Dress like an athlete to clip your hedges
Sportswear is easy to move in for all that bending and kneeling, and helps to keeps you warm or cool, depending on your need, finds Stephanie Mahon
This summer, workers at the gardens of Sengan-en in Japan started using jackets with built-in fans to keep cool in temperatures over 30C. They were apparently delighted with their new kit. Before this summer, I would have said this was all a bit OTT, but struggling to weed and water in scorching heat prompted me to rethink gardening attire.
Having subscribed to the “whatever I am about to throw out” school of garden wear, I had to up my game a few years ago when I got an allotment. Frayed T-shirts and ripped jeans are not hardy or protective enough for digging out brambles and couch grass; shorts are a magnet for nettles, and skirts are ridiculous, especially on a windy site.
Now, I wear a uniform that has been cobbled together from various sources. I wouldn’t be without my Dubarry boots, which I finally invested in eight years ago and will love until the end of time. For flexibility and breathability, I hit discount sportswear shops to find fitness leggings (often called gym tights) or cheap high-street chain jeggings, and then I raid beachwear departments for long, light cover-ups and shirts with collars.
I was eager to take a leaf out of the book of Avril Challoner, a gardener and ultra-marathon enthusiast, who uses much of the same clothing for running as she does for gardening. “Trail-running gear is designed to be hard-wearing, easy to move in and keep you warm, dry or cool, depending on the day,” she says. “There are some great brands like INOV-8, Montane, Salomon and Columbia.” She particularly recommends the new generation of lightweight rainwear, such as the Kamleika jacket by British brand OMM.
As well as crossover inspiration, I was interested in what tips I could glean from those who garden for a living all day, every day.
“Generally, I’m not dressed with any great care,” says Sarah Wain, garden supervisor at West Dean in Sussex. “In summer, I wear a hat with a brim, preferably open-weave straw, and sunglasses are a must to prevent squinting in the dazzling white glasshouses. I like to wear cotton, and build up clothing in layers, but when I am potting up I use a green drill cotton apron to protect my clothing.”
Troy Scott Smith, head gardener at Sissinghurst, agrees that layers are important, at all times of year, so that you can add or remove them as work dictates. He says even though it was so hot this summer, shorts are not great for working. “You spend so much time on your knees that it just makes it awkward,” he says. “I like loose trousers of cotton or cord, with a belt I can attach tool pouches to; and I sometimes wear bib and brace dungarees.”
His favourite item is a blue engineer’s jacket, which is light and has great pockets. Similar jackets are available from workwear companies such as Dickies and websites including Protec Direct, as well as craftspeople at companies such as Yarmouth Oilskins.
Mandy Buckland, of Greencube Design, sends out her planting designers and aftercare specialists in all weathers, and is acutely aware that they must not only look presentable to clients but also have adequate protection against sunburn and exposure. She is one of many people now turning to specialist hiking-style apparel from Scandinavian brands such as Helly Hansen.
“We’ve just bought new clothes from Cotswold Outdoor for all the team, including Lifa long-sleeve tops, which have SPF 50 sun filters, and are quick-dry,” she says.
Garden designer Rosemary Coldstream, who won gold at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, doesn’t like long sleeves, even in winter, but she says: “I know covering my forearms reduces scratches and rashes from plants, so I love my cotton arm covers from Niwaki. Combined with gloves, they give me great protection. It’s a bit of a crazy lady look, but oh so practical.”
When it comes to the cold, Tamsin Westhorpe, of Stockton Bury in Herefordshire, says she prefers body warmers to coats. “I bought a sheepskin gilet last year, which cost over £200, but was worth it. I had it made by a leather craftsman in Ludlow called Matt Fothergill, and it will last forever. At first, I thought it was too smart to work in, but now I have it on all the time.” Dan Pearson is also a fan, and Fothergill makes other gardening kit, including aprons and tool pouches.
Cold weather and heavy-duty work requires hardier stuff, and David Dodd, of landscaping firm The Outdoor Room, says steel toe caps are a must if you are a constant gardener. As well as a pair of reinforced work boots, he supplies his staff with steel-toe-capped wellies called Bucklers, “which are expensive but very comfortable,” and for summer, steel-toe-capped trainers from Makita. He also recommends Ultimate Contrast hoodies, “which are very heavy and warm in winter”.