After the holidays, our household is full of quiet celebrations that can be just as joyous as the noisier ones. Aflame with the spirit of cleaning up, clearing out and simplifying, we attack cluttered desks, stuffed closets and any area that has the feng shui of a blocked artery. Last January, in a Marie Kondo frenzy, I rolled and folded every cloth object on the premises.
This year’s campaign was launched in our furnace room. It has always housed our garden tools pretty well, but pretty well was no longer good enough. Even well-planned storage systems must be refined and updated, and winter is the time for that, before the haste and zeal of gardening puts them to the test.
Tools, like plants, can multiply. So our first step was to purge the room of anything obsolete, redundant, useless or beyond repair. Out went the leaky buckets, torn row covers, left-hand gloves with no mates and stinky mosquito sprays that repelled nothing but people. What remained suddenly looked manageable, and you could even walk across the floor.
Still, certain problem areas stood out. The worst was my collection of metal plant supports in various shapes and sizes. Even after throwing out the bent and poorly designed ones, I needed a plan for the corner where they were kept, that is to say, sprawled.
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I sorted the vertical supports by height and corralled them into three upright containers. The circular ones were falling off their shared wall hook, so I bought three more hooks and sorted the supports by size and style. Did I need so many round grids to hold up bushy perennials? Maybe not, but we’ve found that they can hold fireworks tubes safely upright as well.
Long-handled tools such as forks and spades also had wall hooks, but again we needed more hooks - and better ones. Hardware stores, garden centers and big-box stores offer many kinds, some as simple as a single screw-in hook, like a giant cup hook. Those are good for small hangable tools such as pruning saws, loppers and hedge shears. But the farther out a support extends from the wall, the more D-handle spades and other implements you can put on it. Straight-handle tools are hung working end up between two hooks, or even grouped in a garbage can if wall space is limited. Leaning against a wall is the worst way to arrange them, since they will always fall down.
However well designed a tool wall is, it’s only as good as the empty space in front of it. You will never put away a tool if you have to get past a lawn mower, bicycle, bagged fertilizers and the stuff on its way to the dump. Place bags of soil amendments such as lime in tubs or buckets, where they can harmlessly rip and spill. Stack pots and pot saucers in tidy towers.
Any kind of netting - bird net, deer net, plant support net, volleyball net - will catch on your feet and get tangled up with your tools. Store it somewhere off the floor and out of the way. Hoses are almost as bad and are best suspended from simple but sturdy hose hangers. I favor those with a wide, metal, downward-facing arc that you can loop the hose over, with an upright piece at the end to keep the hose from falling off. Those are also good for extension cords and rope.
In the end, though, it’s the countless little odds and ends that do you in. A metal utility shelf allows you to sort items by type and caddy them. A plastic seedling tray could hold trowels, dandelion diggers, hand pruners and nozzles. A small wooden box that tangerines came in could take care of tape measures and garden lines. Fill one shoe box with gloves, another with balls of twine.
For even smaller items such as plant labels, hose connectors and tomato clips, use the best storage receptacle ever invented: the quart yogurt container. Eat enough yogurt, and soon you’ll have a row of them, each marked with a black Sharpie, another tool without which a gardener would be lost. In fact, I just labeled a yogurt container “Black Sharpie Pens.”
A perfect first step for the new garden year.
Damrosch is the author of “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook”; her website is www.fourseasonfarm.com.