Throw the Hoe

by AnneWareham on August 5, 2013

Post image for Throw the Hoe

I’ve never used a hoe. I bought one originally, thinking it was sort of necessary, a gardener’s necessity. Since when it has just taken up space in the potting shed, like the equally useless riddle. It’s no good mulching and then trying to hoe in the mulch – and anyway, weeds pull sweetly out of mulched ground should you feel the need to pull.

On the whole I plant thickly with vigorous plants which energetically take their space right up to their neighbours and then sqeeeeze. Doesn’t leave much room once that has all happened (it does take them all a while to meet and squeeze) for weeds, apart from cleavers and bindweed. Still puzzling/pulling them out…

Late July Veddw copyright Anne Wareham 179 Campanula lactiflora and Inula (I think) s

Much squeezing..

The result is a generous mass of plants, playing colour, texture and foliage form against each other, and my work is to keep the flowering effect going over a long season, keep the plants making an effective and powerful story with pattern and repetition, all in search of the wow factor. With quiet passages in between, for peace.

August 2013 Veddw copyright Anne Wareham Hosta Krossa Regal

Quiet passage..

So I look with horror when I visit gardens and find not only bizarre, unrelated collections of disparate plants but gaps between them with soil showing  – and sometimes irrelevant and inaccurate labels stuck in said bare soil. Bare soil just looks like a plea for weeds to seed to me and for that reason in particular I hate the sight of it.

Dandelion masquerading as an Iris at Dyffryn Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Not Veddw. A weed masquerading as an Iris at Dyffryn Garden

But I have begun to realise it is also to do with a very ugly habit. The hoe.

Do people train professional gardeners to use these vile implements? Is it compulsory? The result of having the hoe habit it seems is that every plant becomes a little island, so the hoe can go around them. So you get plant-stop-plant-stop-plant..Dot dot dot,- not a wonderful tapestry. It is rather as if a tapestry had been made with many of the stitches simply left out in large areas, and labels identifying the colours of the silks stuck in these blank spaces.

Bare soil and random planting. Kiftsgate. Copyright Anne Wareham

Not Veddw. Bare soil and random planting: Kiftsgate in June 2013

It’s not as if this is designed to show off the form of the plant. That could work and look beautiful. Perhaps with a tulip – the last word in elegant form and flower. A long narrow border, or spaces within a paved terrace perhaps, where the full beauty of the whole plant could be displayed – that would be good. Or in a pot – they are wonderful for showing, and sometimes echoing, form.

Veddw House Garden, Monmouthshire, Wales. March 2011. Tulipa 'Princess Irene' with Crassula perfoliata var. falcata In metal pots on metal staging in the Conservatory.

Tulips showing their wonderful form. And a succulent trying to sneak in.

Or grasses, fountaining out of a pot – that works too: I have them in a row to show off the form.

 Stipa tenuissima at Veddw copyright Anne Wareham  August 2013

Stipa showing off.

But it’s never anything as clean and beautiful as that.

In the grasses parterre I allow their separate shapes to show when they are part of the point of the plant, as with Miscanthus, Cortaderia or Stipa Gigantea. I think low ground cover would work as well as a mulch here, as long as it was discrete and took a back seat. (I’m letting some Alchemilla in, to see..) Where the plants run into one another their form gets lost and with many – such as Phalaris, or Leymus, that’s fine.

Kiftsgate and Leymus arenarius at Veddw, copyright Charles Hawes

Leymus arenarius all mingled.

But discrete, separate plants, showing off their form is different and unusual. The hoe thing is totally another thing. It looks mean, mingy and messy. It’s as bad as the associated edge cutting along the lawn. Ugh. Cover the ground! Let things meet and mingle.

Front Garden, Veddw, July 2013 copyright Charles Hawes

Happy plants, fighting each other for their space.

I think some people may defend the hoe for its role in the veg plot. But veggies mulch well too, if I remember rightly.

Throw it away. Or rather – recycle it to some allotmenteer  who grows giant parsnips.

Campanula lactiflora in Crescent Border at Veddw copyright Charles Hawes

Not a hoe in sight…

I just discovered that the Americans isolate their plants too – but they use mulch to do it! Who knew? What is it with this bizarre garden style??? And where did it come from?

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Alison August 5, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I have a hoe, I bought it because I didn’t have one and thought I should. It is still in the shed several years later pristine and shiny. I never even think of using it, I hand- weed when I see I need to which is often early in the year before the plants bush up and close all the gaps.

AnneWareham August 5, 2013 at 6:35 pm

I wonder if we could find an alternative use for them all…..?

Elizabeth Cornwell August 5, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I too have a hoe that I havent used!.I do try to plant densely,on thick clay,but I am convinced that plants move when your’ e not looking,at least mine do!In the same way I am sure slugs can fly!!I am obviously a very amateur gardener!

AnneWareham August 5, 2013 at 6:47 pm

New gardens are hard and do have spaces – hence mulch. A flying slug is the stuff of nightmares. Better keep our mouths shut!

Sara Venn August 5, 2013 at 6:51 pm

The thing about the hoe is that it’s used by any an establishment that survives on volunteer labour, as the delightful Health and Safety Elfs have deemed that bending your back is bad, when we know that good, thick planting and pulling the weeds that do show is the only way to go.
In my mind there is a place for a a hoe, on an allotment where the annual weeds do appear!! But never in a garden where the planting ought to be dense and I don’t want to see the soil.
And as for labels-are they not for floral marquees and botanical gardens?

AnneWareham August 5, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Thanks for enlightening us.That’s very interesting. And depressing. And yes, yes and yes.

Margaret August 5, 2013 at 7:48 pm

My hoe is used more on the allotment than in the garden. But it’s a dangerous tool, you can chop a plant in two if you’re not careful, or maybe I’m just not safe with a hoe. I just plant thickly in the flower borders to hide the weeds.

David August 5, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Carpe rutila (seize the hoe)

AnneWareham August 6, 2013 at 5:14 pm


Helen August 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm

I have a hoe, its orange and shiny and has never been used not even when I had an allotment. Like you I thought I needed one but I don’t. I plant closely and I quite enjoy weeding between young plant, it is rather satisfying but I prefer to do this on my knees with a hand fork

AnneWareham August 5, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Another one for the hoe collection. Though I have no idea what else they could be used for…

sequoiagardensJack August 6, 2013 at 6:13 am

Give them to that equally stupid Father Christmas….hoe hoe hoe 🙂
What beautiful shots of Veddw! Perhaps once i am no longer tied to my garden (sob) I will get to visit!

AnneWareham August 6, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I knew someone would do that….. Only three weeks left this year, Jack!!! (hurray!!!) Better hurry….

Frazer Irwin August 6, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I totally disagree with you about throwing the hoe.
Have just completed 50 years as a Professional Horticulturist and the hoe is by far one of the best tools I have. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden like yours. As one of the posters replied, a hoe used properly in say a vegetable garden, is invaluable. In an ideal world we wouldn’t need tools. Mother Nature’s little helpers would do it for us. As we are not some of us rely on those others don’t.

AnneWareham August 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm

A hoe in a veg plot maybe? But the effect in an ornamental garden seems dire. Is that inevitable? or is it being used wrongly?

Helena Dennison September 16, 2013 at 3:20 pm

A hoe, yes, a totally useless piece of equipment even on my 2 allotments, given the fact that annual weeds (for which a hoe might just be useful) tend to grow mixed in with thistles, bindweed and dandelion, none of which you want to spread by chopping their tops off! To be of any use at all you would have to have planted at intervals that allow the blade to work without damaging the vegetable stalk. I have better uses for my time than trying to get this skill right. However the Jamaican hoe is an invaluable piece of equipment in Spring for taking the top off a piece of ground before serious forking over; it is a satisfying tool that makes short work of cleaning off a large area. Roll on hand weeding!

Tom October 20, 2013 at 5:05 am

I agree about non-hoeing among flowers and about some-hoeing among vegetables. Like all tools, a hoe has to be used with skill and care. Among flowers you run the risk of killing treasurable seedlings. Among vegetables, you can do much damage (eg to seedling groundsel) by exposing the roots on the mornings of two successive hot dry days.

AnneWareham October 20, 2013 at 8:50 am
  • Never mind the horrible aesthetics…
    Good to meet you, Tom.