Fix up look sharp: a masterclass in caring for your gardening tools

PUBLISHED: 13:33 17 March 2017 | UPDATED: 13:33 17 March 2017

Your tools don't need to be razor sharp, but keeping them in top condition will help when it comes to hedges

Your tools don't need to be razor sharp, but keeping them in top condition will help when it comes to hedges

This content is subject to copyright.

A good gardener never blames their tools. Ruth Pavey shares an expert’s tips for tool care, plus a tribute to a remarkable woman

Alison Richards demonstrates how to sharpen your shearsAlison Richards demonstrates how to sharpen your shears

Alison Richards, jeweller turned gardener and Hampstead resident, has appeared in this column before, talking about Mediterranean plants and the restoration of her great grandmother’s villa garden in Western Sicily. Alison’s way of going about this restoration is to take out parties of friends, including me, for working holidays.

Last November when I was there, I was struck by how good and sharp the tools were. Then on our last night I saw why. Into the grand old-fashioned sitting room, with firelight glinting on faded gilding, in came Alison lugging a quantity of loppers, secateurs and shears. Then she set to with oil, rags and sharpening tool. So deftly did she work that in no time the whole pile of tools was ready to be put away till the spring.

Two things struck me about this procedure,

1) that this was a skilled jeweller at work,

2) that a sharpening masterclass would do me, and my tools, good.

So, to NW3 did I recently take them. The first thing Alison said was that she does all her sharpening instinctively, so it’s hard to put the steps into words. Watching YouTube tutorials, she suggested, might be clearer. Actually, despite demonstrating a variety of techniques, You Tube wasn’t clearer, so here are Alison’s tips:

- Use a flat sort of sharpener, or one with a handle, and have a few twigs to hand.

- Know that it’s only the bevelled cutting edge that you want to work on; doing the other sides is counterproductive.

- If the blades are dirty, pithy, etc, clean them first with something like Scotchbrite. This makes it easier to see the bevel.

- Use mineral, as opposed to vegetable, oil.

- Put a little oil on the bevelled edge.

- Anchor the tool against the edge of a table.

- Working away from you, use firm, even strokes with the sharpener down the whole of the cutting edge. The sharpener should be at an angle quite close to that of the edge, so that it is in contact with the whole of it throughout the stroke.

- After a few strokes, try cutting some twigs, to see if you’ve done enough. It isn’t necessary to have razor sharp tools, just sharp enough.

Two more comments Alison made were that a wipe of surgical spirit between working on one plant and the next will reduce the spread of infection, and that all tools benefit from being regularly cleaned and oiled.

I already knew that she took her own advice about the latter, but what about the surgical spirit, did she really do that? Well no, she admitted, not often. One further aside was that using olive oil, even of the finest quality as produced on the villa estate, is useless because it’s sticky. 3-in-1 or equivalent is much cheaper and better. However, the Racalia estate oil, available at Fortnum and Mason, is highly recommended when not applied to secateurs.


Margaret Jarvie, allotment gardener, beekeeper, swimmer, quiltmaker

I briefly noted in January that Margaret Jarvie had died, but now that the birches around her woodland grave are beginning to come into leaf, it seems time to say a bit more about this remarkable woman. Her life touched and inspired many people. After her funeral, there was much talk of her kindness, humour and no-nonsense pragmatism.

Margaret was born in Iowa in 1924, the daughter of a beekeeper. She came to England in 1945, in her words as a “reverse GI bride”, meaning that she had married an English naval officer. She did all manner of things, including having six children, but it was as a needlework teacher that I first met her, in an East End comprehensive. When she retired she more or less took up residence at her plot on Highgate Allotments.

This was before allotment waiting lists, so she suggested that I should rent the vacant plot next door. She dismissed my quibbles about lack of time, declaring that she liked to have her friends around her, which she did. The rickety table, benches and sunshade outside her shed became a wonderfully social spot, in which you might meet her children, her grandchildren, her fellow beekeepers, quiltmakers or visitors from America.

This sociability did not, however, stop her from growing a great variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers as well as keeping bees. She grew almost everything from seed, using an arcane numbering system to save on labels. Until the age of 90 she seemed indestructible. But alas, she wasn’t.

Property search

e.g. Oxford or NW3
Powered by Zoopla

Other Hampstead and Highgate property news

Bookend buyers: Inside the Highgate development that’s courting both first time buyers and downsizing locals

This new development is appealing to people on both ends of the property ladder who want the ease of apartment living in a great north London location

Camden to lead crackdown on cowboy landlords with name and shame database

Camden is one of six boroughs to sign up to the pilot of a new name and shame database to tackle rogue agents and landlords in the private rented sector

Hot property in Kentish Town: the best buys in NW5

Our top pick of hot properties on the market in Kentish Town now; snap them up before they’re gone!

Kentish town area guide: restaurants, pubs, bars and city farm

Your guide to things to do in Kentish Town, including the best shops, cafes, restaurants and schools. PLUS our guide to property in NW5

Archway ambience: an elegant apartment for a bargain price in the heart of Archway

This Archway apartment has a tardis-like sense of space and light, a private balcony and a walk in wardrobe - all for under £400k

New build open evening in Hampstead lets you test run your commute

Working late again? The new homes at Thirty2 are staying open for late viewings today to help busy house hunters

Comment: The naked truth behind bare minimalism in the housing crisis

Naked House isn’t a story about stylish minimalism, it’s a sad solution to the desperate situation the government has left London’s families

Paddington office complete with roof terrace honoured in workplace design awards

Paddington is fast becoming the new King’s Cross as a refurbished office directly opposite the new Crossrail entrance is named Best Recycled Workplace in prestigious regional awards

Highgate, East Finchley and Fortis Green named lowest yield as buy-to-let landlords hammered by tax changes

Landlords are selling up as tax changes combined with low yields eat into their profit margins. But if you invest in the right location and are prepared to be patient there are still parts of north London that can turn a profit, say experts

Camden house prices plunge over 30 per cent in just one month

Asking prices in the borough have dropped significantly since March, but is it a case of a cooling market, competitive pricing, or just Camden’s quirky property micro climate?

Property of the week: a stucco fronted home in the heart of Little Venice

This three bedroom apartment decorated in chic neutrals features a fully fitted kitchen and a private patio garden for al fresco dining

Generation Boomerang: meet the graduates supported by the bank, the fridge and the home of mum and dad

More and more young people are choosing to live at home in north London in the face of soaring property prices and an unaffordable housing crisis that has removed the lower rungs of the property ladder, leaving them without a foothold

Fabulous flowers: top tips for growing compact clematis

Clematis are one of the most popular varieties of garden flower, so how can you get the best from your blooms?

Windy weather? Here’s five tips for wind turbines

Windy weather? Generating electricity for your home will be a breeze with these top tips for wind turbines

New launch: period living in Paddington with Parker House

Prices start at £570,000 for a one bedroom apartment in this boutique development in zone one

Pore over this: pour yourself a drink in the power couple property with a secret pièce de résistance

This NW8 property has a garden, roof terrace and a secret bar decked out for throwing one of Gatsby’s greatest bashes

Let there be light: a modern home illuminating the future of environmentally friendly living

This East Finchley property is not just innovative, it’s invisible. We take a nosey around the modern eco home.

Comment: communities need buy to live

Buy to leave apartments in new build developments convert corrupt cash into clean assets, decimating local communities in the process. So it’s heartening to see Highgate Court lead the way with homes for local people

Hampstead hotspot: young professionals flock to NW3

Hampstead is the ninth most popular choice for young urban professionals, and the most expensive choice on the list.

Hampstead area guide: shops, theatre, schools and the Heath

Your guide to things to do in Hampstead, including the best shops, cafes, restaurants and schools. PLUS our guide to property in NW3

Top 3 properties for sale in Hampstead

A modern apartment, three bedroom flat and four bedroom family home make the cut for our top three properties on the market in Hampstead this week

Will the snap general election affect the north London property market?

Theresa May has announced that the country will return to the polls on June 8 for the third summer running, but what will this mean for property sales in north London?

5 of the best spring cleaning buys

Dust away those cobwebs and ready your home for warmer days with these stylish spring cleaning products

Hot properties: on the market in Crouch End, Hampstead and Primrose Hill

Fancy a five bedroom family home, a contemporary apartment or a period flat? Take your pick of our top properties up for grabs this week

Property of the week: top to toe amenities in this modern three storey home

This West Hampstead home comes with its own private balcony up top and a wine cellar below, and a lot to offer in between

Searching for the gardens of Southwood Hall

Ruth Pavey goes in serach of the lost gardens of Southwood Hall, with a little help from some Highgate residents

Buzzing about bees: everything you need to know about the RHS’s new bee campaign

The RHS is collaborating with The Wildlife Trusts to bring wildlife enthusiasts new inspiration to protect our black and yellow friends

Spring Living: interiors for warmer weather

Lorraine Kelly knows all about spring style for your home. Here’s her top advice for spring interiors.

Take me to church: the chapel with a starring role in period drama ‘Call The Midwife’ is up for sale

Nonnatus House from BBC’s Call The Midwife can be all yours for £6 million

Shop of the month: handmade on the hill with Tash & Tanya

At a time when independent retailers are under threat, Tash & Tanya is a good news story of a local business going from strength to strength without compromising on handpicked style

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

2016 © Archant Community Media Ltd

Terms and conditions | Cookie policy | Jobs at Archant