Monday, 29 August 2016

Snippets & Sunflowers

I imagine every tradesperson has an association with his or her special tool. No doubt painters and decorators have their preferred type of brushes; hairdressers who’ll only use a certain manufacturer of scissors; bricklayers with their favourite trowel…. and so on! When it comes to us gardeners, without doubt the tool that becomes our most reliable friend is, of course, the trusty pair of secateurs. Permanently sat in their holster, resting on my right hip, they are a constant source of comfort and activity throughout the day. I must reach for mine over a 100 times a day… everything from cutting string, to dead-heading dahlias... pruning shrubs to opening bags of compost. 
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Felco #2's - the choice of the professionals.

I’m forever advising students and clients to invest in the best pair of secateurs they can afford – easy for me to say of course! I believe the best pair of affordable secateurs on the market are undoubtedly made by Felco: for many years they have been the choice of the professional gardener. They retail from around £40.

 I often joke that like Trigger’s broom, in Only Fools and Horses,  I have had the same pair of Felco’s for about 15 years. Of course, they’ve had 10 new blades, 5 new springs and 2 replacement handles , but essentially they’re the same pair! I use the standard Felco #2, but they produce quite a range suiting most hand sizes and preferences.
Anyway, back in the early summer, I was made aware of a growing rumble of fuss being made around a certain manufacturer of Japanese secateur: Okatsune. A couple of friends of mine had been using them for a while, and along with many high-ranking hortics, they were waxing lyrical about how great they were. They let me have a go with them, and yes, they felt quite impressive. Not too dissimilar from Felco. Incredibly sharp and making a very professional-sounding click as they made their cuts…. a bit like a VW Golf door closing, they do sound the business! In fact there are whole You Tube clips where you can just listen to the sound they make... not the guiltiest of guilty pleasures one can have I suppose!
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Okatsune with their distinctive red and white handles.

So, I did my research, and not being one to part with my hard-earned cash that easily, I read articles and reviews, Googled discussions all over the Interweb, listened to those clips on You Tube and so on! Eventually, curiosity alone tempted me to add a pair of Okatsune’s to my basket, proceed to the checkout, and then sit back and wait their arrival.
So anyway, a month later, what’s my verdict? Well, I’m constantly being told that Felcos are the choice of professional gardeners in the West, and that Okatsune remain the #1 choice for the Japanese gardener. They’re very good. Quite well balanced, about the same weight as Felco’s, but incredibly sharp. So sharp in fact, they scare me a little.
With my Felco’s I go cutting down clumps of hardy geraniums like Edward Scissor Hands, grabbing bunches of foliage and stem and shearing away like a maniac. However, I tried that particular task with my new Japanese friends and to be honest I had to stop using them. As I say, although the Felcos are sharp, you just feel that, should an accident happen with them, you would probably only give yourself a nasty cut. With the Okatsunes however I feel that they are so incredibly sharp, I could probably lose a finger or two in the operation and not even realise until I took my gloves off at the end of the day and had a finger count – surgically sharp!
Also, the Okatsune secateurs are not nearly as ergonomic as the Felco’s. They obviously embody a certain design simplicity, with their distinctive red and white handles having subtle simple curves to them. However, with activity, this can cause your fingers to quickly rise up and sit just where the blade pivots – not good!   
My Okatsune's with my very own ergonomic adaptation.

All in all, for me, the Felco’s are still by far the best! They feel robust; they’re well-designed. They sit comfortably in the hand. All parts are replaceable – unlike the Okatsune’s – and they also don’t feel so sharp you could might accidentally circumcise a gnat. 

Shoulder height when first cut
Whilst on the subject of pruning, you might like to see what I do with my sunflowers most years. As you may recall, I have a tiny bit of garden at the front of my cottage and each year I ram it full with pots, mainly herbaceous perennials, many late season daisies plus grasses and a few more exotic-looking annuals: Cleomes and Ricinus.

Of course, sunflowers are mega daisies and I tend to grow the rather tall varieties, again in pots. However, long before they flower, and when they reach approximately shoulder height, I brutally snip the stems.

A few weeks later, once it has branched off.

I do this in the hope of seeing it branch out into a multi-stemmed flower, giving me more bang for my buck. It’s a bit of a numbers game as it doesn’t work on every sunflower I do it to. Sometimes, I spend the rest of the summer simply watering a flowerless stick! But, when it does work, the results are great. Do give it a go!

The end result... several flowers from one single stem! Do this to a few sunflowers and the effect is stunning! Tough, robust mega-daisies towering over your displays.

Oh well, I think that’s just about it for this post. Thanks very much for reading it.
My next post is on the subject of assisted dying, and rather surprisingly, is not as depressing as it sounds!

Have a good one... 'til next time!
Le Jardinier

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