Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
'Tis the season for gift giving. Where gifts for gardeners are concerned, there is no shortage of items marketed as holiday gardening gifts. What do you buy for the gardener that seems to have everything? Perhaps some items to aid in organization would be a welcome gift.
For the last month or so, I've been working on a Christmas gift for me and my husband—cleaning and reorganizing our garage, which is supposed to house two cars, but hasn't even fit one in nearly a year. As I worked to purge items we no longer loved or used, I was struck by how many gardening items we bought thinking they would make life simpler, but they only complicated matters.
It was very hard for me to sort through our gardening supplies and pick out what we truly loved and used. There lies in every gardener I know, the desire to hold onto all sorts of bits and pieces, with the thought that you "never know when you'll need it". My Master Gardeners have informed me that it's not junk that inhabits our garages and sheds, but instead this material is our "resource pile". Well, our resource pile was taking over the garage!
It's not that we hadn't tried to address the organizing issue before—we tried many different products that were never quite effective for us. One resembled a tool chest complete with a full complement of gardening tools. It was a great starter set, but had no room for additional tools. So of course as we purchased new tools they had no particular place to be stored, so they ended up around the garage. The tool chest itself was difficult to open, and the tools had to be snapped in place, which took some force and was rather difficult. So as you might expect, those tools also ended up scattered around the garage, never back in the tool chest that was supposed to keep them organized.
My most useful method for storing hand tools is a set of pockets that snaps around and inside a five-gallon bucket. The pockets cost about $15 and I already had a five-gallon bucket on hand (from my resource pile). Everything I routinely use fits in the pockets or in the bucket. Sometimes simple is best!
To store our long-handled tools, we used to use a large cart on wheels which held the tools on end, and it was designed to be pulled around the garden. Well, after we filled that tool cart to capacity, it was way too heavy to pull around the garden. It was a nice concept, but it was bulky and housed relatively few tools compared to the space it occupied. Besides that, the garden tools had to be fitted into the cart from overhead. The space they fit in was somewhat cramped as well, making it far too easy to leave a tool around the garage rather than wrestle it into place.
We switched to a cart that still has wheels, but just for moving it around inside the garage. It occupies slightly less space, but holds 50% more tools. The tools snap in place from the side, eliminating the need to lift them overhead. They fit in their places with less effort than the other cart, increasing the likelihood that the tools will actually get put away.
We used to have an assortment of boxes and lidded bins on shelves for all of our gardening items. The problem with the bins developed from our own innate laziness. To access the bin's contents, you had to take the lid off the bin. It had to come down off the shelf to do so. So if we had removed an item and were done with it, it was far easier to stick the item on top of or near the bin rather than make the effort to take the bin down from the shelf to do it properly. So you guessed it, very few items ended up back where they belonged.
We switched to bins with open tops, and that made a world of difference. Just slide the bin out to access the contents. Now it takes little effort to keep everything put away.
Using the available vertical space was key in organizing our gardening items. We used pegboard on the walls to hold everything from sprayers to our wheel barrow and our small tiller. Installing a small shelf above the man door and shelving that hangs down from the ceiling gave us a place for seasonal items.
We didn't completely abandon our tendency for maintaining a "resource pile" in our organizing efforts. But we did put some physical limits on its size. Sometimes it's best to work with your natural tendencies rather than against them.
There was also a secret weapon involved in this project, which may be another great gift idea for just about anyone, gardener or not. We hired a professional organizer to help us tackle this space. I never thought I would ever go this route, but having a different set of eyes and an objective point of view really helped us to rearrange our space and make it work for us.
In my opinion this newly organized space is one of the best gifts ever. I know that when spring rolls around, I have all my gardening tools and supplies easily accessible and ready to go.