Good Soil and Good Tools Make Happy Gardeners by Vera Strader “Dirt exposure boosts happiness,” announced recent headlines. Turns out garden soil contains a “friendly” bacteria, Myobacterium vaccae, that boosts the brain’s so called “happy chemical,” serotonin. M. vaccae reportedly activates the same brain neurons as those targeted by Prozac, a drug commonly taken to help combat depression. Could this explain gardeners’ tendency to be passionate and sometimes even a bit obsessive? I do tend to feel happier when “playing in the dirt,” but I also believe that one should never garden so hard that it is not enjoyable. In my quest to keep happiness in gardening, I’ve come across several helpful garden tools and gadgets. These items are available at local garden centers. FISCARS GEARED LOPPERS were a genuine surprise. I assumed that its fivepointed gear mechanism was yet another gimmick until I tried these lightweight bypass loppers on our overgrown shrubs. I was immediately empowered! The Fiscars loppers are available in three different lengths (15, 21, and 25 inches), cut live branches up to 2 inches in diameter, and carry the Arthritis Foundation’s “Ease-of-Use Commendation.” BLACK AND DECKER CORDLESS BROOM is the answer to another of my least favorite chores. The cord makes an electric blower impractical, and gas-powered models are fumy and heavy. The Black and Decker 18 volt cordless broom is lightweight (only 5.5 pounds), works equally well with either the right or left hand, and comes with two rechargeable batteries and the charging stand. And, it eliminates the temptation to hose off surfaces with water since I can easily clean the garage and walkway with one fully charged battery. I make a point of unplugging the charging stand as soon as finished charging since battery powered tools are “vampires” that continue drawing small amounts of electricity until unplugged. CORONA EXTENDABLE HANDLE TOOLS have handles adjustable, with the twist of a knob, from 18” to 32”. I purchased a 3-tined hoe for cleaning old leaves and other debris from under daylilies, grasses, and the like. The series also includes a leaf rake, hoe, cultivator and trowel. These tools can reduce stooping and are terrific for working in raised beds. Although they’re labeled “for light use only,” they’re sturdy enough for most routine garden tasks. SHOVELMATE is a bright yellow device with a sturdy plate that attaches to both sides of a shovel at the place you put your foot while digging. The Shovelmate substantially boosts digging power by allowing the gardener to put more weight on the shovel. The Shovelmate did not fit on my narrow spade, but my handy husband was able to modify it so that it works well. The Shovelmate limits prying stubborn bulbs and root balls from the ground, but all in all, it’s an excellent addition to my gardening arsenal. QUICK HOSE CONNECTERS are an old but essential standby. Threading hose attachments on and off seems akin to waiting for water to boil. Furthermore, it’s hard on sore wrists. Instead, install one quick connecter part onto your hose end and the other part onto your nozzle or sprinkler. This allows you to connect and disconnect attachments by simply sliding the collar portion on the connecter. Quick connecters come in plastic and brass versions. Plastic quick connecters are cheaper, but the brass ones are more durable and well worth the price. REELSMART AUTOMATIC HOSE REEL promises to tame a belligerent hose. It is compatible with a 5/8” hose of up to 100 feet and can be mounted on either a wall or floor. Best of all, the ReelSmart coils the hose after use with only the push of a lever, utilizing waterpower instead of muscle power. However, upon unpacking the Reelsmart, my afore-mentioned handy husband predicted that it was too lightweight to stand up. He was right; the Reelsmart cracked after only two months’ use. If this product were of more durable construction and with an added hose guide, it could indeed reduce hose warfare. Meanwhile I’m waiting for the new and improved model. SUNSET WESTERN GARDEN ANNUAL. When not getting a lift from working in the garden, gardeners often derive satisfaction from reading about, well, gardening. While Sunset Magazine includes helpful ideas and advice, their Western Garden Annual provides an even more colorful and comprehensive resource. The Annual has been published yearly since 1994, and includes all the magazine’s garden articles from the year plus monthly regional checklists. You can find current issues at garden centers and bookstores or copies from past years in used bookshops and online. Vera Strader finds that spending time in the yard and reading about doing so are both essential components of her mental health.