We all have that one secret weapon that we rely on repeatedly to get the job done, right? Whether we're pulling weeds, dividing irises for a client, or tackling a difficult site measure alone, there are tools we have become dependent on to get the job done fast, efficiently and painlessly. I have my own favorites, but I thought it might be interesting to get a few designer friends to weigh in as well. Following are the tools that made the top of list.
Hands down, everyone agreed that the Hori Hori is one of their "go-to tools." That catchy name is impossible to forget. The tool is actually small enough to fit on your belt in a holster, but it looks like a knife. In fact, the first time I whipped mine out in front of my foreman, he raised one eyebrow and said, "Whoa, I'm not going to mess with you!"
The shaft has a serrated edge on one side that's great for cutting through sod or ground cover flats and can sub in for a pocketknife in a pinch. The metal blade is contoured and makes for a handy trowel for planting 4-inchers or tackling weeds with deep taproots. It also is marked with 1-inch intervals, making it handy for planting bulbs or spacing seeds or ground cover plugs. "Hori Hori, without a doubt, my new BFF in the garden. I don't know how I lived without it for decades," says Jude Parkinson-Morgan.
If you want to add a Hori Hori to your private arsenal, check out Hida Tool & Hardware Co. (www.hidatool.com) in Berkeley, Calif., a treasure trove of unique Japanese gardening and woodworking tools.
Looking for some pruning tools? Kathleen Olson discovered her best Japanese pruning saw at Hida Tools, and Anne Weinberger found a unique Japanese pruner with a 5-foot-long handle, "perfect for those small trees like the persimmons, which need a lot of cutting back every year." Kristin Caldwell traded her heavy, cumbersome 12-foot metal ladder for her lightweight, 8-foot Japanese aluminum orchard ladder. Ladders are also available at Hida Tool in 6, 12 and 14-foot heights.
Jeanne Chiodo shared some other great sources for European hand tools. Her favorite small pruning knife can be found at Acres Home & Garden (www.acreshomeandgarden.com) in St. Helena, Calif. "It's a store worth visiting," she says. Esschert's Garden (www.esschertdesign.com) is another great find for small-scale tools. She also calls her small Wilcox All-Pro #202 hand shovel "an essential tool that will make any job easier." It can be found at Sloat Garden Center (www.sloatgardens.com) in Danville, Calif.
Other gear she's grown to depend on are her Keen (www.keenfootwear.com) hiking boots, which have a protective rubber toe and good arch support for long days in the garden or on a job site.
Caldwell said that her Felco (www.felcostore.com) pruners are still a "must-have" basic. "Don't waste your time or money on cheap knockoffs with blades that can bend under a little pressure."
My favorite tool, although I don't use it every day, is an invaluable asset for any landscape designer, contractor or architect to have. It took me a few years to justify the money to purchase it, but I still feel it's worth every penny.
The Ziplevel is a high-precision altimeter that not only levels, but also measures elevations on an easy-to-read digital meter in the scale you prefer (inches, feet, meters and centimeters), with positive digits above and negative below your zero point. It even has the sensitivity to capture the thickness of a business card with up to 0.05-inch precision.
We've all had to complete a difficult site measure alone. It's bad enough lugging all your supplies - tape measure, scale, oversized clipboard - to a job site by yourself. But the worst of it is when you don't have a co-worker or assistant to help you measure.
In the past, if you wanted to measure a change in elevation, you had to read and subtract numbers from a rod where larger readings mean lower elevations and smaller readings mean higher elevations. These counterintuitive rod readings and additional math mean there's a greater chance of error. Multiple setups are often required due to visual obstructions in the sight line. Oftentimes your work is done at a different level than your instrument height, requiring a second "rod man" to locate a laser beam while you work below or above.
Unlike traditional builders' levels or rotary lasers that can be cumbersome to set up and require calibration, the Ziplevel is a compact, self-contained unit that allows for five-minute setup. It has a handy telescoping stanchion that supports the digital meter, so it provides a waist-high readout. There are two aluminum stakes that secure the base unit in position while you traverse over difficult slopes or densely planted areas with only the small hand-sized meter, which is attached to a 100-foot cord that allows you to detect up to a 40-foot vertical drop.
The beauty of the Ziplevel is that it allows you to set the zero point, and from there gives you positive digits above or negative below your zero point in whatever scale you prefer. It will even hold the last measurement in memory so you can capture more than one measurement at a time.
I've had many site analyses where I have clambered across a slippery, ivy-covered slope with one end of my 100-foot tape to measure a fence line, only to realize that the other end of my staked measuring tape has come loose. Or I've spent hours placing stakes and stringing twine in order to capture elevation changes, only to realize back at my office that I missed a measurement. Site measures are near impossible without an assistant to help you. The Ziplevel is an invaluable tool in the field that will save you so much time and frustration and offers amazing measuring accuracy. Yes, it's an investment, but it's worth every penny.
The Ziplevel is manufactured by Technidea Corp., and you can learn more about it at the company's website: www.technideacorp.com.
Jeannie Fitch is a landscape designer in the San Francisco Bay area with over 20 years of design and project management experience. She is preparing for her landscape contractors license, is an active APLD member and currently serves on the APLD East Bay executive board as membership chair.