Weed out those ratty jeans and consider trendy garden attire

January 22, 1992|By Anne Raver | Anne Raver,New York Times

It's January and you're in your garden, picking the most fragrant sweet pea from Thompson & Morgan, digging up the oldest, bluest potato from Seeds Blum, squeezing the sweetest French Charentais melon from Shepherd's Garden Seeds.

You're dreaming; the catalogs are here.

Your sturdy solid-forged Bulldog fork and spade are in the toolshed, which looks just like the one on Page 12 in Smith & Hawken, where an old French door stands ajar and a white bougainvillea climbs up the wall and the light is beautiful and soft.

"We believe that good tools are the most satisfying to use and the least expensive to own," the Smith & Hawken catalog says, and you believe it, too.

So you must have a pair of $34 elbow-high goatskin gloves ("They fit like dress gloves," the catalog says, "but are designed for serious work") and a $58 pair of genuine British Wellington boots.

And a $72 gardener's watch (water resistant) and seven-pocket gardener's pants (in khaki, blue or spruce) with pockets at the knees for removable neoprene pads.

And . . .

Wait. What's wrong with your old stained jeans and frayed T-shirt? The plastic watering can from the five and dime? The $7 gloves from Agway?

Fashion, that's what, growing greener than a sugar snap pea.

The new catalogs are not just talking fashionable perennials and old roses and heirloom seeds. They're talking "the look."

The look says you are a '90s person with an eye to what is durable and functional and comfortable. The look says you are an active, hands-on kind of person who loves the Earth and the rain forest and the poor laborers who make your beautiful cotton clothes.

L.L. Bean sells Earthworks T-shirts of "untreated, unbleached pure 100 percent cotton," which are "as natural as a fabric can be." You can get one with either a bluebell or a hyacinth on the pocket, with short sleeves ($19) or long sleeves ($20).

This fall, Smith & Hawken will offer a line of cotton clothing that is unpolluted by pesticides or processing chemicals.

"The cotton is organically grown in Texas, and we're working with people in Oaxaca, Mexico, to fix natural dyes to clothing using iron oxide instead of heavy metals," said Paul Hawken, who founded Smith & Hawken with David Smith 12 years ago.

Since then, the company in Mill Valley, Calif., has grown from a $40,000 a year business to a $60 million a year business; this year it will send out 20 million or so copies of 19 different catalog.

Hawken, 45, has made money naturally since 1966, when he started a natural foods business called Erewhon Trading Co. in Boston. Natural clothing was just the next step.

"Clothing is our most polluting crop," Hawken said. "Cotton, hemp, silk, linen all come from plant materials that are sprayed with pesticides and herbicides and then processed and dyed, which adds to pollution."

And what eco-gardener can do without Smith & Hawken's storm-green farmer's style canvas jacket with buttons made from tagua nuts?

The tagua palm grows in the Ecuadorean rain forest. And as the company's new spring clothing catalog says, "The harvesting of tagua nuts by indigenous tribespeople contributes to Ecuador's social and ecological development -- and gives us a way to do more than just wear a button that says, 'Save the Environment,' because wearing tagua buttons actually helps us to do just that."

Wonderful. But who's going to wear the $89 tagua-nut farmer's jacket slopping the hogs?

"Gardening attire around here is ratty jeans and old shirts," said Paul Conrad of Gardener's Supply Co. in Burlington, Vt. "I think if anyone showed up decked out a la Smith & Hawken, they'd get razzed unmercifully."

However, Will Raap, the company's president, is fond of Greenknees pants, a double-kneed type with a elastic waistband made by Denman of Brea, Calif. (Denman also makes hand-forged steel hand plows, which it says have been used "by Korean farmers since the dawn of the Iron Age.")

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