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Garden Fashion

Some tips on what to wear in the garden for the best experience possible.

| February/March 2003

CHICAGO, Illinois—The weather’s icy and the year’s seeds and plants have long since been ordered. At this time of year, there’s not much a Chicago gardener can do except catch up on her reading. What reading? Books on gardening, of course.

Sturdy, comfortable, easily washed clothes are what I wear in the garden, typically the farmer’s uniform of T-shirt and jeans.  

Several of the volumes I’ve been reading lately have gone beyond plants to address the question of what to wear in the garden. I hadn’t before considered fashion in gardening (some would say I never consider it anywhere else, either) and it seems an odd notion. Or maybe it’s just these writers’ notions that are odd.

One author was a devotee of Vita Sackville-West and advocated a gardening costume based on hers—velvet coat and jodhpurs, which, besides being hard to come by, strike me as expensive to clean. Sackville-West, who is known for having designed the gardens on her British estate, Sissinghurst, has never struck me really as being what you might call a dirt gardener. Another writer promoted Florentine garden hats, which she acquires on regular trips to Italy.

Since whatever I wear is generally going to be caked with dirt—the heavy, sticky clay soil of a northeastern Illinois garden—and my hands, arms and face usually wind up liberally smeared with it, too, it’s hard to be overly concerned with appearances.

Sturdy, comfortable, easily washed clothes are what I wear in the garden, typically the farmer’s uniform of T-shirt and jeans. Gardening can be tough on the knees, since so much of it is performed from a kneeling position, so I’ve learned that long pants are generally a better idea than shorts. From time to time I’ve considered buying a pair of special gardening trousers with padded knees, but I’m sure they would always be in the wash or otherwise unavailable when wanted. I’ve tried kneepads but found them uncomfortable.

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