This time last year I was amazed at the efficiency of the Billhook for preparing the hazel stakes for the garden. In the spring, I became a vocal advocate of the Hori-Hori; a small Japanese gardening knife with a multitude of uses. It is surprisingly deft at removing tap-rooted weeds from borders without disturbing the surrounding plants and for the majority of the spring, it never left my side.
As we moved past the midpoint of Summer I became besotted with a new pair of Long-nosed Snips I had purchased. They have precision-trimming abilities and were perfect for dealing with cut flowers, delicate pruning jobs and all the deadheading that’s needed at that time of year.
In the autumn I became a raving fan of my heavy Splitting Maul. It’s 3.5kg head makes it a foreboding and cumbersome tool. It’s very heavy, and useless for felling trees, but is unsurpassed when it comes to breaking large, hardwood rounds into suitably-sized chunks for the log-burner in the house.
Over the next couple of months, I will be working through the large herbaceous borders cutting back all the perennials and grasses that have managed to remain standing upright through the winter months. It can be a long-winded job, slowly cutting through each stand of plants with Shears or Secateurs, but earlier this week I discovered a great way to make the job even easier – a Sickle.
A Sickle is similar to its bigger brother, the Scythe. It has a curved blade, sharpened on the inside edge, and would traditionally be used for cutting the stems when harvesting corn. During the latest spell of cold weather I have been tidying and organising the tools in the shed. Stuffed down the back of the bench in the workshop, looking as if it had not been touched for many years was an old Sickle.
With a bit of careful cleaning and plenty of effort sharpening the blade it was ready for a new lease of life. After practicing on some less prominent clumps of grasses I quickly started to get the hang of it and before long was cutting my way through the border with surprising ease, collecting huge sheaves of grass and stems as I progressed. A job that would normally take me hours to complete, taking its toll on myself and my secateurs, flew by with ease. It will take me a bit longer to work all the way around the garden as the spring approaches, but this new, more efficient approach has massively reduced the time it will take me.
Often when we are thinking about our work, we can find ourselves stuck in a fixed mindset about the way it should be approached. We think ‘It has always been done this way, and so it should continue to be done that way’, even if it isn’t the easiest or most efficient way. Whilst it is good to know the current thinking and practices we must ensure we do not slavishly attach ourselves to them, and are always open to thinking about our work in new ways.
In 1962 American physicist Thomas Kuhn coined the term ‘Paradigm Shift’ to describe a fundamental shift in the concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline. Although the term has since slipped into common parlance, and is now more often misused than not, it is worth considering its meaning in detail. A paradigm is when a group have an idea, technique or value in common. Previously science was dominated by thoughts about the way it ought to develop (‘the scientific method’). In the paradigm that existed more truths were gradually added to the stock of old truths as the scientific community steadily marched towards a greater understanding of the world.
Kuhn saw scientific progress as a more discontinuous process – a series of alternating normal and revolutionary phases. Presented with a new way to consider the implications of old findings, communities in a field of study can find themselves in a state of turmoil and uncertainty as the new idea they are presented with radically changes the way the old learning is viewed.
It is worth bearing in mind that whilst we are always in a state of gradual change, it can also sometimes be sudden and unexpected. Like the stems of the grass I am currently cutting a swathe through with my sickle, we must be strong yet flexible, able to remain rooted, but move easily with the changing winds, otherwise we risk only ever discovering exactly what we expect to discover.