The star of the year is our Draper sack truck. I know real men are supposed to carry sacks slung on their shoulders, but I'm not a real man and the truck, built along the lines of a porter's trolly, is robust, dependable and doesn't confuse me by trying to be too clever. It's bright blue, stands about 125cms tall and has tough, blow-up wheels with wide treads that bounce over kerbs and other impediments and don't dig themselves into ruts.
The shelf at the bottom that you sit things on is thin, so you can wiggle it under a pot that you want to move, without actually having to lift up the pot. This base shelf sticks out about 30cms, but if you want to carry something bigger, you just fold down another base that is double the length. You don't have to fumble with screwdrivers, or read 10 pages of instructions to do it. It just folds down and folds back up again.
There's one more application, equally simple, which I haven't used yet. If you pull out a pin, you release a second set of wheels, which turns the upright trolley into a horizontal truck with a bed 108cms long. You couldn't negotiate steps so easily in this configuration, but one day, I feel sure, the second set of wheels will save the day. This brilliant bit of kit, this paragon, has a carrying capacity of 300kg. Since I'm hard pushed to swing round sacks of gravel weighing only 25kg, 300kg seems enough and to spare.
Despite what advertisers say, you don't actually need much kit to garden. The basic tools - spade, fork, secateurs, trowel - have changed little in hundreds of years. Garden vacs and chippers have been the two most recently hyped introductions, but as far as I'm concerned, the noise they make far outweighs any advantage they promise. A rake deals with fallen leaves rather more competently than a vacuum machine and it's silent. And no domestic-sized chipper is efficient enough to compensate for the terrible racket they make.
The sack truck earned its keep within two weeks. I noticed that, if they could, the boys at our local garden centre always chose one particular truck to wheel 100-litre sacks of compost out to our car. This was the Draper, price £68.99 and since we've had our own, it has moved compost from car to workshop, boxes of books from DHL delivery van to my hut, gravel from yard to the new path, mulch from lane to the top of the bank and an endless series of pots and half barrels to the compost heap where they are emptied and refilled and then taken back to their various stations.
The sack truck's greatest feat involved five rather large mop-headed bay trees, growing in half barrels 63cm across. We bought them originally for one of our daughters' weddings, to decorate the tent, but they were small enough then to make the journey home from the Columbia Road market (in east London) in the back of the car. Still in the original barrels, they moved with us to our new garden and sat round the edge of a small gravelled yard. The chief point of the yard is the washing line that stretches across it, so in a way, the bay trees were rather wasted.
After this rain-starved summer, I realised I would have to cut down on the number of pots around the place. Watering them took up too much time. If the bay trees could get out of their pots into real earth, they would be happier and I would have one less job to do. That thought bumped into another one that had been roaming round my mind: the flower garden, the first bit of the bank, the part that is most visible from the house, lacked structure.
The path, of riven stone, still isn't finished, but the line it's to take is set. Excuses for not tackling the planting were running out. Then one day, ambling about in the mindless way that is such a great pleasure in a garden, I imagined the bay trees marching all the way along the back of the flower garden. Instant structure. Happy bay trees. But a long steep climb from their present resting place in the yard to the top of the bank.
We've expended a great deal of effort trying to create levels in this garden, which drops 20m from its highest point to its lowest. Inevitably that means lots of steps. On their journey, each bay had to drop down four sleeper steps to a gravel path, then climb six similar steps to get on to the lawn in front of the house. From there they could move on the flat across the lawn and the terrace to a flight of three stone steps that brought them up to the yard. Then another four stone steps led to the path up the bank, a longish pull though not hugely steep.
I made the mistake of saying this as Kevin (who works here a day a week) and my husband were hauling the first tree up this final part of the journey. 'Try it,'said my husband. I did and was about as effective as a fish on a bicycle. In this situation, the sack truck can't cope on its own. It needs muscle, which makes Kevin and my husband stars too. By the time they tackled the fifth tree (the work was spread over five weeks) they'd got a slick routine worked out: logs against the risers of the steps to make the transitions easier, one person behind the truck to guide the wheels on to the logs and push, one in front with a rope tied to the handlebars of the truck, pulling like crazy. All I had to do was make the coffee. And admire the result.Reuse content