by Colby Feller, Northeast Region President.
With a column titled City Digs I thought it appropriate to talk a little about my day-to-day work, gardening in New York City. I work for a small boutique firm, Gresham Lang Garden Designs, and we practice what I like to call Ninja Gardening. If you see a few guys riding or hiding behind palms, alocasias or flats of flowers on the subway, it is likely to be us.
Rather than a van full of tools, blowers and racks for plants, 90% of the time we work out of our trusty messenger bags, traveling from site to site on foot or by subway. Anyone who has visited NYC knows, parking is a chore; it can take 30 minutes to go a mile, 45 minutes to find a parking spot, and meters must be fed hourly. Then there is the need to de-boot to walk through someone’s usually expensive – and all too often – white-carpeted home.
The practical obstacles of gardening in NYC aside, our particular form of ninja gardening allows us to be green : we use public transportation, no leaf blowers or idling work trucks, etc ├ö├Â┬úÔö£┬║├ö├Â┬╝Ôö¼┬╝. although we do use a van on a limited basis, for installations or serious trash removal. We have a small design office in the Flatiron area, but it’s more fun to ask clients to meet us at our field office – an early 1800s hidden cemetery in the middle of the East Village, where we store plant material, tools, and also maintain the grounds. When you’re done here, Google New York Marble Cemetery. In my messenger bag I carry my necessary tools: a mini camping dust pan and broom ( I look like an archeologist when I use it), pruners, a knife and razor, scissors, string, wire, a fold-ing saw, trash bags, gloves, a trowel, a hori hori, a tape measure, a note pad, pen and marker, Band-Aids, aspirin, a water key and more!
We are indeed like ninjas, we come into a garden and disappear without a trace. And what is a ninja without his blade? This ninja gardener’s blade comes in the form of secateurs (which sounds like it could be Japanese but is actually French). I grew up watching a lot of martial arts movies, and have never heard of a mystical sword originating in Switzerland, the home of Felco, so not surprisingly my favorite pruners came from Japan.
Pruning is probably my favorite gardening activity and all my tools take quite a beating, so I was searching for pruners that were durable, smooth cutting, easy to use and had that feel. Like most, I began with a pair of Felcos, but one day an old pair of Okatsune pruners found their way into my hand and they immediately felt right. They were lighter, more nimble, and cut with little effort.
About six months into my horticultural career, I was hooked, and shelved the Felcos for good. Okatsune 103s were my first pair of Japanese pruners, and my go to pair for a few years. They are about the same price as Felcos, and were a wonderful treat. They are simply constructed, with no gears or bumpers like Felcos, so they really allow you to connect with the pruners. The latch at the bottom is a big time saver as it is easy to open and close even with gloves or muddy hands, or by sliding them against a pant leg. They are streamlined which allows for easier small detailed cuts, especially between branches or flush cuts against a trunk or larger branches. They also cut more smoothly, with less of the folding over that some-times happens with soft plant material. There is one negative; no replaceable blade, but I usually get through the season with one or two quick sharpenings, just don’t use them to cut wire!
Everyone notices the guy without the Felcos and a particular click that Okatsunes’ make. I converted a number of folks, many after borrowing them for only a few minutes – my current boss had Felcos in his hands more than a decade!
After using the Okatsune pruners for a few years, I began to wonder if there might be a mythical sword maker in the foggy hills of Japan, hammering blades by hand. I searched ancient texts, Googled, and found this:
Tobisho is a blacksmith shop with over 200 years of history. There have been eight master blacksmiths, with two forging prun-ing shears. The blacksmith town of Yama-gata was built by Yoshiaki Mogami, a Sam-urai, therefore Yamagata became known for the production of Samurai swords.
These secateurs are hand forged from amaz-ing blue paper steel, deep in the mountains of Yamagata. Hand forged have advantages over machined secateurs because normal secateurs have one bit of steel – the blade, welded to another – the handle creating potential weakness. Hand forged secateurs are hammered out of one piece of very high quality steel, from blade to handle, lending them great strength.
These pruners are hard to find, only limited numbers per year are forged and they are fairly pricey on a gardener’s salary about $100. But with their distinctive red and yellow handles and superior performance I have found they are worth the investment.
Our Northeast region continues planning an exciting 2013 calendar. Much effort is focused on the National Convention that we are hosting this summer in Mt. Kisco, NY, as well as a wonderful post-convention tour through the Hudson Valley. Thank you so much Melanie Wyler for stepping up under such a constrained timetable to plan the post-convention tour. We are also staging a record number of rendezvous, that include a grafting workshop, several private garden visits and a large rendezvous that will include plant auctions and plant sales.
I am proud of what our region has accomplished in 2012, and look forward to success in 2013 as your president……..stay tuned! – Colby Feller, NER President