Weary of the Cheap


I’m not much of a consumer, in part because what I really want–Prada boots, thanks, an actual glass greenhouse, and a grey gunite swimming pool–I can’t afford.  I have a European mother.  I learned from her to be stubborn about the nice stuff and just to wait for it.

So I hate the fact that when I do buy something normal and mid-priced, it seems almost inevitably to be offensively flimsy, so flimsy as to be almost useless.

Here is a silly but somehow telling example: I recently needed a new cloth to clean my eyeglasses.  The only one my local drugstore had cost $5 and came packaged with a bottle of some solution I didn’t want.  Here’s the great part…the cloth is some completely weird, slimy synthetic…and it doesn’t work!  The most low-tech product in the world, and it is a failure!  I’m assuming that the cost of producing a little square of fabric that actually does the job represents only a fraction of a penny more than producing one that doesn’t.  But I’m also assuming that the manufacturer is far away in China and more interested in cutting deals than in the happiness of eyeglass wearers in Saratoga Springs, NY.

This summer, I needed a new sprinkler for my flower garden.  I’ve had the same rain tower sprinkler in my vegetable garden for the last 10 years…I bought it from the much-mourned, super-reliable Smith & Hawken and that one works.  However, since my flower beds are more irregularly shaped and only irregularly watered, I just wanted one of those flat sprinklers that are easy to move around and easy to put away.  So I bought the most expensive one in my local garden chain, made by a company called Ray Padula.  I think it cost around $30.  But I pulled the sprinkler out of the box only to find that it was made almost entirely of light plastic–so light that the force of the spray lifts the sprinkler out of the grass, and it gets stuck at some angle that doesn’t acccomplish what I wanted to accomplish.  It’s also devilishly hard to screw a metal hose coupling into plastic.  If you follow the link, you’ll see that the model I bought is connected to some nonsense slogan about inexpensive not meaning cheap.  Ha!  Didn’t sprinklers used to be made of metal, so they would actually SIT where you wanted them to?

Elizabeth complains about hose nozzles. I hate the fact that I had to buy three pond pumps this summer, because the Tetra pond pumps sold at my local Lowe’s kept failing.  I also hate that setting a new one up would send me into a rage every time, because the parts they sell to connect the pump to a filter and a fountain feature are cheap plastic and don’t attach to each other in any rational way.

I think of my garden as an investment.  I don’t buy a lot of equipment.  I just want to buy sturdy stuff that will last a good long time–and keep me from having to waste my life driving around to find replacements.  I don’t understand why I either have to buy online to find good gardening equipment– or drive all the way to Southern Vermont, where there is a trio of super-nice nurseries along the spine of the state line, with rich customers willing to pay for a pair of Felco pruners or a nice shovel–and to do it once and then move on with their lives.


  1. Uh-huh. I’ve found that if I bring in an article to my local nursery about a really cool tool and let them know I’m interested in buying one, they’ll often stock it for me or can at least special order.

    I can attest that it’s extremely difficult to sell high-end stuff at a nursery. They buy it, it sits. Unless people are coming in expecting to find a wealth of high-end, and they’ve adjusted their expectations before walking in, the contrast between $60 pruners and a $1.99 annual might just be too great for most people to make the jump.

    Best thing I’ve found I can do is suggest great tools and then get evangelical about telling everyone where to go to buy them. This can backfire, of course, when all your friends have bought all of an item that has suddenly been discontinued, which happened to me with an AWESOME stainless shovel recently.

  2. Agreed on the quality level. It is a challenge as a independent garden center employee to carry the stuff we like and trust vs. the stuff customers will buy. Even with consulting the customer on features and benefits, a portion or our customers will go to the same big box store you mentioned and buy whatever is the lowest price. I usually try to talk about the long-term cost not the sticker cost.

  3. That’s why all my water delivery devices (excepting hoses) are all from the 1920s, purchased, quite cheaply I might add, from ye olde antique store in town. Granted they’re coated with what could only be lead-based paint, but…damn, they work, and will probably outlast me.

  4. I hear you on quality. It’s not just in the gardening world, of course. We’re such a consumption-driven society these days and manufacturers feed into that with their planned obsolescence manner of creating items.

    Two thoughts:
    1. Lee Valley manages to stock some quite high-end items and they sell.

    2. Why would you use a water-wasting sprinkler of that type anyway? If you’re on a city system, you have to pay water bills, and sprinklers waste water like crazy. If you’re on a well…sprinklers are a huge strain on pumps and wells. What about a trickle or drip line, that will put water at the plant roots, rather than all over foliage, when you want it? You can buy an inexpensive one to try it out, and add sections as you need them, if you want to place it and forget it. Or they’re lightweight and easy to move and relocate, even in an oddly shaped garden.

  5. Dramm makes an excellent, metal Turret sprinkler that can give you a flat configuration and it has a lifetime limited warranty. However, we have yet to replace a single one for any of our customers. They run about $25 and are definetly worth their money. They also come in cool colors.

  6. Jodi, I water so rarely–only when it’s super-dry–that a drip system would be a waste of time to set up.

    El–antique sprinklers of the kind I remember from childhood! Genius!

  7. It’s scary to think that a business with life-time money back or replacement guarantee on their products can’t stay in business.

    How much of the problem (consumers buying low quality stuff) is caused by economic factors? consumer ignorance? slick marketing? or all of the above?

    Even though I am lucky to live near a mega-giant farm supply store that carries everything a gardener could ever want, I think I will start hitting the flea market and antique stores for the tools that grandpa used – great idea!

  8. I think its a matter of your own personal requirement…for me the most expensive ones do not actually mean quality….even the mid priced ones can work fine for me…

  9. I agree about products costing a reasonable amount, not doing a reasonable job. Too often I have to repurchase an item after only one use. And sprinklers get replaced every year because the next year leak all over the place. I get wet just by not being able to avoid the wayward spray. I took one back to the Big Box Store this year and made them give me a new one, and guess what. I get it home and it does the same blasted thing. They probably re-boxed somebody else’s problem sprinkler.

  10. That’s exactly why I refuse to buy equipment or fixtures of any sort online. I don’t care whose glowing praise is stamped on it- if I can’t touch it, I won’t buy it. Returns for most sites are annoying at best, as well.

    I have the cheap argument w/my boyfriend regarding the garden all the time. Like you, I’d rather wait for the good stuff and do without than buy some cheapy-cheap tat from Big Lots that will fall apart in a few months. I used to think that was a Capricorn thing, but I can see the European sensibility in it, too.

  11. We should never stray from what we know is right. I had the same thing happen to me. I do not buy a different item than what I was looking for. It only ends up costing me more money.

  12. “2. Why would you use a water-wasting sprinkler of that type anyway? If you’re on a city system, you have to pay water bills, and sprinklers waste water like crazy. If you’re on a well…sprinklers are a huge strain on pumps and wells. What about a trickle or drip line, that will put water at the plant roots, rather than all over foliage, when you want it? You can buy an inexpensive one to try it out, and add sections as you need them, if you want to place it and forget it. Or they’re lightweight and easy to move and relocate, even in an oddly shaped garden.”

    There are ways to make the use of sprinklers less wasteful. Like watering early or late in the day when little is lost to evaporation. The birds love sprinklers. You should see them flock to my garden when the sprinkler is on. The only time I ever saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings was when I was running the sprinkler. Saving water is an admirable goal, but so is providing wildlife.

  13. Nah nah! My cheap plastic sprinkler looks cheaper than your cheap plastic sprinkler.

    Mine is 3 years old, has several cracks (plastic doesn’t do well outdoors in UV sunlight). I kept the receipt and carton with its “lifetime warranty.” It goes back upon the first sign of malfunction and leaking.

  14. Speaking from New Zealand-our Lowe’s equivalents sell real junk as well. So do the national gardening chain stores. We do have local independent garden stores that sell high quality gear though. As a business owner (not gardening) I can tell you it’s really tough trying to sell quality products in competition with the large chainstores. We have to discount like mad-our margins are slim which makes it hard for me to afford those neat German tools in the gardening store! Still, I’ve got a couple and I know I won’t have to replace them anytime soon. That makes me smile.

  15. Two things:

    They sell the spray with that cloth for a reason. System as sold works great.

    Try Lee Valley Tools. They are my go-to for old-time manufactured reliability.

  16. For your next pump go with a Pond Master Magnetic Drive, good quality, replaceable impellers and parts, with very low energy use per gallon pumped. I have one that has run nonstop for five years and is still going strong.

    And while I don’t use sprinklers anymore at home, my Dramm whirling sprinkler is still in amazing shape after over two decades of use and comes in handy at the nursery to give the native grasses and meadow wildflowers a quick drink after division and potting up. It is cast-iron and stays where I put it and they even still make it, though the new colors are easier to find than my old faded green one.

  17. I certainly agree about quality. I’m now on my 2nd Gardena sprinkler, albeit plastic, but the first one lasted 15 years. I can no longer find Gardena in my local garden centers, so I sent away for it. If your sprinkler jumps around the lawn/garden, you can pin it down with ground staples. Yes, it is a joy to see the birds enjoying the spray!

  18. It’s not only things made in China are crappy, I’ve bought a lot of things made in good ole US of A that are just as crappy. I think it’s a big problem in this modern age, things are just not made like they used to be. No quality.

  19. Michele, microfiber towels bought in the automotive department of a chain discount storer (Target, Walmart, etc). The price? Five for $5. Good enough for my Nikon lenses, good enough for eyeglasses

  20. Amen, Michele!

    This is why I wouldn’t tolerate any guff when I dropped serious money on my Haws metal watering can! (My kids/husband kept killing my plastic ones.) Still can’t gulp and drop the money on the Felcos, though.

  21. I’m so happy to read this post, ’cause the people around me mostly accept the fact that items made today won’t last. It’s not just garden tools either. Examples:

    Some of our older buildings at work don’t have central A/C so we use window units in them. The A/C guys at work told me these units last almost exactly as long as their warranty before they die and can’t be repaired. What a waste.

    Many toilet seats (this surprised me) in South America are made out of such thin plastic that they frequently break when you sit on them and such happened to a co-workers’ wife when she visited S. America not long ago. That could be a bad experience falling in!

    For me, the problems are hose-end nozzles and weed-eaters. I’ve started buying my hose-end nozzles from Lee Valley after going through three cheapies from Lowe’s and two from my local nursery in only a year. And after killing three B&D weed-eaters, I switched to Stihl.–I paid a bit more but I am finally happy!

  22. Garden Rant is becoming some Consumer Report, me cago en la ostia.

    Buying, buying this or that.
    Bulbs, plants, whatever.

    What about some plain gardening with dirt. What about pollution created by
    dull, sterile lawn maintenance.

    What happened to relevance?
    For FLORA and FAUNA?

  23. This year I cant believe I went through 3 garden hoses and about 4 watering wands.

    We put in underground sprinklers this summer(on well water)but I still have some pots and hanging baskets that have to be hand watered.

    All I want is a light duty hose and extended wand with adjustable head that can take daily use with out having to be treated like fine china.

  24. My forty year old black and decker electric hedge clippers finally gave up the ghost. Got a new black and decker pair. Abloslutely no comparison. Yes it is lighter, yeah! longer blade, yeah! Doesn’t cut worth a hill of beans and has two very annoying safety features. A button you have to constantly hold down to keep it runniing, and a sheild that sticks out and makes it impossible to hold the blade flat to what you are cutting. Elsa, go for the felcos. They are wonderful. I can’t bring myself to spring for the Haws water can, but each summer as I carry those lousy tipping plastic ones I weaken.

  25. I love those small Pound of Rain sprinklers that are made of heavy metal, especially the one that’s asymetrical so it doesn’t flip when I turn the water on. I order them on-line, but I heard that Walmart sells them. They’re heavy and old-fashioned and don’t plug up with floating debris from the ditch water that I use for irrigation. It’s just a simple, timeless sprinkler that’s made the way it’s supposed to be made.

  26. @Laurie: I love our Nelson pound of rain. It’s starting to rust, but I feel that it’ll still be here for years to come. And I bought it at Walmart, go figure!

  27. To clean glasses, I use a scrap of an old cotton t-shirt. And I purchase most of my garden and kitchen tools from Lee Valley; check out their irrigation systems. In the past, I would buy Craftsman from Sears, but I’m not sure they still offer a lifetime guarantee on their tools anymore.

  28. Thanks for the recommendation for Lee Valley; I see they have a hose (or faucet) turn off thing made out of brass, with a nice 2 to 3 inch handle. I have bought several made out of plastic by Nelson that all broke within months. And not the turnoff handle: the actual body of the thing! I don’t know about others but I have a hard time turning a teeny little switch.

  29. Well, I have to put in a good word for Felco here. I recently had a problem with my #2 pruner and when I got the replacement part I saw that I had written the date on the handle: 1990.
    I had used my pruners every day for 20 years with no problem other than a dull blade.

    That’s why they’re a good investment.

    They’re lightweight so your hand never tires and every part is replaceable, even after 20 years.

    I love it when I read ‘real’ reviews of tools.
    Thanks, All.

  30. “Life’s too short to use cheap tools.” And, there’s a reason we say irrigation=irritation. What (still)works: antique Spear & Jackson flat spade with ash D handle from antiques importer who got it at auction in Elgin, Scotland, probably nicked from the tool shed at Findhorn where I had just been living & gardening…sentimental AND sustainable: been using it for last 16 years straight. Sadly, Spear & Jackson got bought by a notoriously low quality American toolmaker, went ‘big box’ and then crashed. Indy garden center owners like me dropped the line.

    Bahco/Sandvik pruners, loppers and folding pruning saw are far superior to Felco and have better sizes for women’s hands.

    Brass quick connects for soaker hoses. My plastic ones from Gardena have lasted 20 years, but the plastic inevitably breaks off inside the mate so you waste two fittings. Brass is better for anything irrigation. Recycled rubber soaker hoses may clog up with clay after 5 years if improperly installed or buried below soil, but Landscapes for Life/Sustainable Sites Initiative standards are now to irrigate only during establishment period for about 3-4 years anyway. RatchetCut loppers last over 15 years. Burgon & Ball leather holster for sheep shears work well to hold GardenCut scissors and Bahco/Sandvik pruners together.

    Cheap works occasionally: adjustable rakes, but don’t loan them or you never get them back and they are not that easy to find. When I see them at the outlets I buy all they have that are working properly. Also the very cheap loppers for less than $10 are good gifts for family members who don’t know the difference and leave the good stuff lying about in the garden for you to clean the rust off of.

    Put your initials and date on your tools and don’t loan them.

  31. I also LOVE my Felco’s. I bought them 14 years ago and for 5 years used them for cutting the stems and roots off of garlic. About 40 000 lbs of garlic a year (I did have help). But still it was an industrial use that the Felco’s were not really designed to handle, and they excelled. Everyone wanted to use them, and I bought the smaller size for my small hand.

    I thought I had finally bought a really good hose, but this year it burst on 3 separate occasions and flooded my back yard. UGH.

    I will also add my 2 cents about Lee Valley. Absolutely super people in the stores, and great quality products.

  32. I have been happy with the tools, etc. from Lee Valley but have discovered that Amazon carries brass hose fittings both repair and Quick Connect. They also carry Dramm sprinklers.

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