. We take care of each other. Make life a little easier. Less work for one another. It’s about respect.

Next I begin a nice steady sharpening action with the heavy file kept with the gardening equipment. It is a slow, rhythmic process, and finally comes the caress of oil on the wooden handles. Clean. Polished. Ready to rest. It is a quiet, peaceful process. Almost prayerful. Until.

Jules wakes and suspects something is going on out in that shed. When he flings open the tool shed door, glaring sunlight exposes our tryst. I feel guilty. I’ve been unexpectedly caught with my secret friends. My husband looks down at me and realizes what’s going on. He flashes me a sweet, but sad little sympathetic smile.

Now Jules wants to join in. He wants to help. He just can’t resist the chance to plug-in the big equipment. The power tools. Power! Buzz, zap, whiz, they snap into action with the flip of a switch.

“Here let me do that for you,” says Jules. My friend the hoe flies from my loving hands. “What you need is the bench grinder. Something with a little muscle”, says the helpful husband. The loud roar of mega amps, mighty volts, whirr, zip, zing. He sharpens the hoe to surgical precision. “Done!” He proudly thrusts the hoe back at me.

Oh great, I think. Should I come across an ailing chipmunk in the garden, I can perform an emergency appendectomy without hesitation. I can slice airborne mosquitoes in half and just keep working.

Some folks will never understand about friends and tools. Tool Cleaning Day is a last reunion, not a rally.

The end of the season is about slowing down. Getting ready for a rest. Garden tools and husbands don’t always know when to slow down. They are always at the ready whenever you call on them. (And even when you don’t.)

Power tools may be why some men just don’t have the intimate and spiritual friendships that women do. Men with power tools just don’t get it. Can a man with a power tool obsession ever understand about peace and meditation in a tool shed?

I just don’t think you can hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in your head with a 120-grit sanding wheel plugged into a cordless 14 volt De Walt power drill rolling across the back of a favorite shovel. My good friend, the professional quality pruning shears, has been tempted to stop the power tool roar with a quick snip, snip.

Tempting. But only for a moment. I form a plan for next year. I will bring out two mugs of relaxing honey mint tea before I begin this annual ritual. And invite Jules to come with me.

I am cultivating a philosophy here. All good gardeners know that can sometimes take years.

I’ve made an investment in good gardening tools and a good husband. I intend to keep them around for a while. It’s true newer, shinier, sharper models come around. But the ones I have are comfortable and familiar, and they dig holes just fine.

I intend to keep what I’ve got.

Originally published in Green Prints, Autumn, 2000

Also By Patsy Bell Hobson in Green Prints: “Grandmothers Seeds” Spring 1996.

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