TRIED & TESTED : WHEELER DEALING

When push comes to shove, which wheelbarrow will make light work of heavy jobs? Our panel handles seven
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The Independent Culture
A GOOD, strong wheelbarrow is surely an essential tool for all gardeners, young or old, but in our research to find the best barrow, we also discovered many other possible uses to do with stables, marinas, school fund-raisers and even amusement for children. Accordingly, our survey features a wide range of wheelbarrows in many different sizes, with different purposes in mind.

THE TEST

We took the wheelbarrows to a wet, hilly allotment in north London, to see how they fared on slopes and narrow paths that were difficult to negotiate. We filled them with bags of compost, bales of straw and, just for fun, gave rides to Rachel Bawden, the seven-year-old daughter of one of the testers. Points were given for stability, robustness, manoeuvrability and general ease of pushing.

THE PANEL

Claire Blezard, horticultural consultant to a London garden centre; Donald Hudd, former market gardener and allotment owner; Andrew Simpson, allotment owner; Clare Bawden, chief caretaker of her own "pretty enormous" garden just outside London; and me, a gardening novice, who soon discovered that looks aren't everything when it comes to moving heavy weights up a gradient.

**CHILLINGTON, METAL BUILDER'S/GENERAL BARROW

pounds 19.95

This is your bog-standard metal wheelbarrow - very reasonably priced in most garden centres and not difficult to manoeuvre. It isn't light, and its pneumatic tyre, as with all such tyres, is naturally subject to punctures. "We have one exactly like this at home," reported Clare Bawden. "It's rusty because we leave it out all the time and the tyre is always flat. But it doesn't matter: we pump it up to do a job, it lasts for an afternoon, then it goes down again." Painted black, it is supposed to be a builder's barrow; painted green with red handles ("Much nicer," said Rachel) it is a gardener's barrow, but they are exactly the same. Fine for occasional use, we decided.

***JB CORRIE AND CO STOWAWAY GARDEN BUGGY

pounds 37.58

This collapsible wheelbarrow struck me as a brilliant idea. Its green woven-fabric pan and aluminium folding legs weigh nothing at all, so when you have finished with it you can pick it up and hang it on a nail in your shed. "That won't last long," observed Donald Hudd sceptically. Andrew Simpson disapproved of the plastic wheel, which was hard to steer. The promotional leaflets show the Gar-den Buggy transporting bricks, but Clare Bawden found a more feasible application. "I would put this in my car when we do the school fete, to trundle all the bread rolls and hamburgers across the playing field," she said.

*BLACKWELL PRODUCTS' WONDERBARROW

pounds 49.95

Made from 100 per cent recycled plastic, the Wonder-barrow sounds brilliant in principle - environmentally friendly, waterproof, likely to last a lifetime without rusting or splintering and delivered ready assembled with a pneumatic tyre that looks as if it will bounce along nicely on all terrains. In practice, it is extremely heavy. All the female testers refused to put our token bag of compost in it, preferring to struggle up and down the path with it empty. There was a great deal of complaining. "And it's so ugly!" exclaimed Clare Bawden, perhaps because the Wonderbarrow has moulded feet and handles obviously made from molten plastic with a texture described by Andrew Simpson as "like congealed tar".

****THE MOTO-BARROW CO ELECTRIC WHEELBARROW

pounds 370

"This is more like it!" was my immediate response to this sturdy, battery- powered wheelbarrow, which speeded silently and effortlessly up the sloping paths of the allotment. Despite its four wheels, it seemed to fit most of our narrow paths, and since the back wheels steer, everyone found it easy to control. You do have to assemble the barrow with the battery and hod yourself - a tedious task left to the men. But it was Clare Bawden who pointed out one of the Moto-Barrow's best features: the hod pivots at the front for tipping. It also comes with an optional "grass-hopper", a sort of plastic cage that's used to extend the height of the lid so you can fill it to the brim with grass clippings. Its only drawback (apart from the price) was, Claire Blezard felt, the height of the hod - quite a distance to lift things into if you are feeling frail. But it is possible to remove the hod and use the chassis to carry plant trays, etc. This barrow seemed perfect not just for elderly gardeners (for seven-year-old Rachel riding in the Moto-Barrow was the best fun she had all day) but for those with large, sloping gardens and lots of work.

*****INTERVAL SYSTEMS' FORT EASY RIDER

pounds 54.50

This light, green, polypropylene wheelbarrow with a pneumatic tyre didn't seem to have anything special to recommend it on first sight, but it turned out to be the panel's absolute favourite. "This is the perfect barrow," declared Donald Hudd. "It's light, robust, very stable and well made." Claire Blezard agreed, setting the stamp of practical approval on the Easy Rider. We all concurred. It really is easy to use, and it rides over all bumps without jolting. It looks smooth and unobtrusive in the garden and will probably last a lifetime, which makes it a bargain.

GREENGATE HOLDINGS' TRADITIONAL WHEELBARROW

pounds 159 including UK delivery

This all-wooden, hand-made barrow was a terrible disappointment. Made from "solid hardwood" with a hickory wheel rim, metal tyre and solid timber hub, it is naturally heavy and, despite the manufacturers' assertion that this is a working barrow with aesthetic possibilities, we assumed it was really meant to be used to display your petunias on a corner of the patio. On arrival, however, it was felt generally to be "not as beautiful as all that". The wood has a reddish stain that rubbed off easily, causing Andrew Simpson to tut over the quality of both wood and finish. I had been the Traditional Barrow's greatest champion, but after making a 16- point turn to get it round the corner into the allotment, and accidentally running over the strawberry plants next to the path because it was so heavy, I had to admit defeat. Buy a trough for your petunias instead.

****MICHAEL BANKS' ASCENDER LIFT BARROW, MAGNUM TWIN

pounds 229.50

We were provided with the massive Magnum Twin version of the popular Ascender barrows range - an impressive size that was surprisingly easy to wheel along full of bales of straw, but in general too big for our little allotment (the smallest version costs pounds 139.50 - still pretty steep). The excellent design principle remains the same for all models; loading is the worst part of using a conventional barrow because of all the stooping and straining. The rock-solid Ascender lets you lower the hod so you can sweep, rake or ease the load in. Then you pull the handles back and the weight is balanced over the two wheels. The deep, triangular shape of the hod - made from galvanised sheet steel - also means you can mix compost (or cement!) in it. The Ascender range is apparently popular with stables and the manufacturers report occasional use of the barrow as an "animal ambulance". Rachel was not impressed by this information. "It's a tippy ride," she complained.

STOCKISTS

Garden centres, department stores, or for local stockists, ring: Chillington (01543 3764410; JB Corrie and Co Stowaway Buggy (01730 262552); Moto-Barrow Electric (01354 660077); Blackwell Products' Wonderbarrow (0800 378 239); Interval Systems' Fort Easy Rider (01483 730658); Greengate Holdings' Traditional (0161 330 2624); Michael Banks' Ascender Lift (01372 467922).

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