Jim Murphy & Sons

Bending over (backwards) in search of gizmos for gardeners

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For as long as there have been gizmos, we have been looking for one that works as advertised.

You’ve seen these ingenious devices that claim to have simplified some annoying chore. Often they are advertised as "not available in any store." Only later do they become readily available with a banner exclaiming "as seen on TV." Gizmos are to human nature what a big fat plastic worm is to a large mouth bass. It looks too good to be true, but we still can’t resist. At least I can’t.

Often the motivation is related to chronic pain or such extreme inconvenience that any reasonable person would pay to make the problem go away – if it worked. Fortunes have been made selling handy gizmos to homeowners, often gardeners, who are vulnerable because of just two four-letter words:
Back pain.

Back pain is closely associated with – but not limited to – weeding, raking, edging, picking up errant
sweet gum balls and pine cones. And to cleaning gutters, trimming, composting leaves, collecting grass
clippings, pet droppings, aluminum cans, fireplace ashes, and the remains of diapers left behind by certain incontinent family members of the next and previous generations.

There are gizmos that are said to silence barking dogs and lurking cats, and send packing various raccoons, armadillos, ‘possums, skunks, grazing deer, moles, voles and other rodents. Give or take a varmint or two, such in part was the claim of the Scram Patrol Sonic Animal Chaser (at right) that supposedly sends forth a highpitched blast that only animals can hear, as well as a tiny red laser dot, presumably for nighttime action since that is the only time you can see it at more than five feet. Not a problem, because the fine print of this gizmos says that’s just how close you have to be to the aforementioned critter (you know we don’t make this stuff up), which we found challenging in the case of all of the above, especially polecats (skunks for the uninformed). Prices varied rather widely, from $8 to a rather snobby $32.49. Thankfully, we found ours on the clearance table for much, much less. All in the name of research, dear reader. The litmus test – perhaps a pop quiz – is to answer one question: Is this too good to be true? So much is, you know. And it’s corollary in these difficult times: Damn, why didn’t I
think of that?

But then there it is again, a half-hour infomercial at some obscure hour, demonstrating a simple rechargeable device that edges the lawn, or which turns a rocky garden into luscious loam. And did we mention? It cleans clogged gutters without causing the smiling blonde in spotless white golfing togs to miss her tee time with Ken. Space-age glides allow us slide furniture about with barely more than a finger, or cover up an emerging bald spot from a spray can of flocking.

Gizmos seem to come from one of two places: Australia or with some sly grandmother’s home cafeteria and laboratory. We know this to be true because the pitchman is either some fasting-talking pointy-nosed Australian in red suspenders or a sweet, trustworthy grandmother who has enough edible leftovers to keep four gizmos going at the same time. The Aussie talks so fast and loud that you could injure your back
lunging for the TV clicker, only to land on the alternate channel where the saintly retired home economics teacher is feeding a hungry friend who will seemingly eat anything from rubber chicken to questionable pizza. And these hucksters make more than most actors, plus commission.

How often have we have been found gullible enough to part with three easy payments just for the privilege of owning the gizmo. Unlike the last gadget, this one has the problem solved anew, and is available for a limited time (what, they only made a dozen?). In fact, rather than $149.95, it is now available for only three payments of, yup, $49.95, plus shipping and handling. Best of all, if you call in the next 15 minutes, you can get a second one free for just shipping and handling charges (if the post office charged S&H fees like these, it would not be $8.5 billion in the red for just one year). Left unanswered: Why would I need two of these gizmos if my problem is solved. But you knew it, there’s still more: Call now and you will receive a complimentary set of knives that will cut through a dirty old cowboy boot or a piece of rusted sewer pipe without getting dull and still slice a fresh tomato into slivers "so thin they only have one side." You wonder how some diseases get started? Think sewer gas and sauerkraut.

We have a collection of gizmos, some dating back to those golden years when there was no cable TV, when broadcasting ceased at midnight and began at 6 a.m. with the national anthem.

Perhaps our all-time favorite is the Garden Weasel®, originally from Germany. It fit on a long wooden
handle or shorter plastic version, and offered four spinning sturdy prongs that would render soil smooth, while chopping weeds into a nutritious mulch. This gizmo is still around and available online from the Garden Weasel Division of the Faultless Starch/Bon Ami Co. in Kansas City, Mo. And with a lifetime guarantee, ours is still working, though it has had light duty in recent decades.

Alas, it does nothing for our back, which is why the gardentiller drill bit that locks securely on the end of a rechargeable cordless drill (not included), making it ever so much easier to dig holes for planting bulbs (also not included). Now if we can find a self-planting bulb that does not require bending over, we expect an excellent result.

Is our bending over?

Yes, if the "Coneivor," the ultimate "Pine Cone Pick-up Tool" from Garden Weasel, ($19.99) does the job. It picks up "pinecones, walnuts, sweet-gum balls, baseballs, golf balls and
more." We bought one right away, before they’re not available in any store.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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