Rage against the machines!

My trolley is over 80 years old. It was used in the Second World War to carry my father in law when he lost his leg in a grenade accident. They used to hide meat underneath from the German soldiers during their occupation of France.

Have you ever stopped at a red traffic light in the middle of the night when there is absolutely no traffic around, and thought to yourself, “What am I waiting for?” A machine has been given the authority to tell me to stop, even though as a human I can rationally come to the decision that it is actually safe for me to drive, or walk across the road. But I accept this because, “If everyone is allowed to do as they please, it will be chaos.” Many are beginning to ask questions as to how far machines are controlling our lives, and what are the limits to this control. I understand that technology and gardening gadgets can be useful for people who are physically challenged or disabled. Everyone is different and I am only writing about my experiences using petrol and electric strimmers, in my specific environment. I also understand that when managing a large outdoor space, it might not be practical to uses hand tools. I live in a city and the outdoor spaces I care for are small. I feel that if you garden efficiently, you don’t need a lot of space to have a productive garden with variety of interest. I don’t like working in large gardens as time is spent mostly on mowing lawns and strimming edges, picking up leaves and cutting hedges . The small gardens I look after allow me to spend more time on a larger variety of plants, and I have a wider variety of tasks. The peasants cottage garden provided the household with cleaning products, medicine, food, cut flowers, pillows, beds, baskets… and the list goes on and on. This is the goal of my allotment.

I chose to become a gardener because I wanted to get closer to nature in my every day work. Formal education taught me to optimise the management of open spaces through technology and people management. Governments create legislation that require the self-employed worker to invest into education and equipment in order to meet high standards of health and safety at work.(REF:1) Failure to comply to this can result in being ineligible for insurance or not being eligible to tender on contracts, or in some cases not even being allowed to enter work sites. (REF 4). I paid for pieces of paper that told me and my employers that I could do specialised tasks, and I bought machines that enable me to do these tasks faster. But I found that I was working longer hours to pay for these pieces of papers and machines, I was not increasing my profits, rather I was losing money. At the time I made investments that governments and corporations educated us to believe were ecologically moral choices. Like the VW diesel Van I bought which does not meet new emissions taxes in the city of London.(REF:2) We all know about “dieselgate”, and how VW cheated on their tests for emissions of some of their cars.(3)

Most powered gardening tools are expensive to buy, they have a short shelf life and they are expensive to maintain. After 5 to 10 years it is hard to get parts for many of these gardening tools, as it seems to be expected that self employed gardeners, companies and hobbiest regularly buy new tools as technology advances. Whilst maintaining these tools I found I needed specialist tools to fix my tools. There is the need to store these cumbersome powered tools, which in my case meant paying for extra storage.

Strimmers put a lot of pressure on my body through pressure and the weight of the engine/battery. It is awkward using an electric chorded strimmer. One of the dangers of using a strimmer is the chord hitting stones which can fly and hit windows and at worst it can hit people. Insurance companies have refused to pay out when I broke windows at clients gardens in the past, leaving me with the costs. The insurance look at these accidents as negligence on my part. In retrospect I could have just refused to use strimmers at these clients. I would have lost some clients but the money saved on the purchase and upkeep of the strimmer would balance the profits out, but I chose to expand by employing workers and taking on more contracts. I would also save money not having to pay for broken windows. I caused myself unnecessary problems because I did not think to use a sickle or garden shears, despite having a BSc (hon) degree in Landscape and Amenity Management.

There was a time when humanity did not have these machines, nor was there such a huge emphasis on formal qualifications, and we were able to feed ourselves and care for our environment quite sufficiently. Marketing for garden products can mislead us to believe that we need to continuously buy machines to tend to our gardens/allotments/open spaces. In my opinion, gardening as it is presented by the horticulture industry, (here in the UK) can at times seem inaccessible to the poor, and the uneducated.

£24.2 billion is the total GDP footprint of the UK’s ornamental horticulture industries in 2017.

Oxford Economics for the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group

We don’t always make the right choices, no matter how clever we think we are. It should be accepted that we are controlled and manipulated into buying products, even when these products are detrimental to ourselves and the environment we live in. The horticulture industry is no different and we should be careful of ‘wolves in sheep’s’ clothing. Our gardening practices are not always good for the environment, neither are all the products we buy. Personally I am always questioning myself in regards to my approach to gardening. I am particularly interested in thinking of scenarios where we have become so reliant on products to produce gardens, that we forget good old fashioned techniques that are used by many who don’t have access to what we have in the West. In 2017 a report found that £24.2 billion is the total GDP footprint of the UK’s ornamental horticulture industries. In 2017, households spent around £7.5 billion on garden goods, with manufacturers selling around £1.3 billion worth of garden goods and products. That’s £1 in every £100 of household spending going on horticultural products and services. (REF:5) Despite this income this report states that only 568,700 jobs were supported by the industry in 2017, amounting to 1.6 percent of total UK employment.

This is a good book to read if you think you are in total control of your decisions in buying gardening products.
Employment has moved away from land based industries.REF: 6

We can see there has been a dramatic shift since the 1300s’ away from employment within agricultural employment.

We can see there has been a dramatic shift since the 1300s’ away from employment within agricultural employment. Wages for gardeners in amenity horticulture are low, even within professional organisations like the Royal Horticultural society, English Heritage and the National Trust. Yet business managers within these organisations are paid very well. In my opinion the horticulture industry does not value the skill and knowledge of the gardener, we are more important to the industry as consumers.

Regularly rub your sickle with sandpaper and oil. It is a joy to see an old tool restored, and being used.

A small garden will only need to be edged twice a month in the growing season(depending on how particular you are). My workshop is used for many other crafts, and my dart board, so space is an issue. When a tool takes up a lot of space and is not being used regularly, it has to go especially if I can’t reach the dart board. One of the most frustrating things is having a workshop full of tools that you can’t access and possibly you don’t know where they are. In my days of being a good capitalist, running a gardening service, I found that I had three or four of the same tools. Sometimes it was easier to just by a new tool than to spend the time looking for the one I already have.

Last week I needed to do some repairs to a petrol strimmer, but I am just tired of having to spend money on strimmer line, petrol and parts on these machines, I decided to chuck it. I now use a sickle to do the edges at my allotment. Where I have to make a more precise edge, I use grass shears. An old man gave me the sickle I use, it was rusty and dirty, but with a little tender loving care it is working perfectly for me. Many people would rather throw sickles away. To transport powered tools commercially means I need to travel with a van, whereas when I use hand tools I can use public transport or my bicycle and bicycle trailer. Transporting heavy power tools in a van means more wear and tear on your own vehicle. I carry a small tool bag/rucksack to my allotment or to my friends gardens when I don’t use my bicycle trailer. The time I save not having to walk to a van and back to the garden, filling with petrol/oil mix, fitting the strimmer, balances the time I lose when using the sickle or gardens shears. Petrol and oil spills are an issue when using power tools. I do not like the smell of petrol and oil.

Sharpen the sickle with a file, sharpening stone.

I don’t get as stressed and angry riding my bicycle, I am closer to the elements and nature around me.

I don’t have the skills to repair my own Vehicle, but I can fix my bicycle, and bicycles are cheap enough in the Uk to replace if needs be. I don’t have to worry about traffic, and I am exercising which saves me having to spend money on gym fees. I don’t get as stressed and angry riding my bicycle, I am closer to the elements and nature around me.

Physically I feel better using hand tools, there is less noise, no vibrations, and my body feels more comfortable carrying a sickle or grass shears. Sometimes people with mental disabilities like dementia, and some pets, do not like the loud noise of the strimmer, which makes my visit to their garden stressful. In theses instances people would rather you spend extra time with a hand tool than making a noise.

I have attached a video of me using a sickle and grass shears, I have also voiced some of my opinions regarding using these tools. In the background I am playing O Sole Mio (Eduardo di Capua) on my piano. I bought the sheet music but now I can play this song whenever I like, how I like, and I can share it with my friends and family at my home. I don’t need any electric power to use my piano, and to me it feels and sounds beautiful. Even though I may not play the song perfectly, it is my own unique expression of the song in that moment.

A short video of alternative hand tools to the powered strimmer.

You can view the video on YouTube if you have problems with the video below. https://youtu.be/u3R4a-zEDOg



  1. Excellent article – thank you. The video presentation is very informative. A far more peaceful approach to gardening Robin- well done.


  2. Tx you, very interesting article and video.
    You are giving us the solutions to a future world without cheap energy.
    As Prasanna says be powerful by going powerless


  3. Very well written and thought provoking article, hopefully someone within the journalistic world and with a bit of clout could find a way for these thoughts to be published and discussed at an open forum. It won’t get the support of big business but the UK Government is always harping on about it’s environment policies and zero emissions targets.
    Nigel P.


  4. Love the video, and great information .. Nettles and Dandelions we think as weeds one of the best things in the garden… Love nettle tea and Dandelion… I think perhaps the way the world is turning we may well need our hand tools more and more..
    Happy Gardening ..


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