A Garden ‘Reenactor’

Guy Schum has a passion for antique English tools.

Robb Sharetg | ScharetgPictures.com

Guy Schum with his collection of English, T-handled spades

Later this month, when Guy Schum of McLean retrieves his lawnmower from storage to cut the first spring grass in his garden, he won’t be riding on a John Deere. He’ll be pushing an English-made Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies mower from 1903, which, he says “cuts very well indeed.”

The mower is just one of more than 200 different types of garden tools that Schum has collected since the early 1980s, when he says he “stumbled upon” photos of the garden of David Hicks—the British interior-cum-garden designer who created the decorative style that epitomized the 1960s. Schum says Hicks’ book, Garden Design, changed his whole way of thinking about gardens: “Hicks approached garden design in a manner a graphic designer or interior designer could understand.” Schum, who is president and creative director of the eponymously named Schum & Associates, a design and advertising firm in McLean, says that before he knew it, he was corresponding with Hicks who directed him on how to put in an allée of pleached European hornbeams in his former vegetable garden.

Schum says from that point on he was hooked on garden design and the history of English gardens. He explains that the more research he did on small, formal English gardens, the more he kept seeing and reading about English tools from the past: “I wondered if you could still find an old T-handled spade, garden fork or dibber.”

In fact, he could find such implements—and he acquired them, in spades. His collection today includes implements dating as far back as 1590 and a very rare English watering pot made of brown earthenware; it is one of fewer than 30 known to exist. Schum purchased the watering pot from the renowned expert on early English pottery, the late Jonathan Horne of London, who had also sold Schum early-17th-century English tin-glazed pottery over the years.

“To my mind there is nothing more beautiful to see or pleasurable to work with in the garden than a tool like a strawberry spade or a goose-necked hand hoe,” says Schum, who adds that knowing an item has been passed along and taken care of—even perhaps treasured—is “a wonderful feeling and a tangible, tactile connection with history.”

Tools are not the only things Schum collects. He also has English botanical single-lens microscopes, specimen vasculums and fern gathering equipment as well as a number of very fine and rare English asparagus harvesting knives, glass cloches and maker-marked hand-thrown English flower pots. Schum says he uses many of the tools: “My wife says I am a ‘Gardening Reenactor.’”

“In the end, these things are just things,” says Schum. “But, I find them to be very special things. The ones I can, I use as they were intended, and I enjoy doing so more than the trowel or pruner I’ve bought from the local hardware store or garden shop.”

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