Firstly, in spite of the name, these are snips, lacking the heft and cutting power of true secateurs; I’ll often use the latter for cutting through borderline thick branches (this morning, young hornbeam branches an inch thick) when the loppers aren’t immediately to hand – not the kind of task for which these are designed. The manufacturer's website refers to “fine precision tips allows for targeted cutting...especially good for floristry work, even on woody greenery stems”, and this is the area in which they excel.
Well presented in an attractive, hinged cardboard box with a magnetic enclosure, these would make an ideal gift for a lucky gardening friend – though I’d be surprised if anyone would have the strength to part with the first pair they’d bought. These snips are undeniably beautiful and if, like me, you’re a sucker for sharp and shiny gizmos, you’ll be charmed by the combination of sleek, shiny steel and an kind of honest, industrial industrial clunkiness. From the long, pointed nose at one end, to the bare metal handles, sculpted like the keel of some high-tech stealth boat, enfolding the oversized spring and terminating with a chunky brass catch, both latter elements derivative of the Japanese tools on which the design is clearly based.
So much for form. As to function, I’m pleased to be able to say these are a joy to use. A tried and tested, simple design – a pair of sprung shears – nevertheless realised with a degree of finesse that sets them apart from anything I’ve used before for the same task. The snips fit comfortably into the hand with no need for rubber cushioning. In the information supplied in the box, Sophie Conran speaks of a wish to address the issue of so many garden tools being designed for larger handed (presumably male) gardeners and, since the handles do get swallowed by my closed fist, I can only assume she succeeded in her aim. That said, the ergonomic design means that they’re still entirely comfortable for me to use and, as I will often use this kind of tool with my index finger resting on the shoulder of the lower handle, gives me a second option should I feel the need of additional control.
To open the tool, you’ll need to release the large brass catch, which snaps back with a firmly sprung action and a satisfyingly positive click. The main spring is firm, but not too strong, and the shears make the reassuring sschwooomping sound of well-sharpened scissor blades as you close the handles. The only slight drawback of the design is that the shears open very wide – well beyond the span of a smaller hand, which is not a problem when held securely, but could cause the snips to be dropped if the spring were to take you unawares while your grip was slightly off.
The long pointed blades are ideal for deadheading and pruning, particularly small, dense container plantings, or down in the depths of, for example, heucheras, where you want to avoid accidentally lopping off a fresh leaf when removing the spent flower spike. They’ve been in daily use for the past couple of weeks, and I’m looking forward to many more happy hours of snipping.
The Precision Secateurs by Sophie Conran are available from the Burgon & Ball website, and are priced at £24.95.