At the start of each year, Jeff Taylor writes, my hands go inside a new pair of leather gloves, brown, size XL, with a heavenly smell, and made in the gunn pattern. May your Scrabble skills increase to know that there are two methods of cutting and sewing gloves: gunn and clute. These two sentences are typical of Taylor's style in Tools of the Earth. In 24 chapters, Taylor free-associates his way from familiar, essential garden tools such as the shovel and the rake, to equipment not usually thought of as tools, including the hammock and the hat. Taylor also applauds the tiller, wheelbarrow, trowel, hedge sheers, watering can, and pickup truck. Tools of the Earth is a combination of tool encyclopedia, personal anecdotes, homegrown (although not exactly deep) philosophy, and garden history. The result is a fun, unpredictable approach to a familiar topic which would make a great gift for any gardener. Each chapter also includes an attractive color tool portrait by Rich Iwasaki. Taylor doesn't just write about working in his garden. Many chapters wander a long way from the subject of tools, such as an entertaining aside about human skin, but they always return to the topic. He praises tools, reminisces, and relates other gardeners' anecdotes. On a visit to a garage sale, he considers buying a turn-of-the-century edger, which launches a ramble through the question of using the right tool for the right job, and winds up with an apology for his obsessive-compulsive disorder, acquiring hand tools I may never use. After all, Taylor owns four machetes.
Reading Jeff Taylor's Tools of the Earth will make gardeners appreciate the necessity of the right tool, and fondly remember their own work with the implements that help make gardening the number one hobby in the U.
S. Christy Matasick is a horticulturist at Cheekwood Botanical Garden in Nashville.