What to wear in the garden
A hardworking gardener needs hardworking clothes – but a little style goes a long way too
Like many of us, I garden opportunistically. I hardly ever have the luxury of a whole day when I get up and put on the right clothes to work in the garden – ironic, given that I am a fashion graduate, with a degree in fashion and textiles, and years spent working in Milan. Usually I wander out to feed the hens, to pick a bunch of flowers or a few herbs, get distracted by a job that needs doing, and work uncomfortably, often ruining unsuitable garments (my Missoni knit never recovered from that rose). Of course, I know nothing beats wearing the appropriate outfit for comfort, warmth and ease of movement, and style perhaps, but mostly when I garden, I strut out in my son’s old baggy Carhartt jeans, and a cashmere vest (fashion faux pas) under a navy hoodie found at a carboot sale. It’s important to keep warm and dry, especially at this time of year, to be able to move easily and keep tools to hand, so I have asked some real gardeners what they wear to work. Jake Hobson is a topiarist, snipping and shaping beautiful ornamental topiaries. Pruners in hand, he moves beyond the traditional lollipops and animals, drawing on eastern styles to create a new approach that appeals to modern sensibilities. Hobson has gardening experience in Japan, where all gardeners wear a uniform of tan workwear, split-toed tabi shoes and tuck-in trousers. He has adopted their beltand-holster method of tool carrying (see his website niwaki.com) for instant accessibility, but favours US Arborwear trousers. This range includes canvas, denim and nylon fabrics that feel like cotton, wick away moisture and protect from UV rays. Double knees, cargo pockets and bootfriendly cuffs all help make these hardworking clothes comfortable and functional. I’m a fair-weather gardener, but Hobson works outside come rain or shine. He also wears New Zealand sports clothes manufacturer Swazi’s waterproof anorak, longline, well fitting and Ray Mears’s “first line of defence”. Many supermarkets sell a range of insulated outdoorwear with Thinsulate. The Cotswold-based company Genus has designed a range of performance gardenwear for men and women that understands kneeling, bending, stretching in all weather conditions, with stab-proof pockets and damp-proof seat panels. Ideal outfits Gardening team Sarah and Jim Wain, who have spent the past 20 years restoring and maintaining West Dean
… raking the fire grate and adding a thin layer ofwoodash tomy compost heap and aroundmy gooseberry and jostaberry bushes. Gardens, West Sussex, believe the ideal gardening outfit should consist of removable layers and be covered in pockets. However, waistheight pockets can often result in self-impalement from tools, and breast pockets often spill their contents when you bend. Pockets on the outside of the thigh are the answer, or in the case of the West Dean team, Niwaki’s belt and double holsters, bulk ordered last autumn. “Now we’re all Quick Draw McGraw,” says Sarah, “and we don’t lose our secateurs.” Bob Flowerdew wears charity shop ski outfits, which, he says, are ideal and colourful. Gravetye Manor’s head gardener, Tom Coward, wears an old donkey jacket and swears by his Australian Blundstone workboots, from shoeland.co.uk. I have noticed that the trendy gardener today (as spotted at gatherings such as the Great Dixter plant fairs) sports French workwear jackets from second-hand shops. Similar outfits are available from Old Town and the Carrier Company, both in Norfolk. It’s one’s extremities that are the first to signal retreat in bad weather: I always wear (and for 20 years sold) Showa gloves: light, cheap and strong, tough for pruning, and thermal during winter. I use the fine ones for weeding. They are tough but flexible and machine washable. Ethel and Gold Leaf are good, and Joe’s Gloves (joes-garden. com) does a range of simple gardening gloves that are designed to solve particular problems. Some are protective, some dexterous, others are for all seasons and come in a range of bright colours that would be hard to lose. My feet stay warm in ancient Dubarrys, and since Christmas in non-slip Nordic Grip Unikia ankle boots from cuckooland. com. Haglof and Ilse Jacobsen, Scandinavian companies, produce a brilliant range of clever, stylish footwear. Basic wellies can be improved with Thinsulate thermal insoles (from 3mdirect.co.uk), which absorb shocks, wick moisture and inhibit bacteria. Judging from readers’ responses on Twitter (@ FrancineHens), good women’s gardening clothes are hard to come by and are often covered in floral prints; many resort to wearing men’s clothes in small sizes. I now have to accept that there are clothes designed for the job, and no longer have the excuse to look like a jumble-sale shopper.
Dress code: clockwise from above, work jacket and Irish wool waistcoat from Norfolk-based Carrier Company; Jim and Sarah Wain rely on pockets and layers at West Dean Gardens, West Sussex; Niwaki’s belt and double holster; Tom Coward of Gravetye Manor prefers an old donkey jacket; below, Showa gloves and Genus gardenwear