VP's VIPs: The Fat Gardener

Following my observations in last Friday's post about garden bloggers rarely writing about their garden tools, it's rather good timing today that my VIP is The Fat Gardener who blogs for Quality Garden Tools. When I started out with VPs VIPs last year, I said I was aiming to get at the nuts and bolts of the gardening industry. Today I'm doing just that, albeit a little more literally than usual!
How did you become the 'voice' of Quality Garden Tools?

By accident! Quality Garden Tools was a new company and were looking for someone who both loved garden tools and could write (a heady combination!) to put together a blog for them. I just happened to be in the right place at the 'write' time.

Over 130 posts on a niche gardening topic is impressive going, where do you get your ideas?

The first thing to say is that you have to love what you're blogging about. Garden tools and gadgets are constantly being invented, improved and redesigned which makes life much easier as there always seems to be something new to blog about. Fortunately, Quality Garden Tools allow me to write about anything within horticulture, not just garden tools, so my blog contains posts on shows, issues and other garden news. A blog is quite a personal form of expression, so I tend to write exactly what I think; if I like or admire something I say so and if something makes me cross I write that too. I find that the world of gardening inspires and infuriates me in equal measures, so I never seem to have any shortage of what to write!

I'm a little confused from looking at the website: is Quality Garden Tools a separate company or part of Bulldog Tools?
It's a completely separate company. One of our owners, Dominic Elsom worked for Bulldog Tools for a number of years and was amazed that their great range of British made tools was available in so few garden centres. He started Quality Garden Tools with the specific purpose of supplying every product that Bulldog Tools manufacture direct to keen amateur and professional gardeners and landscapers. Five years on and the company still offer every tool that Bulldog manufacture as well as many other leading other brands.

I can get my Bulldog tools from my local garden centre, why should I buy them online?
If you're lucky and you live near a garden centre like the Plant Centre at the RHS garden at Wisley you will be able to get hold of a few Bulldog Tools. However, if you want something a little different like a tree planting spade, potato fork, onion hoe, compost fork or even a long handled spade for taller gardeners you will have problems finding it 'offline'. Also you should expect to save at least 10% if you buy online along with the convenience of never having to leave your garden!

I see you still manufacture in the UK [a much rarer thing these days! - Ed], why is that?
We stock a number of British made products including Bulldog Tools, Nutscene Twine, Haws Watering Cans, Hayter Lawnmowers and Haemmerlin Wheelbarrows which are made in both France and the UK. I recommend British tools because the production values (quality) tends to be extremely high. Many of these products have a 'handmade' quality to them with the manufacturing tradesman manufacturing 'by eye' to ensure fantastic quality based on experience rather than machinery. I also think that it makes sense to buy a spade or wheelbarrow that hasn't travelled half way around the world to get to your local garden centre. They may cost a little more, but these British tools will last longer and may even help to save the planet.

Can I come and look at your factory?
Anyone is welcome to visit Bulldog Tools in Wigan on one of the regular factory tours. Tour dates can be found here.

Anything new or major projects in the pipeline?
We've just introduced a range of Haws Professional Watering Cans to their website. They are made in Smethwick, West Midlands and I was lucky enough to be the one to test the samples - which was great fun! Later this year we will have a very secret new range of famous horticultural tools arriving in stock, which up until now have been very hard to find in the UK. We will also be showing Ethel Gloves at the Chelsea Flower Show this May.

I struggle to find a spade and fork that are right for me. What are the key things I should be looking for?
This is an incredibly common problem. Many gardeners (particularly ladies) struggle to find the right spade and fork to suit them, but the correct tool is often easier to find if you ask yourself the following questions:
  • How tall am I? A standard digging spade is designed for gardeners of between 5' 7" and 5' 11". If you are between 5' 2" and 5' 6" try a border spade and if you are shorter than 5' 2" use a shrubbery spade. Taller gardeners will find long handled spades more comfortable.
  • How fit and strong am I? A spade or fork full of soil is heavy! If you need a lighter spade try to remember: Stainless steel is lighter than solid forged steel and pressed steel is lighter than stainless steel. The smaller the spade or fork the lighter it will be, so if you find digging spades heavy, a border spade will be lighter. Also a wooden handle is lighter than a steel handle and a fibreglass handle is lighter than a wooden handle.
  • How often do I use them? If you only use a spade and fork occasionally you may want something heavier to get the work done quickly.
  • What extras do I want? Do you need boot savers (or treads) on the spade? Do you prefer a 'YD' style grip or a traditional 'T'? Do you prefer an epoxy coated finish or stainless steel? Do you want an open socket, a closed socket or a strapped tool (this will affect the strength of the tool).
These questions should lead you to the right tool. Try not to be fooled by the style or 'look' of the spade/fork - just because it looks like an old fashioned tool doesn't mean it was made like one.

I often garden in my trainers and these sometimes get damaged when I dig, is there anything I should be looking for which helps to prevent this?
Oh dear, trainers are never good (I'm not called the Fat Gardener for nothing)! I would first suggest that you get a pair of stout boots which will be much better at stopping misplaced fork prongs, then I would recommend a spade with treads. These are small pieces of metal attached to the top of the spade blade and will save both your feet and your shoes.

I find continued pruning often hurts my elbow, what kind of things should I be looking out for to help prevent this when I buy my next pair of secateurs?

First, you may want to check your pruning action has a straight grip (like shaking hands) and isn't twisted (like turning a screwdriver). The second thing is to always make sure you are using the right tool: don't use secateurs to do a lopper's job and don't use loppers to do a saw's job. It is really easy to try and use secateurs to prune a thick stem, but it will put strain on your arm. Finally it may help to use either secateurs with a rotating lower grip which are designed to make prolonged pruning more comfortable, or ratcheted (sometimes known as geared) secateurs which reduce the pressure needed to make a cut.

My friend and I have been arguing about lawn care. I say it's OK to edge with a spade, she says I need a lawn edger. Which of us is right?
Neither of you! Using a spade or a lawn edger tends to remove too much turf for my liking. I only use a lawn edger when I am rejuvenating a very overgrown garden or making a new vegetable patch or flower border in an existing lawn. I think the best tool to keep your lawn edges looking like a bowling green are edging shears. Assuming that your lawn edges were properly created, just tidying up the edge of the unkempt lawn will get them looking great. If you are going to use a spade, check it doesn't have a curve to the blade, otherwise you will end up with scalloped edges!

And finally, where can we see the giant spade this year?
It was actually on TV recently! The spade will be visiting a number of nurseries and garden centres this year and you can check out the schedule on the Bulldog Tools website.
Thanks for such a fun interview! I've now bought a pair of proper safety boots following your advice, so if Threadspider spies me up at the allotment digging in my trainers she should be telling me off ;)
I also see whilst grabbing the links for this piece that Bulldog are also blogging and tweeting about their Chelsea exhibit this year :)


  1. The Fat Gardener is dead right about the spades. I'm 5'2 on a good day and swapped to a border spade with treads a couple of years ago because I was trying to shift too much soil in one go!

    I'll be looking at the QGT website once I get the dosh to replace all my tools that I lost in the fire - I like good solid British tools :)

  2. Hi NG - glad you found this useful and I hope your money comes through soon.


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