Practical and Decorative Wheelbarrows for the Home Garden

A colorful row of wheelbarrows still in service, perhaps not far from being re-purposed into decorative planters.
A colorful row of wheelbarrows still in service, perhaps not far from being re-purposed into decorative planters. | Source

Wheelbarrows Aren't Just for Hauling Loads Around

Wheelbarrows are practical, indispensable tools for the modern home gardener, allowing a single person to move heavy loads or multiple items easily from one place to another. These ancient tools are as practical and simple today as they were when they were invented and will continue to occupy an important place among home garden tools for centuries to come. In recent years, these workhorses have come to have an additional purpose in the garden as ornaments and rustic containers for showcasing colorful displays of flowers and garden produce. Today, both the practical and the decorative wheelbarrow can be found in retail outlets and online in an amazing variety of sizes, materials, designs, and even colors.

Wheelbarrow or Wheelbarrow?

You've probably heard this tool referred to as a wheelbarrow and possibly even used the term yourself. But the word is derived from the Old English bearwe, a tool used to carry heavy loads, the modern form being barrow. Some speculate that the reason wheelbarrow is so commonly used is because the bucket part resembles a barrel. But there are other possible reasons for the barrel version, including that barrow is a less commonly known word and also has two distinctly different meanings: a carrying tool, and a mound or hill.

The Man-powered Practical Wheelbarrow

The history of the practical wheelbarrow goes back more than 2,000 years. Although historians don't agree about the exact date and time of its invention, they do provide us with some interesting material for future research. The oldest documented reference found so far appears in a Greek inventory of building materials dating from the early 400s BC. The next reference comes from China in 118 AD in the form of a tomb painting found in Sichuan province. The first reference to wheelbarrows in Western Europe appears in the early 1300s, and by the 1500s wheelbarrows were commonly used there in mining, construction, and agriculture. What historians do agree upon is that the origin of the wheelbarrow is still a bit of a mystery but worthy of continuing exploration.

Today's man-powered practical wheelbarrows are as varied in their designs as automobiles and as different in their features as smartphones, but what they all have in common is that they rely only on the human body to make them work. No fossil fuels, batteries, or cell towers are involved. In other words, the only reason a wheelbarrow won’t work is because you don’t take it out of the garden shed and put your muscle to it.

Here are some popular modern, practical wheelbarrow designs readily available online.

Single-wheel

It takes a bit of practice to balance a heavily-loaded, single-wheel wheelbarrow.

I’ll never forget the first time I used one. It was a few years ago, and I had to move 120 pounds of mulch (packed into three 40-pound bags) from the back of my SUV to my garden. I slid the bags from the tailgate into the waiting wheelbarrow…no problem! Then I quickly found my balance as I lifted the handles and rolled the load from the car, across the asphalt drive, and then onto the lawn at the front of the house. But getting from there to the garden, at the back of the house, required traversing the side of a low hill, for which I was completely unprepared. In a split second of hitting the grade of that little hill, I dumped the load. My burly neighbor, from whom I borrowed the barrow, had to come to my rescue to reload the bags into the tub and take them safely to their destination.

Since then, I’m happy to say, I learned a few things about traversing that hill with a heavy load. That’s what I mean about practice.

Today's single-wheel, traditional barrow is undoubtedly popular. It comes in an extraordinary variety of capacities, materials and colors, and often with replacement kits to do your own repairs when a wooden handle needs replacing, a tire ceases to function, or a poly tub breaks. Most modern wheelbarrows will last for a long, long time with proper maintenance and the occasional parts replacement.

Dual-wheel

The dual-wheel wheelbarrow (or dualie, as some like to call it) is less likely to tip from side to side on a hill and is easier to maneuver than the traditional single-wheel design. I could have used this design when moving those 120 pounds of mulch!

Like the single-wheel design, dualies come in a variety of colors, like pink and ladybug, green and yellow, while, more commonly, the tubs are made of a poly material rather than steel.

Since we’re talking about the home garden here, and not about construction or mining sites, the dualies are designs that can be handled equally well by men and women slight or hefty, young or old. They are excellent for moving medium loads with stability.

Folding

A folding wheelbarrow is an ingenious invention for those who have limited storage space or need to carry a wheelbarrow from one location to another in a car.

The tub of a folding wheelbarrow is made of a heavy-duty, canvas-like synthetic cloth that rinses off easily with a garden hose.

The folding designs are more lightweight and have a smaller volume and weight capacity than the traditional steel or plastic designs; however, they may be the perfect choice for you and your garden if you don’t require a tub for mixing cement or hauling heavy loads of rocks and bricks.

For Children

It’s never too early to introduce children to the rewards and responsibilities of gardening. From the time my daughter could walk, she had her own child-sized trowel, bucket, and watering can to use while keeping me company in the garden.

As children grow, more age-appropriate, scaled-down garden tools become available, such as the wheelbarrow. A well-crafted kid’s wheelbarrow is durable yet light in weight, true to scale, and expertly finished to eliminate sharp edges and protrusions. It can be used not only for helping grownups in the garden, but for hauling all kinds of treasures and toys around as well. Kid’s wheelbarrows are available with either steel or plastic tubs.

When choosing a kid’s wheelbarrow, check the dimensions carefully to make sure the size is appropriate for your child’s height.

The Decorative Wheelbarrow

This simple and practical tool has proven its worth through time for at least the last 2,000 years. Assuredly, other ancient tools have survived as well, such as the shovel or the lever or the axe. But this one has taken on a decorative aspect when introduced into the modern garden as an art form.

Retired wheelbarrows showing their years and being beyond practical use have become popular outdoor ornaments when used as garden planters. They are so popular that newly manufactured antique-styled and rustic-styled wheelbarrows are readily available through a number of online sources.

A Prime Candidate for Natural Recycling

In the outdoor environment, when used as a planter, the retired wheelbarrow’s wood handles will weather, and metal pieces will rust and crumble. As time passes, this natural aging will lend even more rustic charm. As the wood eventually begins to soften and fall apart, no longer able to function as a design component of the wheelbarrow planter, it can be buried to integrate with the soil, providing food for beneficial microorganisms. As the metal tub corrodes, it will acquire additional drainage holes and can continue to serve as an excellent planter for a very long time. If the challenge of integrating a rusted tub into a garden design is not your cup of tea, you can take the tub and other metal parts to a metal recycling center. Needless to say, designs fabricated in plastic don’t have the same benefits.

A retired wheelbarrow starting a new life as a rustic container for spring flowers.
A retired wheelbarrow starting a new life as a rustic container for spring flowers. | Source

Helpful Online Buying Tips for Selecting Practical or Decorative Wheelbarrows

  • Compare online prices against brick-and-mortar prices. Online prices may be significantly lower, even with the shipping cost added.
  • Look for free shipping deals. Amazon’s Super Saver Shipping is something very worthwhile.
  • Read product descriptions and customer reviews carefully. Customer reviews give you real-life experiences from unbiased sources, some of which may be very appropriate to your own needs and expectations.
  • When shopping for an antique wheelbarrow, read descriptions with skepticism. Some online sellers will use the word antique without explaining that the product they are selling is newly manufactured in an antique style but is not old enough to be called an antique.

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Comments 24 comments

Grandpa Neil 5 years ago

Beauuuuuuutiful. I have sent this on to my sister Sue who is a PHD Psychologist who retired to dig in her magnificent 1 1/2 acre garden every day. Thanks for this. NEIL


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Neil, thanks for the wonderful compliment. :) And lucky sister Sue...oh what I wouldn't give for a garden that size to retire to! I hope she finds this Hub useful. She might also like the one I wrote about 10 days ago on preventing and reducing back and knee pain while gardening. Hope all is well with you! ~Sherri


AnnaStephens 5 years ago

Great hub Sally, and I love how you manage to write about things it would never occur to me to hub about - wheelbarrows? Genius! I am also learning why you're a profit-making hubber - your hub on gardening pain-free is quickly followed by a hub on wheelbarrows, which form a large part of gardening pain-free...

Really interesting - I didn't even know you could buy folding wheelbarrows!

Anna


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Anna, thank you so much for your lovely comment. I'm trying out something new, new for me although not for many other Hubbers, by writing that first "parent" Hub you mentioned on preventing and reducing knee and back pain and following it with related "child" Hubs (all linked to from the parent Hub). Two of the child Hubs are up and running, this one and one on buying garden kneelers online. Three or four more are yet to be written.

You can find out more about this parent/child concept as it is carried out in the HubTrails Program

http://hubpages.com/community/Learning-Center-hubt

and as it used to be carried out in the now retired, I believe, Flagship and Capstone programs.

I didn't know about the folding wheelbarrows, either, until a few days ago!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from Maryland

Love this hub! Awesome ideas and great product choices.


AnnaStephens 5 years ago

Ah, how interesting. Thanks for the heads up on the Hubtrails - I'll have a look. You will also be pleased to know I 'borrowed' my father's wheelbarrow about 18 months ago and have yet to return it! In fact, I think he's bought himself another one - so neither of us should end up dragging stuff around our gardens.

Anna


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

TY, The Dirt Farmer. You know your stuff, so your comment is awesomely appreciated!

@Anna, I think your father is sending you a message: he wants you to use a wheelbarrow. :)


moonlake profile image

moonlake 5 years ago from America

Love wheelbarrows, we have at least three old ones around here. My husband wants to stack them and use them for water fall running into the pond. He was hoping he would get to it this year but with a wedding in the family that never happened.

Up on this hub.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

moonlake, I love that idea of using the wheelbarrows as elements of a waterfall. That's exactly the idea of re-purposing these tools as aesthetic features. If not this year, then next. TY so much for your comment.


robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

who knew the wheelbarrow had such an interesting history? And what great tips and advice once again. I particularly like the concept of a " retired wheelbarrow" and am thinking about all the things one can do with one in addition to using it as a planter-- how about a hub totally about retired wheelbarrows? I would love to see you do it-- great info and great writing as always


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

You know, Robie, I was struck with that thought as I started putting this Hub together. In fact, I almost did a 180, but I'd already put too much time and effort into some of the cool products here, like kids' wheelbarrows and the folding designs.

I agree with you: a Hub on retired wheelbarrows would be awesome. (I can see the wheels spinning in your head...what a great opportunity for plays on words.) So, guess what I'm suggesting? ;) Then we can link to each other's Hubs. I'm about wheelbarrowed out!

Thanks so much for your good words!


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

I have a wheel barrow that I use constantly. I guess it's really more of a cart. But I use it for the same things as a wheel barrow.....mostly gardening and carrying groceries in from the car to the back porch. Good hub.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

I think wheelbarrows and carts are absolute essentials around the house as well as the garden. I also have a lightweight Ames cart designed for holding yard trash bags, but it serves so many other purposes. Thanks for the good words, Nancy!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

Hi, Sally - loved this one and voted up because you included the history of the wheel barrow. I remember my father's wheel barrow. It was yellow. And he always took the time to push me around in it when I was little. Later, us kids gave one another rides in it, working hard to get up some speed. Funny, the things that stay with you.

I love the wheel barrow planters, the old wood, the rust seem to compliment the flowers so prettily.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Dolores, thanks so much for sharing your memories. I was never pushed around in a wheelbarrow by my father, but I wish I were. There just were not the circumstances. That you remember it was yellow is so awesome. As you say, "Funny, the things that stay with you."

Since writing this Hub, I've been keeping my eye out for carts and barrows and even wagons that, in my suburban/country boundaries, are being used for decorative purposes. Every time I see one of these, I think "thrift," which is the old fashioned word for re-purposing.

Thanks for your wonderful comment.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

A very interesting and useful hub. I vote up up and away for this one.

Take care

Eiddwen.


trish1048 profile image

trish1048 4 years ago

What a nice hub. I remember wheelbarrows, and used one in my backyard when I was a kid. I well remember the stupid thing tipping from one side to the other. The challenge I had, and you should remember my yard, is the hill. That was more than tricky. Fortunately, I only had a few experiences with it.

I like the idea of it for decorative purposes. In the town I used to live in, a person has an old bicycle with a basket, and in the basket are lovely plants and flowers. I thought that was a unique idea.

At the home I raised my kids in, we were gutting a bathroom, and I thought it would be cool to plant the bathtub and fill it with flowers. Well, it got planted but the flowers never made it into the tub. After a period of time, it was demolished and went the way of the city dump.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Patty, I love your comment. Thank you for sharing about the topsy-turvy world of the wheelbarrow, and also about how all kinds of items around us might be re-used again. LOVE the bathtub idea. So much better to make it a planter than to add to a landfill.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Eiddwen, thank you so much for reading and commenting. Up, up and away is what I live for! :)


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 4 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

What a great Hub. Informative, pretty and useful


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

Thanks, Ethel!


GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

Sally's Trove,

One of my favorite garden tools is my industrial size or contractor wheelbarrow. I cannot move it when it is full but find it is one of the the most useful items I own. Often, I turn over a lid to the garage can and use that moving items - simply out of convenience.

Very useful hub - love gardening! Love gardening tools. You have inspired me to write about gardening in the spring. Thank you!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania Author

GmaGoldie, I think many agree with you that a wheelbarrow is one of the most useful tools ever invented. And there's so much to be said about re-purposing items like can lids and using them to haul things. You are very resourceful, and I look forward to reading your upcoming gardening hubs. Thank you so much for the good words and for sharing your thoughts.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

This is a great look at various wheelbarrows and I loved that video. It still has me smiling. :) The info and tips in this hub are helpful to gardeners and those who give gifts to gardeners!

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