Thursday, January 20, 2011

Horticultural Knives... for Your Valentine!

The next holiday for gift giving is Valentine's Day and the ideal gift for the gardener you love might well be an often overlooked time-saving device... the gardening knife. Available in many styles for many differing chores, the merit of a fine gardening knife is immeasurable. As we all know, the most important thing for success in the garden are tools of the trade and yet many gardeners use tired, rusty, and antiquated tools which make the job much more difficult.

Yes, there is such a thing as a gardener’s knife and it is a luxurious necessity. The many styles and chores for which they were designed make it possible to give this marvelous gift on every occasion until the gardener has an entire collection of them. There are knives for grafting and pruning, cutting and trimming, and the horticultural knife by Tina may be even be purchased for lefties.

The blade is of utmost importance and variations in design represent the practical and accumulated experience of hundreds of generations who have gone before us. The ancient Romans had a pruning knife, falculae arboraire, which was remarkably similar to grape pruning knives of the early 1930’s. The use of the same design for 2,000 years is surely not an accident making it a well tested product. Obviously the type of work it is to perform is also taken into account but the important thing to remember is the necessity of the single blade. Swiss Army knives, with their many blades and promises of versatility, are not ideal in the garden. The single blade has strength unto itself and will out perform any multi bladed knife tenfold. The more blades on a knife, the weaker it becomes.

The next factor is a blade which sharpens easily, stays sharp, and keeps a keen cut through many uses. No matter how attractive the knife, it is only as good as the hardness of the steel from which it was made. Carbon steel, while strong and used for hundreds of years, will rust if not oiled and put away after use. Prior to the 1950’s, and the process of ‘chill-quenching’, the tempering of stainless steel was hit or miss making it impractical for gardening use. It has been perfected and now has an edge comparable to carbon steel and is virtually rust-proof.

It is important when considering the purchase of a gardening knife that one ignores any product originating in China. As any one who has purchased a hammer from China knows, the steel is not correctly hardened and it will not stand the test of time. One of the premier manufacturers of gardening knives is a German company, Tina, who maintains the tradition of knife making and still uses the carbon steel and completes the process by placing the blade firmly in a walnut stock.

If a Tina is too expensive, there is a lovely Florist’s knife from the American company Schrade, and although the company went out of business just shy of their 100th anniversary, one may still find their knives through the Internet. A wonderful Budding and Grafting knife is made by Victorinox, a Swiss company and would be greatly appreciated by any gardener.

Short of giving a ton of exquisitely composted cattle manure, a versatile knife would be the next-best gift for the gardener you love.

A Victorinox may be ordered at


  1. I love this post. Only you would suggest knives for Valentine's day. I got my first pruning knife about two years ago and I love it. Always in my pocket when I go out to work.

  2. Thanks Kat... and of course, you carry one to work everyday!! I have a knife that belonged to my father... it is one of those 1930's gardening knives so of course the name has worn off... I have no idea it's origin but it's good. (I've rescued it from the sandpile more than once... it was used to cut branches used as trees in minature villages!)