Wheely quite interesting

by James Alexander-Sinclair

In an idle moment this week (while sitting waiting for a temporary traffic light on the A5, if you really want to know) I found myself thinking about wheelbarrows.

WheelbarrowIn an idle moment this week (while sitting waiting for a temporary traffic light on the A5, if you really want to know) I found myself thinking about wheelbarrows: I own four: one that works, one with a puncture, one with a large hole in the bottom which is perfect for clearing weed out of ponds (drainage) and one with no wheel. Nothing fancy just bog-standard builders merchant types.

The first recorded example of a man pushing a wheelbarrow is in a painted tomb mural in Chengdu, China (dated 118AD). Before that there had been two wheeled carts but this is the ancestor of our single wheeled version. I have no idea which bright spark first had the idea but whoever he was, I salute him. It is one of those perfect designs that cannot be bettered - like knives, the hoe, the brick, trousers, the egg or the polka dot bikini. Sure it has got a great deal lighter (I used to own an old wooden one like this and you would not want to push it very far) but it is intrinsically the same.

In the 1970s James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner man, invented one with a plastic ball instead of a wheel but even that refinement is no longer available at we have gone back to basics. Dyson also made water go uphill in his 2003 Chelsea Flower Show Garden - the planting tried to eradicate the colour green so everything was silver, blue and purple. If I remember rightly it looked weird - not in good way. Judge for yourself.

I think I might lose your interest if I go through the whole history and cultural osmosis of the barrow but, you will be pleased to know that it is available here for those of you hankering for knowledge. Or visit the Australian wheelbarrow museum. Wheelbarrows have changed peoples lives all over the world as you can see here: probably more so than thousands of smiling politicians ever will.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Wheely quite interesting
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 11/11/2007 at 14:56

I have an old wheelbarrow with no wheel it had one or two small holes. My son used it first to mix cement to lay a patio then to make a small wall. Left to dry the cement has almost filled the holes so this coming year I will be planting some salad crops they will be easy for me to reach as I'm disabled.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:29

I inherited a really old wheelbarrow when I moved in to my house 10 years ago. It's been treated and makes an excellent planting feature in the garden. It will only last a couple more seasons, when I put my winter pansies in earlier this week I noticed the rust holes getting bigger so will be looking for a replacement.

Mish2 15/05/2012 at 20:38

I'm new here and hope this is the right place to ask my question! I have an old wheelbarrow (minus it's wheel) which is quite rusty! Is it ok to plant in in this state or should I treat it?  If I need to treat it what should I do?