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  • Jennifer Jewell


Tools of my garden life: gloves, clippers, wire, circle hoe and grandfather's hammer. Choosing the right tools makes a difference. Photo by J. Jewell.



The right tools can make all the difference in our lives and in our work. This is as true in gardening as in all other aspects of life. This week on Cultivating Place "Strong women building a gentle world" – we hear from Dorian Winslow, the President of Womanswork. In 1985, Womanswork was the first company to introduce a work and garden glove designed to fit a woman’s hand. For close to 33 years they have set a standard as a woman owned business offering garden and work gear that makes a difference for gardening women who make a difference from around the world.


My paternal grandfather liked quality and engineering. His career was in insurance and every day he’d travel by train from his home in Concord, Massachusetts to downtown Boston where for more than 45 years he worked at John Hancock Life. He came from farming and tool stock, his grandfather and great uncles having owned a leather machinery belt company in Hartford, Connecticut from the mid 1800s to the beginning of the 1900s. This grandfather counts among my early gardening influences. His nasturtiums and gladiola and his love for them, were – well - very influential to me.

But it was not in his choices of plants that his love of craftsmanship and engineering came out – this came out in his collections. A tall, lanky naval veteran of World War II, he collected grandfather clocks and old farm and garden tools. He had grinding stones and chisels, he had hand carved wooden cranberry bog rakes, and trugs. He modeled perhaps more than anyone I know that our tools matter – my tool bench potting stand have several tools – a hammer, a chisel and a dibble all branded with his name: P. J IV. These are testament to his belief that good tools are worth their weight, worth caring for and worthy of admiring. He and my mother, who shared their love of gardening, passed this on to me. The one tool of his I am not sure of are among our most common, but like our gardens themselves, they are also among our most ephemeral – our gloves.

I have a lot to learn still in my own garden practice, but this I know - my tools matter to me – they can be the difference between getting something done well, efficiently – AND comfortably – or kind of bumbling along – uncomfortably.

Years ago now – when I was living and gardening in southern Vermont, I came across a pair of leather work gloves made by a company called Womanswork – whose motto on their gloves reads: Strong Women Building a Gentle World. As a woman who comes from a long line of gardeners, a professional gardening mother, 5 gardening aunts, two gardening sisters and now two gardening floral loving daughters – I loved that motto – and I loved the gloves. There are a good many good makers of women’s wonderful gardening gloves and other gardening supplies now, and I applaud them all – we need them.

Today we hear more about the gardening story and journey of Dorian Winslow and her life at the gardening helm of Womanswork.

"'The logo strong women building a gentle world' is empowering to women.

We hear from women that their Womanswork gloves got them through this or that.

Last week I had an email from a woman who wrote: 'My gloves got me through Hurricane Irma, another pair got me through Hurricane Andrew years ago now!""

- Dorian Winslow, on the importance of quality tools that fit in anyone's life

Dorian is the third owner and current president of Womanswork, a woman-owned family business. Dorian’s mother Biz handles customer service and billing; Marian is the extremely capable and bright administrative assistant; Dorian’s college friend Diana and her daughter Katherine help with trade shows; Rebecca and Debbie are close gardening friends who are sometimes hand models too. Dorian’s daughter Eve tests new products in her Vermont gardens and advises on reaching out to the younger generation of gardeners. Womanswork applauds women who are making a difference and use their stories to inspire others. Womanswork compiles stories of these women and their work in their "Strong Women Building A Gentle World" profiles. Recently, Womanswork also started a Womanswork Story Bank where they collect stories from their newsletter readers compiling garden origins stories.

While they carry a wide range of gloves and tools, Womanswork is known specifically for having been the first glove company to design and offer garden work gloves designed specifically for women’s hands. The nature of work and the importance of quality tools in our lives is important to the ethos of Womanswork. Dorian shares that she “looks for ways to avoid stereotypes about what is woman’s work and what is man’s work. You’ll never see us taking sides on that. If data shows, and it does, that men do more vegetable gardening and women do more flower gardening, we might show a woman doing vegetable gardening and a man doing flower gardening. And, by the way, the data in that regard is changing. In our current catalog we have a friend of mine, Jay Erickson, holding his adorable 2 year old daughter Juniper, wearing his Manswork gloves." That says all kinds of good things about all of our work in the world.

Dorian uses the word garden the way the English do. Her garden is not just a single garden bed, but it is the entire property, the garden beds, the hardscape and the landscape around her house on close to 4 acres in Dutchess County, New York, where she very much leads a garden life -about 65 miles north of New York City.

Dorian shared this with me: “When I have trouble sleeping I deliberately shift my thoughts to gardening. I think about a specific accomplishment I achieved that day or that week (like moving all those rocks she told us about), or I think about things I want to accomplish in the future. It’s amazing how this thought practice brings her peace!!”

As gardeners our tools run a close second to our plants for importance in our gardening lives. Where they come from, how they last and function, what they stand for even is of interest to me. If 38% of all households engage in the joy of gardening, the way we vote with our dollars in terms of anything related to gardening makes a difference in this world, I think. And as with plants and books and gardening stuff, in the realm of tools, I think we all have favorites – tools we grew up with, tools passed to us culturally - tools we’ve found along the way.

I have a spear and Jackson border fork that I have moved around this country for the past 25 years. I have a bulb planting dibble that was my grandfathers, my mum started me out with my first pair of felco clippers – they get cleaned and sharpened and cared for! But my two favorite tools are probably a small hand held circle hoe that I only discovered about 10 years ago, crafted here in California after a traditional Japanese design, and a heavy orange plastic handled turf knife made by A.M Leonard. I use both of these variously for weeding, cultivating, digging small planting holes, etc. I’m a big fan of knowing where my tools come from as much as I am where my plants come from. I don’t want to throw money time or intention away on tools that don’t make my work and the world better if at all possible.

Dorian’s favorite gloves are her digger gloves followed by her leather gauntlets, which make her feel invincible as she pulls out invasive thorny material in the wetlands around her garden; her favorite pruners are the ARS pruners made in Japan and designed to be a little smaller for women’s hands. She loves as well the ergonomic designs of Radius garden tools – invented by her friend Bruce Baker.

What are your favorite garden tools?

Which ones are new to you and which ones are historic? Send photos - send your tool stories - we'd love to hear!

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