Posted in cottage life, gardens, loreeebee.ca

Cottage Wildflower Garden Update

A few (cottage) seasons ago I told you about my plans for a wildflower garden at our cottage. This is an update…

The first set of evergreens (pine and spruce) we planted a few seasons ago have grown even though gypsy moths have persistently tried to hamper their survival.

Cottage Wildflower Garden Update
Spruce and pines

The most recent set are coming along well too; they love the full sun and lots of space to grow…

Cottage wildflower garden
Newest evergreen plantings

After a few arguments with hubby over what grass to cut (he likes the manicured city lawn look, I prefer a more natural look up here) we compromised with some of each. To mark my territory, I trampled down the grass to create a “line” he was not to cross with the lawn mower. You can barely see it on the right side of this picture, but he saw it and that’s what counts.

Cottage Wildflower Garden Update
Wildflower ridge…coming soon!

The area is not very garden-friendly, sloped with sandy soil enhanced (not) with salt and bits of gravel from the road.

Cottage Wildflower Garden Update
Wildflower ridge coming soon!

Unfortunately many of the seeds I spread the past few seasons migrated to the designated lawn area. The soil is very sandy in this neck of the woods, so removing the errant plants and transplanting them to wildflower ridge was easy.

Wildflower ridge is now chock full of daisies, black eyed susans, malva, white and pink achilea, Queen Anne’s lace, viper’s bugloss, and milkweed.

The milkweed attracts monarch butterflies. They lay eggs on the leaves which hatch into caterpillars (you can see 2 in the picture above) which in turn morph into more monarch butterflies.

Next to come (from my gardens) are monarda (AKA beebalm), phlox and flax, perhaps coneflowers and butterfly weed.

The next spot I plan to transform is the shadier slope at the water’s edge. Stay tuned for more details on that project!

This is a much shadier site, so will require some research to find suitable new occupants.

Please let me know if you can think of any other plants I can add to either site. I prefer natural looking (no city slickers allowed) perennials.

I am hoping the bees and butterflies like my cottage wildflower gardens as much as I do!

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, weather

Which Plants Bloom in Spring?

Spring is my favourite season. I love the fact that the plants in gardens, roadsides and parks start strutting their stuff, with changes every day. My own gardens don’t disappoint me every spring, in fact I am known to just wander/putter around enjoying the new growth.

If you too love spring blossoms, here are a few plants that bloom in spring for your yard and gardens…

Magnolias

My spring starts off with the star magnolia in my front yard. From afar, the blossoms look like pom poms, brightening up my yard even before the leaves emerge. Up close they are even more spectacular:

Which Plants Bloom in Spring

Another magnolia blooms a bit later in my backyard. This beauty is the Ann variety, with blossoms that change in shape as they progress…

Forsythia

After my white star magnolia blooms and drops its flowers, forsythia bushes brighten the neighbourhood with their striking yellow blossoms. My neighbour’s is especially pleasing to me as I enjoy this view from my front windows:

which plants bloom in spring

I have a forsythia in my backyard too, but it is still small and not as effectively placed as the beauty above.

Plum Trees

Next to bloom in my gardens are my plum trees, usually. This year their blossoms were barely there thanks to the birds. This is what they are supposed to look like:

Plum trees are very fragrant when blooming too, another sign of spring. Unfortunately my husband suffers from seasonal allergies, so he does not find them as appealing as I do.

Apple and Crab Apple Trees

Next up to bloom are my McIntosh apple trees. This year they are particularly gorgeous…

…perhaps because the plum trees were not. The apple trees are loaded with bees too; I’m doing my part to keep them thriving!

Around the same time as the apple trees in my backyard, the crab apple tree in my front yard and in yards all across this city are in full bloom, ranging from the palest of pink, to light pink to my own darker almost-wine-coloured version. Whatever the variety, they are all beautifully spring-like.

Lilac Trees and Bushes

While most lilac trees and bushes are in bloom by now, with their distinct and fragrant blossoms, mine does not bloom until early June. After the plum and apples trees have shown off. These lilacs are still spring bloomers by calendar standards, but not quite a harbinger of spring in my yard.

which plants bloom in spring

Shrub Roses

Shrub roses (usually) bloom earlier and for longer than rose bushes, but of course there are exceptions. My favourite shrub rose, with pale yellow five-lobed petals and lemony yellow centers is just starting to bloom now while my crab apple tree is still going strong.

A few other varieties of pink shrub roses throughout my gardens will wait a few weeks before they decide to bloom.

Roses of the climbing or bushes type wait for the hotter days (and nights) of summer to perform.

Spring Bulbs

Spring bulbs, are planted in the fall to provide early spring colour in your gardens. Early tulips and daffodils are currently blooming, with allium still working on their strappy leaves and tall stems. The alliums will be blooming soon too, with the later variety of tulips. With summer still a month away, these later tulips and allium are still considered spring blooming bulbs.

Rhododendrons

Another spring blooming shrub is the rhododendron, fast becoming one of my favourite for all of my gardens including my own. They too range in colour, including white, pale pink, hot pink, red and a purply pink.

I have a story that I tell anyone who will listen of how I was introduced to rhododendrons. Currently I choose them for most part sun gardens, especially eastern and northeastern facing ones, their preferred exposure. I have two in my own backyard too, ready to burst out in blossoms any time now…

Other Spring Blooming Perennials

A few perennials bloom in spring too. A few examples in my gardens are garden sage with pale purple flowers and Jack Frost brunnera which sports green and white heart-shaped leaves and tiny blue flowers:

Groundcovers

There are also several groundcovers that bloom in spring. In my gardens that includes sweet woodruff with delicate leaves and tiny white flowers, as well as lamium with varigated leaves and pearl pink blossoms:

Fiddlehead Ferns

These ferns don’t flower as such, but their fronds are fascinating to watch unfurl. Apparently fiddleheads are delicious to cook and eat, although I have not tried them. This bed is full of ferns, turning into a lush, green focal point in summer:

Conclusions

There are lots of plants to choose from for spring colour in your gardens. Plant bulbs in the fall or perennials and shrubs anytime the ground is warm enough to dig in.

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, nature

What Happened to the Blossoms on my Plum Trees?

The plum trees in my back yard are usually so full of blossoms this time of year that you can see and smell them from across the street. The scent is heavenly, usually. Sadly, this year there are barely any blossoms.

2020 (left) and 2021 (right) blossoms

Birds Devouring the Flower Buds

About a month ago, a large flock of strange (to us, we had never seen this variety before) birds took over our backyard, devouring the emerging buds on the plum trees. There were at least fifty birds in these two trees at once, all weekend, with no social distancing evident!

I assumed they were migrating, returning from the south, and hoped they didn’t destroy the annual spectacle of fragrant blossoms.

What Happened to the Blossoms on My Plum Tree?
cedar waxwing photo credit

A bit of research taught me that these newcomers were cedar waxwings, as suspected on their way north, stopping in for a nutrition break. Apparently, when their usual meal of seeds and nuts is unavailable, they are known to snack on the flower buds of fruit trees. Cute little guys, but boys do they do some damage.

Mystery solved, but I sure hope this does not become an annual event! The gorgeous blossoms on these plums trees is a harbinger of spring in my gardens.

I may have to resort to twinkling lights and windchimes to deter the marauders in the future.

Posted in gardens, grandkids, loreeebee.ca

How to Make Your Gardens Kid Friendly

It occurred to me recently that I needed to make my gardens kid friendly so my grandchildren can enjoy them as much as I do. They love my backyard, but my repeated “don’t step on the flowers” as they explore was starting to sound like a broken record. So, I decided to make the gardens kid friendly.

Pathways of Stepping Stones

The idea for pathways of stepping stones weaving throughout my gardens sprouted in my brain when a gardening client asked if I had the use for several stones she had left over from a patio project.

how to make your gardens kid friendly

I also have some bricks that were previously used to edge my backyard gardens. I decided years ago that I prefer a more natural edging as the bricks made it difficult to mow the lawn right up to the garden edge. Grass also (annoyingly and time consuming) grew in between them. The bricks had also shifted over the years so were no longer nice and even, a sore spot with me.

A few seasons in and they had to go. Instead of digging up the bricks at the time, I left them in place and extended my gardens in width. Now I am digging them up to use for the kid-sized stepping stones. These are in their new places, just waiting to be sunk into the ground for stability…

how to make your gardens kid friendly

I asked my almost 8 year old granddaughter if I should paint the stepping stones a bright colour so she, her brothers and cousins can see them better. She voted no, telling me it is more fun to discover them.

I added the pathways at the beginning of the season when perennials are small. This way I can visualize the spacing needed to create the meandering effect I desire. For example, in the photo above, you can see the lily of the valley pips poking through the ground. In a few weeks time the plantings will have filled out and the paths will look like they have been there forever.

Landing Pads

Along with the pathways of stepping stones, I created landing pads in specific spots. There is one in front of each birdbath for little feet to step on while filling the birdbath.

There are now also several landing pads a foot back from the edge of my pond, so my grandkids know to stop there. At least most of them do. No names will be mentioned, but one little boy likes to push the boundaries and get as close as he can.

Plants Surrounding the Stepping Stones and Landing Pads

To keep the look of the stepping stones and landing pads as natural as possible, I placed them in the middle of low growing, resilient ground cover. The pathways now wind throughout my back gardens, perfect for exploring and wandering. They also create access for me, the chief gardener, to weed, plant, amend soil, mulch etc.

The stepping stones and landing pads are also located well away from any fragile or thorny plantings. For their safety and my stress level. Again, some of the grandchildren care more about avoiding prickly things and treating the plants with a healthy respect, others run through the paths full steam ahead.

Whimsical Touches

Another way to interest your kids (or grandkids) in gardens is to add whimsical touches throughout your gardens. I have several animals/creatures for them to visit; a black bear and heron rescued from a client’s garden (they planned to toss them out) a frog and a rabbit (that has its rear end busted off, but now sits wedged into the soil) are favourites too.

The kids can visit bird houses, bird baths, wind chimes, painted stepping stones, (on my fence like artwork as they were too pretty to walk on) stone pagodas, obelisks, arbours, and more as they wander through my back yard.

I would love to add a large inukshuk and totem pole, somewhere and sometime. And perhaps a small tree fort; I have a spot all picked out in the sprawling branches of an apple tree.

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, weather

Late Winter, Early Spring Garden Chores

photo credit

Spring is here according to our calendars and the nice weather, although I’ve heard rumours the colder stuff will return for a bit soon. There are many garden or yard chores that should be done this time of year and not put off until the last frost date.

Late winter is considered to be approximately 6 weeks before the beginning of the spring thaw, so will depend on where you live. If you are not sure, count backwards from your area’s last frost date. To me (in zone 4 or 5) this means early April is (usually) late winter or early spring. I can always hope earlier.

It is much easier to see the “bone structure” of your trees before they leaf out, so pruning shade trees like oak and maples now, while they are still dormant, is perfect timing.

Pruning is done for several reasons, even cosmetic ones.

Dead, Broken, Diseased or Crossing Branches

Dead, broken, diseased or crossing/rubbing branches can be cut back at any time during the year. This applies to trees and shrubs. Cut right to the next branch, without leaving a stub.

In the case of crossing or rubbing branches, decide which of the crossing branches lends best to the overall shape of the tree or shrub and remove the other. Keep in mind branches should grow upwards and outwards for optimal shape.

Heavy snow falls and winter winds can snap even the healthiest of branches. These broken branches should be removed for aesthetic purposes as well as for the continued health of the tree or shrub.

Although it may be difficult to determine if branches are dead or diseased yet, you can mark any suspicious ones for pruning later if this is the case. There is no wrong time to remove dead or diseased branches.

Shaping or Rejuvenating

Trees and shrubs always look nicer and tidier when shaped properly and not overgrown. Now is the time to do this, before new growth begins blurring the shape. This is especially true if you have a hard time cutting out perfectly healthy branches.

Pruning to enhance the shape will encourage and stimulate new growth in spring, which is when you want to encourage new growth. Pruning in fall however, encourages growth when future cold weather could kill it off.

Overgrown shrubs and trees also benefit from drastic rejuvenating this time of year. Again, this is because the new growth that will be stimulated has a better chance of survival heading into spring rather than winter. I have had particular success drastically cutting back overgrown dappled willows and forsythia in my business. Even though forsythia is on the list of shrubs not to trim back early, this one was so overgrown my client just wanted it reduced in size, willing to sacrifice the blooms that year.

Evergreen Trees and Shrubs to Prune now

If removing the lower branches of evergreens in your landscape is something you have been considering, now is the time to do so. This is a great way to drastically change your landscape and even improve the condition of your lawn that tries to grow under them.

Boxwoods, yews, holly and other evergreen shrubs should be trimmed now, while dormant, and before new growth appears.

Spruce and firs can be trimmed back now, but pruning pines should wait until June or July, after their first growth of what are called candles (new shoots at the tips). No earlier and no later. With pines, prune (delay growth) by cutting back the candles by half or remove dead, diseased, broken (or unwanted lower) branches to their main stem.

Shrubs or Trees You Should NOT Prune Now

There are exceptions to the “most trees and shrubs” that benefit from spring pruning. These would be the ones that flower early and prefer pruning after they flower. They include:

  • Lilac
  • forsythia
  • bridle wreath spirea
  • mophead and oakleaf hydrangea
  • spring blooming clematis
  • rhododendrons
  • magnolia
  • wisteria
  • flowering almond
  • mock orange
  • weigela
  • nine barks
  • viburnum
  • witch hazel
  • spring flowering trees like plum, cherry, pear or dogwood

The general rule of thumb is “if it blooms before June, prune after flowering. If it blooms after June, prune in spring.” That is because spring bloomers do so on older (last year’s) wood, while later flowers come from new (spring generated) wood.

Cutting Back Ornamental Grasses and Perennials

If you left your ornamental grasses to sway in the winter winds, cut them back as soon as you can get to them, even if you have to wade through some lingering snow. Ornamental grasses should be cut back to four to six inches from the ground. It is much easier to do this now than to wait until new growth starts when you will have to pick the dead and crispy brown stalks from the tender new green shoots. I did mine a few weeks ago when I was itching to do something garden related.

This applies to other perennials you left over the winter. Bird lovers often leave seed heads and pods for their fine feathered friends to snack on. Some leave perennial stalks for their beauty when covered in snow or some variation in an otherwise bleak-looking winter garden. For whatever reason you have left yours intact, now is the time to cut (snap off) the brown and crispy stalks down to ground level.

Conclusions

For more ideas on what you can tackle in your garden this early, check out last year’s post at this time of year.

I’ve got my ornamental grasses cut back already and my lawn raked and seeded, with edging next on my agenda. Garden cleanups will have to wait a few more weeks.

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, nature

Propagating Plants From Seeds: What I have Learned

Anyone who has tried propagating plants from seeds will tell you the process is not as easy as it seems. Each year I give it a try, without much success. The ideal time to start the process is six to eight weeks before the last frost date in your area when they can be planted outdoors.

This year I started way back in the fall with my oldest granddaughter. We have had some success, but not much.

Since then I have researched more and tried different techniques. I can get the seeds sprouted but the sprouts always flop over and shrivel up.

My latest attempts (it has been a long winter) have been more successful, using these techniques:

Humidity

Humidity is a must to coax the seeds to sprout. I have several mini greenhouses and peat pellets that are perfect for for achieving humidity levels the seeds require. This is especially important as most homes have lower humidity levels during the winter months.

propagating plants from seeds: what I have learned

Labels

My granddaughter convinced me to use labels to differentiate the seedlings in their rows within the greenhouse. She noticed my memory is not as good as hers, so thought the labels would help me remember what I planted. She was right.

Grow or Heat Lamps

Once the seeds sprout, the seedlings need heat and light. This can be achieved by keeping the seedlings in a warm window, rotating them often so they grow straight up and not tilted towards the sunshine. Or, you can create warmth and artificial light with a grow/heat lamp.

I am using a desk top in a south facing, sunny window as my propagation station.

propagating plants from seeds: what I have learned

Hydrogen Peroxide

With the humidity comes the growth of mold and mildew on the soil surface. Both are disastrous to seedlings, causing them to wither away.

Cleaning all your (previously used) containers before use with undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide will sterilize them, reducing the chance of mold. You can purchase hydrogen peroxide in your local grocery store or pharmacy and pour it into a spray bottle, or already in a spray bottle here.

Spraying the soil surface daily with a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water (1:4) once the seeds have sprouted will keep mold at bay. This solution will also kill any fungus gnats (the tiny fruit fly-like bugs) hovering around your baby plants.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is not just a tasty and aromatic ingredient in your spice cabinet. Sprinkling it liberally on the top of your seed pellets, before the seeds sprout, will help control mold growth so the seedlings have a fighting chance breaking through the soil.

Transplanting

The use of peat pellets make it simple to transplant the seedlings into larger containers. I just squish them into a pot filled with soil. The size of the new container will dictate how many pellets I transplant into each container.

I like to use a premium potting soil with lots of moisture retaining ingredients to enhance drainage, aeration and add some nutrients.

This is when I use the hydrogen peroxide solution described above to keep the bugs away.

Sticky Bug Catchers

In between the spraying of the peroxide solution, sticky bug catchers work great too to capture the little fungus gnats that like to hang around the plants. They are durable and harmless to kids and pets.

I also use these bug traps in my house plants to keep other insects at bay. They work on the fruit flies and mosquitoes that are more prevalent around here in the summer months…

propagating plants from seeds: what I have learned
warning: bugs appear much bigger here, zoomed in.

Conclusions

A heat source might be a good addition to my experiments as my house does cool off at night. I am considering purchasing heat mats to place below each container to maintain a more consistent temperature for the seedlings. I would love some feedback on these.

There are lots of seeds that can be directly sewn into your gardens and outdoor containers. Of course, they have their own issues. Birds, wandering grandchildren, overgrowing established plants are just a few.

Obviously I could use advice to improve my rate of successful propagation. If any of you have had greater success in propagating plants from seeds, please pass it on!

Oh, and the labels work well outside too to remind me where I planted which seeds.

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca

Nothing Screams Spring Like Pussy Willows and Forsythia

Nothing screams spring quite like pussy willows. Or forsythia sprigs. I love both, together.

I spotted some pussy willows at my local grocery store this week and took them to our local hospice to spruce up the containers at the front door.

A few (artificial) forsythia sprigs were added for their spring-like yellow cheeriness. I am not usually a fan of artificial flowers, but unfortunately forsythias are not quite in bloom yet, at least not here in Ottawa.

The red dogwood stems and birch branches were left over from the winter arrangements, left in for their additional colour and texture.

Posted in gardens, loreeebee.ca, weather

Itching to get Gardening? What you Can Do Now.

Photo Credit

Is spring looking promising in your neck of the woods? The warmer, sunny days here (Ottawa, zone 4/5) are making me itch to get into my gardens.

Use Caution!

It is still (at least it is here) early to get into the gardens to clean them out as many (most) hardy perennials and shrubs are still dormant. I know it is tempting when you start seeing green shoots, but hold off a bit. At least until the soil is not mushy.

The same cautionary rule applies to your lawn. If the snow is gone, wait until it is no longer squishy to walk on before raking, aerating, top dressing etc. I have been aerating in the fall for the past few years, so I am one step ahead.

You also should beware of overwintering bees and other beneficial insects. Gardening too early will disturb them before they are ready to come out of their cozy spots under the debris in your gardens.

Also be on the lookout for nests belonging to our fine feathered friends. Spring is nest and baby season for birds. If you discover one being used, avoid it for a while, until babies have left.

Rabbits have their babies in burrows or holes in the ground in a protected area. I came across one a few years ago when weeding a client’s garden. I was pulling weeds, when I spotted movement. The only way I could distinguish that they were baby rabbits was by their big feet. They had no hair yet. I replaced the weeds to protect them and moved onto another area of the garden.

What can You Do This Early?

Prune Trees

You can prune trees now, in fact this is the best time to do so, before the leaves come out. Just do not prune anything that blooms early, like lilacs or forsythia, as you will cut off the spring blossoms. And, if you have to trample all over your soggy lawn to get to the trees to prune them, perhaps you better wait for a few weeks.

Use a good quality, sharp set of loppers to prune branches. This is one of those times it pays to purchase quality. Choose a set you can handle, as some are quite heavy and create a workout for your arms.

If cut branches are diseased, wipe lopper blades with disinfectant (rubbing alcolol or hydrogen peroxide) between cuts.

Cut Back Ornamental Grasses

You can and should cut back ornamental grasses that were left tall for the winter. By now they look weather-beaten. Cut them back to 4 to 6 inches from the ground. This will ensure the new green shoots (when they appear) wont have to compete with the dead brown ones.

Use a sharp pair of garden shears to make the job of cutting back the ornamental grasses much easier.

Plan and Dream

This is also a great time of year to plan. Make a list of things you want to do, even if they seem far-fetched. Sometimes dreams become reality!

Get Ahead of Crabgrass

If crabgrass is making an appearance in your lawn, treat it quick! As soon as the snow is gone crabgrass germinates, so the earlier you get to it the better. The snow is always gone from my south facing lawn first, so I have to get on the crabgrass now. You can recognize the sprouts as they are bright green in an otherwise drab lawn, and whorled like spokes on a wheel.

I have tried corn gluten, a preemergent, with varying results; the biggest problem is finding it in the stores so early. Scotts has a product out with good reviews for treating crabgrass. I have yet to try it.

This year I poured boiling water on the germinating sprouts, will let you know how that works.

Disinfect Tools and Pots with Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is an environmentally friendly alternative to bleach for cleaning and disinfecting in the garden.

If you use containers on your patio, deck or in your gardens, a warm sunny day is a great time to clean them out. Rinse them out and spray with undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect them. Let the pots sit in the hydrogen peroxide for at least ten minutes. Rinse again, then fill them with new soil so they are ready to fill with annuals when your last frost date arrives.

If you intend to fill any containers with perennials (I have some with ornamental grasses in them) you can do that now. Contact your local nurseries to see what they have available, my favourite here is Ritchie Feed & Seed.

Hydrogen peroxide is also an effective way to clean your tools. Spray or soak them, let them sit for a minimum of ten minutes, then rinse and dry.

Change up Your Outdoor Decor

Remove your winter arrangements (the evergreens that are not so green anymore) and replace them with harbingers of spring. Nothing says spring like pussy willows (I saw some at Farm Boy yesterday) or forsythia branches!

Start Some Seeds

Non-hardy seeds should be started at least six weeks before your last frost date, so this is a great time to get them going. I have learned a few tips over the winter regarding seedlings. Stay tuned for a future post on that subject, coming soon.

Conclusions

While it is still too early to really get started, there are a few things you can do to scratch that gardening itch.

Stay tuned for a more detailed post next week on the next steps in spring cleanups.

Posted in business, gardens, loreeebee.ca, motivational

Turn your Hobby into a Business

I am proud to report that I was recently featured in an article in First for Women magazine about turning a hobby into a lucrative business opportunity. The picture of me isn’t the most flattering one, taken in a hurry first thing in the morning (my grandkids take better selfies than I do) because the one I had submitted was too blurry, but the garden pictured is one of my favourite projects. I have literally watched it evolve over the years from a weed filled, uninspired, large area into a stunning, colourful, well-planned perennial garden bed.

I was approached in January to submit a story on how and why I started my own business, then told it was accepted to be published. The magazine is on newsstands from March 11th through to March 31st. This, of course, is a much-edited, sugar-coated version of my story. I have learned tons over the years, including how to create a website, blog and invoicing or accounting system. I’ve also learned what not to do. If anyone needs further motivation or details on how to get a (very) small business up and running, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

While many people have been inspired to find unique ways to earn income during the pandemic, my gardening hobby-to-business adventure began in the spring of 2012. In fact, last summer my business took a hit, due to the fact that many of my clients were working from home and able to manage their own gardens. Others gave up their gardener to tighten their budget as the pandemic stretched from weeks to months. I was excited, however, to be able to design a few new gardens, something I have been doing less of in recent years. It was a hot and dry summer too, so the cottage season was an exceptional one.

I was thrilled to see the magazine article in publication, especially as the weather appears to be warming up to what could soon be gardening weather. I do still have quite a bit of snow covering my gardens, but it is melting. My south-facing front yard is always the first on the street to reveal the grass under the snow…

In the meantime, I am still repotting, dividing and increasing my collection of houseplants. I think I need a larger house!

Posted in gardens, gardens4u.ca, loreeebee.ca

Essential Garden Tools

Everyone has their own list of what they consider to be essential garden tools. As the owner of a gardening business, I am no exception. These are my essentials, although you don’t have to use specific brands:

Diggers

A shovel, a spade (shovel with a sharp, flat cutting edge) and a trowel will cover all your digging needs. Choose a light weight, but good quality version of both so they are easy to use and will last forever. I have several sizes of shovels too, sometimes you need a small one to get into tight spaces.

Rakes

I have a few different styles and sizes of rakes. The fan shaped ones are good for gathering leaves and debris. I have a tiny (child sized) version that is great for getting in and around plants in your garden. The larger ones work better on lawns.

I prefer the plastic ones as they are nice and light, but my husband prefers a metal one. Go with whatever you will use.

Rakes with straight heads and tines are best for removing thatch from lawns in the spring.

Secateurs or Pruners

This is the one area I advise splurging on because of the working mechanisms. In this case especially, you get what you pay for. If you buy inexpensive secateurs or pruners, they will not work well for long. I have a few different ones that I keep around my yard, in sheltered locations to prevent rusting.

Edging Tool

I consider an edging tool essential since I love the look of natural edging, rather than rocks or rubber edging. Of course, a shovel would work too, but an edging tool, whose head is a half circle, works wonders to create smooth edges in your gardens.

Loppers or Branch Cutters

Once again, pay a bit more to get a good quality pair of loppers. You won’t regret it. Buy some that are heavy (strong) enough, but not too heavy that you cannot handle them efficiently. They come in varying mouth widths too, so choose one that will cut branches up to at last one inch thick. Of course, you can have several (I do) for different chores.

Shears

Shears are like large scissors, great for cutting large sections of plant material at once. They make for quick results on a big plant. For example, I use them for cutting back my large ornamental grasses. I have also seen people using shears to trim small chunks of grass after mowing their lawns, around obstacles in the lawn such as trees. They are not however any good for cutting branches or even twigs.

Tool bag

It is great to have a bag to carry around your hand tools. I currently have one that the tools flop out from, so have been looking for a taller one. This tool bag from Tacklife looks great, perhaps that will be my next purchase. And, as a bonus, it comes with some garden tools. One can never have too many tools!

Nice to Have, but not Essentials

There are many other garden tools I have that the average person would not consider essential. I have a compartmentalized tool bag that contains a roll of string, stakes, a box cutter, a hammer, a tape measure, vine clips etc, in addition to my small hand tools.

I also have several sizes of rubber baskets that are essential to my gardens. They are great for toting garden debris, new plants, weeds, cut flowers, even water in a pinch.

Conclusion

What you consider essential will be different than what I consider essential, based on your needs, physical ability and even your budget. The one thing we should have in common though is keeping our tools clean and sharp. Tools should be cleaned off after each use and sharpened at least once per season. At the end of my gardening season, I spray my tools with a disinfectant, wash them well, then rub blades with a bit of oil to keep them all in tip top shape.