"Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all," wrote Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle in 1833.
Today's gardening implements are a bit more sophisticated than Carlyle used in Victorian times and are far more advanced than when we became tool-using animals, about 42,000 years ago during the Paleolithic era. Then, landscape implements were made of bone, such as digging sticks fashioned from the rib of a beast or a mattock pick split from a tusk. Now, tools are made of plastic, rubber, metal and fiberglass, with batteries, transformers, motion sensors and water-driven motors.
The ReelSmart Automatic Hose Reel manufactured by Hydro-Industries is a surprisingly heavy-duty tool. The spool looks as if it could never hold a 100-foot garden hose, let alone reel one in under its own power, but that's exactly what it does. It's outfitted with a self-winding, water-powered engine that requires very little space on the frame; you will wonder why the mechanism is called an engine, until you try it. I hooked it up and effortlessly guided a 100-foot heavy duty rubber hose onto the spool, slowly and steadily. The water-driven self-winding engine activates when you push a lever and leave the faucet on until the hose is wound. Turning the faucet off deactivates the mechanism. The engine has a long drain pipe that allows water to run off into a flower bed, automatically watering plants every time you use this system -- no gas, electricity or battery involved.
The ReelSmart Automatic Hose Reel can be anchored to a wall or deck or staked to the soil. Available from home improvement and hardware stores, and online, it retails for $49 to $69. Call 1-866-493-7638 or go to www.hydro-industries.com for more information.
Black & Decker has put together a heavy duty set of 18-volt battery-operated garden tools. They have been designed to be a versatile, useful, cordless lawn implements, almost a must-have for homeowners who maintain their own lawns and gardens. The set consists of a rechargeable string trimmer, hedge trimmer and broom/hard surface sweeper. Included with the set is a unit to charge all three batteries at the same time. They can be left in the charger, ready whenever you need one. The battery is very easy to click into the tool. They can be easily stored on a rack (mounting hardware and rack included).
Sandy, my wife, operated the string trimmer with ease. It effortlessly trimmed high grass, chopped up remnants of last year's perennials -- surprisingly, including some very mature clumps of lily-turf (Liriope muscari). I thought a battery-powered string trimmer would barely put a scratch in such big clumps. Clearly, the new gear driven design has added a lot of torque to the wheel that houses and swings a single strand of automatically adjusting plastic line. It took only 15 minutes to trim 18 clumps of liriope and level the late-blooming perennials. The gadget, adjusted into a second configuration, became an edging tool for walks and beds. This trimmer is a workhorse. The battery was just starting to wane after this workout.
The hedge trimmer did an entire row of Japanese euonymus and pruned some mighty large stems along the way. Then I loaned them to a neighbor who did the same, and the battery still had plenty of juice. It is the most powerful battery-run hedge trimmer that I have used. And, the freedom to trim without an engine or electric cord is exhilarating.
The broom/hard surface sweeper works well as a light-duty blower. It is designed to be used on walkways and driveways and will blow leaf litter from lawns. If used on hard surfaces, it is sufficient for clearing light debris -- leaves, grass trimmings, dry soil and pebbles. For fall cleanup, blowers that run on 110-volt electric or two-cycle engines are more efficient, but louder and less energy efficient.
This sweeper lost power the most quickly of the three tools, but during its seven to eight minutes of maximum efficiency, it was a phenomenal labor saving device. Throwing on a freshly charged 18-volt battery beats using a push-broom.
These devices are sold separately, but the set includes all three tools, with three batteries, for significantly less money. They are available at home improvement and hardware stores. The Rechargeable String Trimmer is $99.99; the rechargeable hedge trimmer, $79.99; the Broom/Hard Surface Sweeper, $69.99; the set, $199.99. For more information go to www.BlackandDecker.com.
A hand-held rake is a practical way to clean your yard when debris collects, especially if it is an ergonomically designed lawn and leaf rake. The Smart Handle Adjustable Rake by Delta Ergo is the first ergonomically certified adjustable rake, according to independent evaluating firm Ergonauts: Performance Technologists LLC. It has proven to increase raking productivity by 25 to 35 percent and is a state-of -the-art, energy efficient lawn and leaf rake. This rake sports an angular, aluminum handle with foam grips that any size person can use in a standing position, decreasing stress to lumbar and neck parts of the spine. The handle automatically positions the user in a way that the rake will cover more ground per sweep, while decreasing strain on the shoulders and lower back.
It has fiberglass tines for added strength, and their width can be adjusted to cover 8 1/2 to 22 inches. The flexibility of this lawn and leaf rake, in both its innovative handle design and the ability to adjust it to various widths, makes it superior to the straight wooden handles that have been the standard. Available on the Web at www.deltaergo.com for $29.99 plus shipping and handling or by calling 1-800-435-7338.
ScareCrow is a state-of-the-art wildlife repeller from Contech Electronics in Canada. It is designed to emit a short but startling water blast from a motion-activated automatic sprinkler. You can mount it in the garden and connect it to a hose. The power source for the sensor is a nine-volt battery. The downside is that you can't use it in freezing temperatures. The upside is that the plants get watered whenever deer, raccoons, cats, dogs or other animals wander through, and it should startle all but the most stoic of animals. Available on the Web at www.scarecrowinfo.com; in Northern Virginia at Betty's Azalea Ranch, Oakton Wild Bird Center and Vienna Aquarium; and in Maryland at Beltsville Pond Mart, Strosniders Hardware and Ace Hardware. Suggested retail price is $89.
How about keeping squirrels out of your bird feeders? Contech's SquirrelStop Automatic Spinning Squirrel Deterrent is a battery-powered unit with a hook that holds a bird feeder. When it's grabbed or jumped onto by a squirrel, it will spin the squirrel off of the feeder. In theory, when the squirrel has tried enough, it will go on to less dizzying food sources. It's not activated by the weight of most birds. The food and feeder together must weigh no more than 10 pounds. Retails for $49. Available at garden centers and hardware stores. For more information, call 1-800-767-8658.
Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. E-mail or contact him through his Web site, www.gardenlerner.com.