Gardening Clothes

Ever since Eve, gardens and clothing have had a problematic relationship – particularly for women. Before I even made my passionate avowal of regular gardening, I had made a frustrating discovery in this regard. As suitable as my long-skirted dresses are for many a pursuit, gardening is not one of them.

Ladies' Home Journal Vol.10 No.11 (October, 1893)
Elegant train – doubles as weed mat!
What clued me in? Standing on my hem with muddy gumboots when bending over my work. Frustratingly unavoidable.

And yet, women (and even ladies) have gardened lo these many centuries. The problem, I deem, is the combination of ladylike attire with unladylike gardening. A full sweeping skirt is all very well for a little light flower-gathering on a dry summer’s day with a Sussex trug over one arm, but squatting down in the muddy grass uttering dire threats against a dock root is in an altogether different class of gardening.

As most people these days – myself included – are not equipped with the minions necessary to sustain ladylike gardening of Edwardian uprightness, another solution must be found.

Historically, those at the less ladylike end of the female gardening scale probably just hitched up their dresses and let their petticoat/shift/underdress take the brunt of the mud and muck, such as Miss June on the right in the Duc du Berry’s book of hours. (“I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it not doing its office.”)

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry juin
Despite my superior modern access to laundering facilities, this approach does not appeal, as well as it may have worked for generations of peasants.
Nor am I at all inclined to take inspiration from the original lady gardener. One word: thorns. (More words: hypothermia and privacy.)

I have been making do with a pair of old kung-fu trousers (have never tried kung-fu, but the gusset allows for greater ease of movement than normal trousers), and a shirt pinched from the Caped Gooseberry (shirt on him, smock on me). The outfit is finished off with a pair of slightly-too-large gumboots, gardening gloves, a closely tied bandanna and – if sunny – a hat.

This stop-gap outfit has its shortcomings, however. For one, the kung-fu trousers are white and therefore display any mud and marks with a fidelity to detail that would be praiseworthy in, say, forensic evidence. They still have paint marks on them from my window-frame-painting escapades about a decade ago.

But more crucially lacking, dear readers, are pockets. I am not inclined to forgo pockets at any time, still less when I have useful things I need to carry about with me, such as a pair of secateurs, a trowel, a spoon (think of it as an extra-small in trowels) or a timer to tell me when I need to go in.

War gardeners 1918 (edited)
These young ladies from just over a century ago model two practical approaches: overalls and breeches. Possible, but hard to find, and – unless one is of a warlike slimness – not necessarily flattering. Indeed, I fear that overalls that fit widthwise would create of me such an object of cuteness that I would be forced to Run Amok with a Mattock in order to redress the balance of things.

Jeans are much more widely available, and certainly useful from the durability point of view, providing they’re not modishly munted. But I have not heard much that is positive about the capacity of their pockets.

What would be ideal, really, is something like a Bloomer suit or a shalwar kameez, but made of durable fabric and with pockets built into the kameez. (Lots of pocketses…) But I don’t have a pattern, nor the skills necessary to create such an ensemble without one. (Yet!)

The simplest solution – at least for now – dropped into my lap this week courtesy of the Dreamstress. I should have thought of it before: the kind of pockets that Lily wears in Restoration Day, adapted for outer wear. Not that there’s much adapting required: you just tie them on over your other clothes instead of under.

These, I am certain, are not outside my abilities to produce, though I doubt I will get quite so carried away with the embroidery as so many historical handworkers seem to have done. (Ironic, when you think about it, since mine will be visible and theirs were not.) I can tie them over my kung-fu trousers, or a pair of jeans if the white trousers become hors de jardin.

I suppose they could be considered as a more ladylike – if slightly less practical – version of the gardener’s tool belt. Perhaps that’s also a potential solution to consider.

What do you wear in the garden? Does it differ at all from what you wear the rest of the time? How do you handle issues like mud and sun and spiky things? And what have you got in your pocketses?

I Shall Be A Gardener

On Friday I cried – not wept, cried. This is not usual.
Then I got angry – very, very angry. This also is not usual.
But the reason for these reactions was even more unexpected.

Centenary Square, Birmingham - London Plane tree cut down (32985799131)
On Thursday there were six mature pohutukawa trees flourishing along the nearby main road, providing shelter, shade, beauty and birdsong. On Friday there were six broad stumps. Two more pohutukawa on my street are also under sentence of death.

This was made all the more painful by the fact that none of the local residents had been consulted, nor even warned we were to lose the trees. The first I knew of it was the sight of stumps, and the severed limbs being fed into a chipper. I cried. I got angry. And there was nothing I could do.

Despite being several decades old (I don’t know the date they were planted, but they were there in 1958), these trees were being eradicated – felled and fed into chippers – for three reasons. The power-lines strung over them could be affected (which is why many of the local trees already have deep Vs cut out of their middles); the footpaths laid over their root systems tend to crack over time; and the design of the new housing development calls for driveways where the trees are. Were.

There was nothing I could do. I was angry – no, I was enraged – that in this day and age it was considered acceptable to destroy such trees, carbon sinks and habitat of native wildlife as they are, in favour of metal and cement.

Pruned pine by power lines
I was even more angry that the local government’s “Urban Forest Plan” forbids replacing those trees. (Judging purely from its effects in my area, it seems more like a Concrete Jungle Plan, but one imagines they are planting trees somewhere. It’s just that I haven’t found where yet.)

So I turned my thoughts to what I could do, and the first thing that came to mind in my tack-spitting state was guerilla gardening. But it will be some time before the trucks stop grinding to and fro and the soil settles on the “reinstated” (i.e. grassed) ex-treed area, and in any case, before one can be a guerilla gardener, one must be a gardener.

I have been living in this city for nine years now (in three different houses) and after three years in my own home it is beginning to dawn on me that I might just… stay. As someone who was fourteen before she’d lived 12 consecutive months in one house, this is difficult to really grasp. But I think I am finally putting down my roots (albeit in trepidation lest they be hauled up again).

So I am going to garden. Not just the annual maintenance of pruning – no, I am going to plant, and tend, and plan, and by golly, this patch of ground is going to flourish. There will be trees (putting the utu in pohutukawa?), there will be flowers, there will be herbs and vegetables and as little grass as I can get away with.

Claire Gregorys Permaculture garden
I shall enrich soil and foster seedlings and propagate cuttings and stake tomatoes and scarlet runner beans. I shall slowly but surely (and organically) eradicate the weeds and the codling moth and the passion vine hopper. (And the citrus borer. *shakes fist*)

Of course, I have other responsibilities in my life, and I don’t propose to lose all sense of proportion and go feral. But I am convinced that gardening will not only be good for the land and the air and the neighbourhood and the climate generally, but it will be good for me. The fresh air will be good for me. The exercise will be good for me. The satisfaction of knowing that I was distressed and enraged and helpless but I’m doing something will be good for me.

Yesterday the tree-choppers and tree-chippers roared around us, and I planted some coriander. Today they fed more plant life into the chipper, and I weeded a patch and planted potatoes in it. Tomorrow they may be gone, but I’ll still be here, and I’ll still be gardening.

Antos Frolka Gärtnerin
Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret, as Horace observed. You can drive Nature out with a pitchfork [or a chainsaw], but she will keep coming back. Sometimes by invitation.