Home gardeners often need to dig small, deep, precise holes. Because the rabbiting spade is narrow and deep, it facilitates digging moderately-deep, steep-sided narrow holes that are optimal for planting perennials and shrubs without disturbing existing plantings. You want to be able to remove that misjudged rose that’s too close to the agapanthus — or, alternatively, you want to nestle one rose up to the agapanthus without disturbing its roots more than absolutely necessary.
The advantage of a rabbiting/poacher’s spade over any hand tool is that you can use it in heavy soil, getting the full power of standing up. Using our previous rabbiting spade (no longer available from Smith & Hawken), my husband was able to dig me a foot-deep asparagus bed in New England clay laced with glacial debris. I wouldn’t care to do that with a hand shovel or trowel. Also, a rabbiting spade has only a 10″ blade, and thus is easier to maneuver than something like a drain spade, which has a 14″ blade. When you’re planting small perennials, like peonies or roses, a 14″ blade is overkill. This spade is small, light, and easy to carry, while still being powerful enough to do the job.
This particular spade is not cheap, but it’s durable and made by a long-standing British business (Mr. Spear co-founded Spear & Love in 1760). Spear & Jackson’s spade has an epoxy coating, which means it won’t rust and should continue to slip through soil easily, and it has a hammered socket rather than a tang, so the join between the handle and the spade should last over time. I expect this rabbiting spade to last me a lifetime.