"Every man loves a tractor," opined a vintage-tractor-owning photographer I met at the ploughing match. (Oh, you know – the ploughing match...) I alerted him to Why Every Man Needs a Tractor, the new book of collected journalism by Charles Elliot. The title essay is a hymn to the glories of owning a tractor, even when you don't really need one. (Or especially when you don't really need one.)
Elliot's journey of enlightenment (he ends poorer, having built an entire barn for his new tractor to live in, but possibly wiser) reminds me how obsessive we can get about tools. Not all tools. Not the ones other people swear by – "I cannot live without my electric leaf blower/stump grinder/snow thrower." Um, what? But the ones we ourselves like. The ones we ended up with almost accidentally, hurrying to a till, and have treasured ever since. The ones whose purchase we planned, reading every review. The ones we inherited, that are long out of date and which we dread ever breaking.
Because tools are very, very personal. Watching a baby digging a hole in the gravel the other evening with a rather posh wooden-handled Burgon & Ball trowel that he had found in the flower bed, it occurred to me that I take a rather dim view of most children's gardening equipment, for example. It seems to me that if you are going to give your child a metal trowel, it should be a good one, not one painted with novelty orange paint that will chip off and go rusty after the first nine months. Tools should last, and that applies to the ones for kids, too.
Having said that, there do exist some good tools for the weirder specialist horticulture markets. For example, Felco does excellent secateurs for left-handed people (such as my grandma) who have never quite mastered doing things the "right" way round. For once, the left-handed article is just as good as the real thing, just in reverse. Another minority tool I wouldn't be without is a "ladies" gardening fork. Despite the irritating title, its balance and heft are so perfectly what I want that asserting my right to garden with the same tool as a man is pointless. It's like bowling: there's science to do with levers and angles and fulcrums that say take the ladies' one and make life easier and more productive.
But children's gardening tools? First, a big "no!" to children's watering cans. There are perfectly nice tiny Haws ones for that: its Handy Indoor Watering Can balances beautifully, and you can use it to do very targeted watering of house plants without soaking all your ornaments (£4.75, harrodhorticultural. com). The Yeominis telescopic broom and rake also get a big "yay". At about £8 (yeominis.com), they won't break the bank, and they expand as your child does, to allow more years of use. Almost until they need a tractor, really.
'Why Every Man Needs a Tractor', by Charles Elliot (Frances Lincoln, £14.99), is published on Tuesday
1. For south paws
Both Felco Number 9s (with skinnier handles) and Number 10s (chunkier) are available in a left-handed style. £39.95/£52.95, worldoffelco.co.uk
2. For kids
Small lightweight spades and rakes from Yeominis start at £7.95. Or browse Joseph Bentley's almost-too-good-for-children range. Various prices, harrodhorticultural.com
3, For the lady gardener
Euphemisms for ladies' forks include "Light Choice", "Elements" and "Graduate". But Sarah Raven plays it straight, offering a Sneeboer hand-forged Ladies Fork. £69.95, sarahraven.com