How to be well-girded for gardening

Functional and fashionable clothing prepares you for time in the back yard

May 06, 2007|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Reporter

For a gardener, the only thing more embarrassing than confessing to what you wear in the garden might be being seen in what you wear in the garden.

"When my jeans become too old for anything else, they become my gardening jeans," said Jeff Morey, a gardener and publisher of Retail Gardening magazine. "When my shoes become too old for anything else, they become my gardening shoes. I am guilty of being a clothes recycler."

"I wear a wide-brimmed hat because I look appalling in a baseball cap," said Cathy Umphrey, director of horticulture at Historic London Town and Gardens in Anne Arundel County.

Gardeners have gloves they are always losing. Sunglasses that are always slipping off their sweaty noses. Shoes that require hosing off. And T-shirts cast off by their children.

Sensible might be the watchword in gardening apparel: "I don't try to make much of a fashion statement," said Umphrey.

But some still try to look good.

"I always put on make-up," said Diane Savage of Berlin, whose garden has been a stop on tours. "At least I am presentable and I won't embarrass the children."

Kathleen Litchfield, whose house is Grovehurst in Bowie, said she always wears a hat, sunscreen, a good pair of boots and gloves.

Between the deer ticks, the cancer-causing sunlight and the funguses that attack fingernails, she feels like she is covered -- literally.

"I am out in people's yards all day," said Litchfield, who with her husband operates Petro Design Build in Mitchellville. "I need to protect myself."

If the garden isn't the place for fashion, it is certainly a place for special clothing. Clothing that is comfortable. Clothing that protects -- against sun, soil and insects. We've surveyed what is out there in garden apparel and here are samples of what we found. Some are utilitarian, while others are a bit whimsical. Find your own style.

Hat --Cathy Umphrey is right about baseball caps, but not just because they aren't attractive on her.

If sun protection is your goal, baseball caps don't get the job done. You need a broad-brimmed hat that also covers the back of the neck -- which takes a beating from the sun when gardeners bend and dig.

The "Adventure Hat" from A.M. Leonard ( provides sun protection with a 4-inch front brim and a 7 1/2 - inch back veil. It also has ventilating mesh side panels. Price: $37.99.

Neck scarf --The "Chiller Bandanna" at Across the Garden Fence (acrossthegardenfence. com) protects your neck from the sun -- and keeps you cool. It contains a polymer that absorbs water and provides evaporative cooling. Price: $6.

Looking for something a little less functional and a little more fashionable? L'Arelier Vert -- Everything French Gardening ( offers a beautiful handwoven linen kerchief, traditionally worn by farmers in Alsace. Generously sized and of thick cloth, it is advertised as having heirloom quality because the pattern -- in blue and white or red and white -- is woven, not printed. Price: $95.

Clothing --Overalls might be the most sensible thing to wear in the garden -- ones with pockets and loops for holding tools. Benicia Garden and Nursery ( has both a sensible pair of roomy overalls, with six outside pockets and a hammer loop, and a lively pair, decorated with robin's eggs, ferns and flowers. Price: $84 & $95.

Another option to contend with Maryland's ferocious mosquito population is the Buzz Off line of clothing from Orvis (or The clothes contain insect repellent that will remain effective through many washings. Orvis offers cotton T-shirts, socks, hats and pants that unzip to convert to shorts. Prices: $24-$89.

Gloves --How much you spend on gloves might depend on how often you lose them. Gloves range from the $6 pair of cotton print gloves that your little ones buy you for Mother's Day, to the highly regarded West County Gardener line of gloves ( West County offers everything from finger-less gloves, which protect the palms and backs of the hands but allow for fine work, to the rose gloves, which provide tough protection almost to the elbow. These gloves are available at lawn and garden centers; check the Web site for a store near you. Prices: $18 to $30.

Shoes --The popular garden clog is sold everywhere these days -- even in the grocery store. They are perfect for an early morning inspection of the dew-covered garden and for easy on-and-off when going in and out of the house.

But serious gardening requires a shoe that provides support for those uneven places in the yard, hillsides and banks and for stepping a spade into the earth, such as the waterproof, 3-eye Duck boot from Superior Boot Co., available at for $37.50 or the Yardiac ( lawn-mowing shoe for $89.95.

Apron --This is another word for "tool belt." Fiskars makes an apron with three large pockets to hold a variety of garden implements ( Price: $7.99.

A more traditional snap-around-your-waist tool carrier is available from mastergarden Price: $14.95.

For real whimsy, take a look at the chic, ankle-length garden apron available at Everything French Garden (frenchgarden It has not only plenty of pockets, but also a hand-wiping cloth buttoned on to the front. Price: $80.

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