The Tool Shed: The Hori Hori Story

A  collection of Hori Hori knives has been forced upon one of my gardening friends. She has composted, lost or thrown away an embarrassing number of them, so many of them that she tries to always have a spare.

So, what’s the big deal with Hori Hori’s? First of all, they have been around forever in Japan as a go-to farmer’s knife so it is obviously functional.  How do you use it? The list is endless…

1. Transplant bedding plants and large seedlings

2. Cut heavy roots for stump removal

3. Plant bulbs for spring or summer

4.  Make furrows for seed starting

5. Dig out tap roots from weeds like dandelions

6. Harvest root crops like leek, carrots and beets

7. Loosen soil to get ready to plant

8. Bonsai collecting

9. Hunting and fishing tool (?)

10. Metal detecting tool

Deciding which Hori Hori to buy is pretty simple. Stay away from the knock-offs. The most durable Hori Hori’s  are Japanese. Then there are 4 good choices; Long and Short Handled Carbon Steel and Short and  Mini Stainless Steel.

If you are gardening in a lot of mud, it’s worth getting the Stainless Steel Hori Hori. Mud slides off stainless steel blades. Stainless steel can still rust if not maintained. Stainless steel is hard and does not keep a sharp edge as long and is a softer material. Good for bulb planting since the mud slides off. Bulb planting can be a muddy, sloppy job.12 1/4″

Otherwise, the Carbon Steel Hori Hori is just fine. I live in a rainy area and I’m fine with Carbon Steel. It will rust if you don’t clean and dry it but it stays sharper longer. It is hard and wear resistant.11 1/2″

383-1The Long Handled Hori Hori  is Carbon Steel and adds a few inches to make reaching easier. It is helpful in raised beds. Carbon Steel blades stay sharper longer and are harder and more resistant to heavy use. 14 1/2″

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 7.58.49 PM The Mini Hori Hori has a stainless steel blade and is more comfortable for smaller hands and smaller jobs.  It’s great for planting minor bulbs like Crocus, Grape Hyacinths and Snowdrops. Mud and wet soil slides off so it’s especially good for the small bulb planting.10″1061-1.gif

Pre-planted Bulbs, Thrilling Pots and “Gardening with Foliage First” by Salwitz and Chapman


Bulb Enlightenment

You know those bulbs you really intended to buy and plant last October? I didn’t do it either but luckily the nurseries are carrying the pre-planted already growing ones to brighten up those empty containers hidden in the garage. It’s not cheating…really…no guilt. Grab a trowel

IMG_7661 (1)Buying them already growing is a little more expensive but look at it this way…you’ll get the color you want and you didn’t have to plant them back in October. Win…win…


Thrillers, Spillers and Fillers

While the bulbs are still going strong, might as well plan how to cover the ugly bulb foliage that is sure to follow. To make it easy on yourself, choose plants that survive with “monitored neglect”. Try something “new for you”. Mix it up. Break some rules. Other than planting bog and desert plants in the same container you can’t make a mistake and you’re only limited by money, what plants are available and a decent container.IMG_4347

As long as the container has drainage you can use just about anything. Plastic pots are lightweight and easy to move but plants supposedly like clay pots more because their roots can breathe. The large glazed pots can be too heavy to move so think of those as permanent fixtures. Treat the lighter containers as moveable plant furniture.

And choosing what to add to the ugly bulb detritus?  The container plant trinity is the basis. Choose a thriller (tall plant with a “wow” factor), a spiller (something “ivy-ish” that flows over the sides) and a filler (medium height to fill in the spaces). After the basic three, add and subtract plants on a whim. Play around with color, texture and new varieties…and labeling them isn’t a bad idea.

How about experimenting with all foliage?

“Gardening with Foliage First “

by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz

Here in the plant mecca that is the South Puget Sound, we have an embarrassment of color in spring and summer. We tend to buy when something is “in color”…blooming. But the truth is…a majority of the time we’re looking at foliage, bark and berries and maybe that should be our focus.

“Gardening with Foliage First”, the second foliage book by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz, both Washingtonians, has what we all want in a gardening book…new information presented in an engaging way with lots of pictures! Rather than listing of what might be good foliage combinations Chapman and Salwitz show beautifully photographed examples of the finished products. Some examples are shown in a landscape and some are in containers. Many are enhanced with garden art to show its importance in a well thought out landscape.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 6.05.17 PMThe book is divided into seasonal examples for both shade and sun. Within these parameters specific combinations are suggested with names like “The Magpie Effect”, mixing shiny and pale colored plants that will grow under evergreens or “Whipped Cream on Lemon Mousse” suggesting a dessert-like combination of white Astilbe hovering over golden Japanese Forest Grass. There are 127 cleverly named foliage combinations featuring everything from cactus to coleus and ferns to fuchsias.

“Gardening with Foliage First “ is original and cleverly written. It’s not only a good reference book; it’s a fun read.

Timber Press, 320 p, $24.95

 

 

 

Viburnum bodnantense, Daphne odora and “Visions of Loveliness” by Judith M. Taylor


Fortunate South Sound Gardeners 

      In the Pacific Northwest we can grow more species of plants than anywhere else in the world, except for the tropics, and that’s because of orchid species.

THAT’S impressive!

Meanwhile, plant hunters hang from mountainsides in China to gather plant specimen. Then plants and seeds are gathered and carefully shipped to collectors mostly in England. Then hybridizers take some of those specimens and spend years manipulating them into their idea of either perfect or highly saleable plants and then more than a hundred years later…we buy them at the local nursery.

That’s REALLY impressive!

Two plants filtered down to us by those hunters and hybridizers are winter stars in South Sound gardens, Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and Daphne odora


 ‘Dawn’ and a Difficult Daphne

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is a winter flowering pink budded shrub in bloom right now in the South Sound. You will probably smell it before you see it. It has the sweetest scent and pink clusters of flowers that shine like beacons in the bare winter landscape. It grows 8 feet tall and wide in a sunny location. It’s parent plant, Viburnun ferreri was discovered in China by English plant collector Reginald Ferrer, a horticultural rock star. ‘Dawn’ is an easy one to grow.

Daphne odora is another pink budded shrub that gives a blah winter garden a fragrant punch. If you have tried this winter Daphne you’ll know that it doesn’t matter how well you garden or how much you know about plants. It has a mind of its own. It is unpredictable and temperamental. Benjamin Torin who discovered the Daphne in China sent only one shipment of plants back to England and D. odora was among them. He was drawn in by its spicy sweet fragrance. Where V. x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is easy, Daphne odora is a challenge.

Hats off if you kept one alive for several years. You managed to succeed where many just got mad and quit, much like the Daphne. And we still keep buying them.

Collectors crossed rivers, climbed mountains and hung from cliffs to find new plants like Viburnum and Daphne. Then it was the hybridizers’ turn.


“Visions of Loveliness” by Judith M. Taylor

“Visions” is subtitled: ‘great hybridizers of the past’ but don’t let that scare you away. If you are a horticultural history nerd, Judith M. Taylor’s comprehensive “behind the scenes in the plant world” book will keep you on the edge of your fact-filled seat. It reads like a research paper, dense with information and organized for study.

If you would rather pleasure read than study, there are still plenty of good tidbits. What’s the story behind Burpee Seeds? Sutton Seeds? Ball Seed Company? Who is Joseph Banks? Many familiar names pop up and cross paths.

Search by country, hybridizer or plant to really get “in the weeds” of the world of horticulture. It is the perfect hort-head gift.

51zmxxpmhbl-_sx321_bo1204203200_Ohio University Press, 417 p. $29.95

 

Hippeastrum, Sasanquas and “The Unexpected Houseplant” by Tovah Martin


Amaryllis-in-a-Box

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs are everywhere. As tradition demands, the recognizable cubed boxes are piled high in every Big Box, nursery and Christmas pop up shop. Growing the boxed Amaryllis is easy, cheap and the results are really impressive. The key to success is to get a good bulb in the right growth stage.

The only way to make sure it’s good is to…verrrry carefully open the box and take a good look. Usually the giant bulb will have some kind of green shoot. Choose the one with the shortest spike and a visible bud. The “soil” that comes in the box is adequate. Follow the directions, and then plunk the included cheap plastic pot full of Amaryllis into a larger, heavier pot. That way it won’t tip over when the magnificent tropical flowers are in bloom.

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Instant gardening gratification for less than $10!


Sasanqua-in-a-Pot

The South Sound is filled with Camellias in early spring. The blousy blooms go from bright pink or white right into brown mush “if” we have a rain. Those are Camellia japonica. They have big leaves, big flowers on big shrubs. But you can skip the “mush” stage and go for an alternative, Camellia sasanqua. Sasanquas are evergreen shrubs with single camellia flowers that bloom in winter. They can be espaliered or allowed to get shrubby. They’re easy to incorporate in any South Sound garden. Most common varieties are red (‘Yuletide’), pink (‘Marge Miller’), white (‘Setsugekka’) and picotee (‘Apple Blossom’).

Sasanquas are easy to find and easy to grow. You can get them in gallon cans or already growing on a trellis. During the holidays it is a southern tradition to float their delicate flowers in pewter bowls. Cut flowers with a nice, sharp pair of pointed shears.

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Here’s a bonus! Sasanquas will bloom inside if you have a room you can keep below a cool 60 degrees. And that’s not the only outside plant you can grow inside. Take a look at…


“The Unexpected Houseplant” by Tovah Martin

– Houseplants are like 501’s…they’re always available but their appreciation fluctuates-

      “The Unexpected Houseplants: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home” by Tovah Martin isn’t just the usual humdrum list of available houseplants. It’s a “forget the ferns and philodendrons and try something different” list.

How about trying Kangaroo Paws, Miniature Eyelash Begonia or Columbine? Every plant listed and photographed is author-grown and owned. Each plant is backed up with factual and anecdotal information. You find out exactly what you need to know from someone who has “been there, done that”. Here’s an indispensable houseplant trimmer.

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Martin has spent decades figuring out what (besides tropicals) can be successfully grown inside. At times she has over 200 plants actively growing in her home. “Unexpected Houseplants” is the result of her efforts to expand the plant palette for indoor gardeners. She takes the boring out of houseplant growing.

It’s also worth noting that 200 indoor plants need 200 containers. If your tastes run to horticultural shabby chic…this is the book…

256 p., 171 color photos, Timber Press, $22.95

 

 

 

Growing Hosta from Seed and Book Review: “The Triumph of Seeds” by Thor Hanson


 Premeditated Gardening

      That’s what many gardeners practice (and we know who we are), “premeditated gardening”. We think ahead. We plan because planning is a compulsion. Let’s call it Obsessive Compulsive Gardening. It begins in about June when we ridiculously start planning for next spring even though this spring is barely over. “Next year I’m going to move that over there and that over there but then I’ll need to fill in that spot, possibly take down that maple to get more sun, maybe try a small water garden in a pot and divide and move those daylilies”. It goes on and on. We’re in Gardening Mode. It strikes at any time. October and November it does tend to slow down though. But even with the rain and shorter days you can still keep your gardening on by starting some seeds now. Spring seed starting is too frenetic. Autumn seed starting has a slower pace. You can really pay attention to the process of getting seeds to germinate and grow. Take Hosta…


Hosta Overload

Right about now, if you (or your neighbor) decided not to deadhead the spent flowers on Hosta plants you will have ripe Hosta seeds, suitable for replanting. Collect the seeds when they are black. That means the Hosta seeds are ripe and viable. Plant all of them in case germination is erratic. You don’t need special equipment, you can start them in the house and they germinate in about two weeks.IMG_4162     Almost all of the Hosta that we buy now are hybrids. The seed you grow from a hybrid won’t look like the original plant. It won’t come true. It will be a Hosta surprise! No two alike. Each Hosta will vary in leaf color, shape and size. This is a great project for the slower pace of autumn.

.  Growing Hosta from seed is very easy. No wonder there are so many Hosta varieties available!

“The Triumph of Seeds” by Thor Hanson

I really thought this was going to be a “how to” book about growing seeds. Not even close. It is far more. ”Seeds” is about the history and science surrounding the stories of grains, nuts, pulses, kernels and pips. If you like the Michael Pollan book, “Botany of Desire” and Mark Kurlansky’s book, “Salt”, you’ll love “The Triumph of Seeds” by Dr. Thor Hanson, conservation biologist and author of “Feathers” and “The Impenetrable Forest”.

Dr. Hanson begins “Seeds” with the importance of a particular seed grown in our own backyard, wheat. The enormous amount of wheat grown in Washington’s Palouse and shipped along the Snake and Columbia rivers has made this river route the third busiest grain corridor in the world…feeding millions of the world’s people.

Hanson shows how seed history has always been tied up with political, economic and human history. He points out the fascinating connections.

“Seeds” is filled with plenty of anecdotes about Hanson’s scholarly efforts to learn more about the seed world. It isn’t too “sciencey”. It’s just right. For instance, Hanson explains that there is a technical name for the dispersal of seed, endozoocory. Then he quickly follows with “We scientists have a great fondness for mash-ups in dead languages”. Science and a sense of humor make “Seeds” a good read for anybody interested in the plant world.

Hanson lives in Washington but his field of biology has taken him all over the world. He takes us for a nature-rich ride while he shares the curious importance of the relationships of seeds to everything from rats to Christopher Columbus.02b9f459390ae3332af708bdd6a67871

“Seeds” by Thor Hanson, $26.99, 250 pages, www.thorhanson.net

 

Stinking Roses and “The Complete Book of Garlic” by Ted Jordan Meredith


Spoiled for Choices

Never has there been a better time to grow your own food. We know why we should: economics, health, safety…For these reasons South Sound gardeners have been growing food long before it was trendy. Thanks to groups like Master Gardeners, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s) and Seattle Tilth. South Sound Gardeners have been taught NOT to grow the same varieties of produce that the local grocery store sells. Why grow the exact same thing you can easily buy?

Remember the apple choices we had at the local supermarket a few years ago? There were two… Red Delicious and Yellow Delicious. Now, you need a guidebook to work your way through the maze of new varieties. We discovered that apples taste VERY different from one another. Cross your fingers that this happens to the world’s most popular fall planted bulb…garlic.


Six Hundred “Stinking Roses”

There are two main types of garlic that comprise a whopping total of 600 varieties! Luckily, they are not all easy to find so you can limit your choices. Out of the 600 varieties, only 2 are usually available in supermarkets. Like apples, all garlic does NOT taste alike. Oh…the possibilities! 600!th

This is where my eyes glaze over but here goes. The two types of garlic that contain the 600 varieties are hardneck and softneck. Softneck garlic is easy to grow and can be planted with machines. It also keeps well…guess what they sell at the supermarket? A softneck garlic, of course, because it’s easy and keeps well, i.e., not necessarily grown for taste. We’re just used to it. Most commercial garlic is the softneck ‘Silverskin’ variety, the pretty white ones in the bins, bags and braids. Sadly, most grocery store garlic is imported from China (garlic politics). Imported garlic is really, really cheap and the large US growers are having a hard time competing. Grow something besides Silverskin. It’s patriotic.

Releasable Bulb Planters make planting lots of garlic fast and easy

And, of course…there is a book…


“The Complete Book of Garlic” by Ted Jordan Meredith

When Timber Press calls it a “complete” book of garlic, they’re not kidding. “The Complete Book of Garlic-A Guide for Gardeners, Growers and Serious Cooks” might be more than you ever wanted to know about garlic but I guarantee you won’t be bored. This isn’t just a book with pretty garlicky pictures. It is a well-researched book with garlicky pictures. Meredith throws in plenty of science and history for nerdy gardener/cooks.

th    It’s a timely tome since now is the time to plant garlic here in the South Sound. Nothing could be easier. They all like the same thing: sun, good drainage and decent soil. Plant the cloves 6” apart and occasionally weed and water. That’s it. You don’t harvest until spring so it’s pretty much “plant it and forget it”.

The variety, “Music”, is the local favorite. It is a hard neck variety. It bolts and makes flower “scapes”. That’s a good thing! Garlic scapes (the curled flower stalk) are currently prized by adventurous chefs. Meredith explains when and how to harvest the crazy gourmet scapes and lists the types, subgroups and varieties of garlic that produce them. All those years of “deflowering” garlic scapes and we should have been sautéing instead of composting.

The more you read…well, let’s just say, garlic could become an obsession. At the very least you’ll want to try growing and comparing the taste of a few of the more than 150 varieties he profiles in detail. Become a garlic expert! There can’t be that many…

Timber Press, 332pp,   $39.95

 

Sidebar?

Where to buy?

 

Local Farmer’s Markets

Filareefarm.com, Omak

Northwestorganicfarms.com, Ridgefield

Greyduckgarlic.com, Colfax

 

Bloomin’ Fools and “America’s Romance with the English Garden” by Thomas J. Mickey


Summer “Extensions”

It can be argued that most South Sound gardens are primarily filled with Rhodies, Azaleas and Viburnum, all spectacular in bloom… but they all bloom at once. So, the real art of PNW gardening for color is to extend the palette past that spring blast of color. Spring bulbs are good seasonal transition plants but it is perennials and annuals that form the color backbone of the summer garden.

Annuals are easy. Annuals bloom all summer if you take off the dead flowers, throw some water on them when they need it and add a little fertilizer now and then. Easy.


Bloomin’ Fools

Perennials are a little more of a challenge since most of them only bloom for about 4-6 weeks. Luckily, there are a few that bloom almost as long as annuals…with the added benefit of “coming back”.

These perennials reliably bloom May-October in the South Sound and really put on a show. May to October! That’s a long time! Here are some power perennials.

1) Coreopsis (any variety) doesn’t stop blooming and attracts butterflies.

2) Dicentra ‘Luxuriant’ (fern leaf bleeding hearts) is an unusually cold hardy bleeding heart that (unlike the “regular” bleeding heart) can tolerate some sun.

3) Salvia ‘May Night’ is a spiky sage attractive to both hummingbirds and butterflies. It is easy to find and easy to grow.

Dewit makes a handy wider trowel just for your perennials.

Every garden needs some highlights

4) Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’ is a big name for a perfect summer ornamental grass. This Japanese grass is bright chartreuse and “pops” anywhere you put it in the garden.

5) Carex ‘Bowles Golden’ ornamental grass is similar in color and achieves the same effect.

6) Achillea filipendula ‘Gold Plate’, ‘Coronation Gold’ or ‘Cloth of Gold’ adds another dimension. The flowers of these yarrows are bright yellow with large flat flowers.

7) Erysimum ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ is a perennial wallflower that sometimes blooms year round. Beautiful blue-gray leaves are a bonus.

8) Echinacea purpurea is the “real” purple cone flower. It is unbelievably hardy and long blooming (unlike the newer varieties).

It just so happens that all of these summer perennials are the direct result of…


“America’s Romance with English Gardens” by Thomas J. Mickey.

Talk to any group of avid South Sound gardeners about their gardening passions and (if they haven’t already been there) they will likely express a wish to visit England and its famous gardens. The world looks to England when it comes to gardening. Thomas J. Mickey explains how and why Americans have a particular fondness for the English garden. It’s not what you think.


It’s all about commerce and advertising and how media played a major roll in pushing the English garden aesthetics onto American gardeners. Some things never change.

“America’s Romance with the English Garden” is a gardening history book about the “wag the dog” process of American seed houses in the 19th century. Their business was growing seeds but they also created tantalizing catalogs and wrote all the gardening books. Their brand of social media steered the new middle class home gardeners straight back to their seeds to grow the beautiful gardens pictured in the catalogs and books…all English landscapes. The seed growers also began the first horticultural societies to educate the masses.

Any nurseryman, home gardener, landscape architect, journalist, anglophile or social media nut will find the book fascinating.

Ohio University Press, $26.95, 231 p.

‘Ayesha’ Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are spectacular this year. I have a particular fondness for hydrangeas because of their smell. I used to hide under a really big blue mophead at my grandma’s house when I played hide and seek with my cousins. When I smell them now, I’m instantly five years old…and more than likely being found since that’s the only place I hid.

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I have noticed that FB posts are filled with beautiful Hydrangea pictures and everyone agrees that 2016 is the summer of the Hydrangea!


     This is Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’. I bought it about 4 years ago in a gallon can and now it’s 5×5 and loaded with more flowers than ever. Some of the flowers are 12” across. I like the cupped florets. The stems keep the heavy flowers up for the most part. I give it plenty of water and it’s on the East side of a garage. It is shaded in the heat of the day. It’s a little bluer than this but it’s the form that is so pretty. The flowers are very substantial. I’m in the South Sound and didn’t amend the soil when I planted it. It seems very happy where it is. I’m thinking about ripping everything out by the garage and planting nothing but Hydrangeas…

Succulents, “Autumn Joy” and “Succulents Simplified” by Debra Lee Baldwin


Succulent Seduction

What’s this? A trendy group of plants that is affordable?  Here’s another shocker. It’s easy to grow! Succulents (plants that store water) are showing up on more and more nursery benches and the benches aren’t only filled with common “hens and chicks.” Succulents are typically sold in 4” pots and come in all sizes and shapes, from “burro tails” to rosettes. They are easy to propagate and grow fast so save your money and stick with the 4” pots. Later in the summer sedums have sprays of white, yellow or pink straw like flowers. The fascination is with the contrasting leaves. Succulent leaves come in greens, reds and beautiful blues. They need very little water, very little soil and thrive everywhere except deep shade. They are a favorite water conservationists and vertical gardeners.

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South Sound’s “Joy”

The most common succulent grown in South Sound gardens is definitely Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’. It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere because it is “unkillable”. S. ‘Autumn Joy’ is a tall succulent that brings a little contrast to the typical PNW garden and gives 12 months of “something”.

The fleshy bluish stems and leaves show up in March and rise to 18” by early summer. Then a large green broccoli-like flower starts forming. By late summer the flower made of hundreds of little stars changes to a rosy pink. The flower lasts about 8 weeks outside and up to a month inside in a vase. Butterfies love them. No pests go after them, not even deer. They don’t need to be staked. They are NOT invasive. They are easy to propagate by literally pulling them apart and plopping them in another well-drained, semi-sunny spot. They only look really ugly for a few weeks in the “dead” of winter… when we should all be inside watching Netflix anyway.

*Plant Nerd Alert: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is also called the Balloon Plant because supposedly you can take a leaf, gently squeeze the base until it opens and then blow it up like a balloon. You first.


“Succulents Simplified”

Debra Lee Baldwin’s “Succulents Simplified: Growing, Designing and Crafting With 100 Easy Varieties” is the only book you’ll need for awhile if you want to dabble in the widening world of succulents. This is Baldwin’s third book about succulents so she speaks from experience.

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She also includes Aeoniums, Agave, Aloe, Echeveria, Euphorbias, Kalanchoe, Cactus and many more along with the “usual” succulents. Fun for us! Check out the local independent nurseries for all the new “unusuals”. There are plenty of them.

Succulents come in a rainbow of colors, tiny to tall and dangerously spiky to silky soft. The creative possibilities are endless. “Succulents Simplified” is rich with examples of clever ways to use them and how to take care of them. A topiary? A tin boxful? A picture frame? Some of these projects would be good ones for kids too, probably age 5 and up…probably skipping the cactus group.

In “Succulents Simplified” Baldwin pulled together succulent propagation techniques, cultivation, clever design ideas with step by step instructions and a way-to-tempting plant list.

Timber Press, 272 p. 334 color pictures, $24.95

 

 

 

Skip the Gym and Dig in the Dirt

Since I’m lazy by nature and the only real exercise I get is gardening, I was SO happy to see this little infogram on Pinterest and Facebook. I don’t know who posted it first but it was on FB a gazillion times so I don’t think I’m in trouble for putting it here. When I saw this I grew a gigantic grin. Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 2.00.52 PM

So…To begin with…here are some gardening tools for triceps.