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Gardening Attire
by Des Kennedy
by Des Kennedy

Des Kennedy is a celebrated public speaker, having performed at numerous conferences, schools, festivals, botanical gardens, art galleries, garden shows and wilderness gatherings in Canada and the U.S. His humour, irreverence and passion for gardening and the natural world have made him a 'must see' speaker in demand across the country.

June 22, 2003

A fresh hazard has been added to the pitfalls that await the unwary gardener. As if it weren't sufficient that we be bedevilled by tumultuous weather, unscrupulous nurserypeople and problematic colour clashes, we're now expected to concern ourselves with stylish gardening attire.

Glancing through the magazines and catalogues, one realizes that expectations are running rampant that we romp about our gardens in twill caps and khaki vests, designer pants and kid leather gloves posh enough for an audience with the Queen. Gum boots are no longer good enough -- one should have English wellies. In short, while gardening one must make a fashion statement.

The whole idea seems to be not so much that one actually goes out and mucks around doing dirty work, but rather that one is fashionably attired in such a way as to suggest that brute physical labour is altogether possible.

All very well for dabblers, I suppose, but this insistence upon horticultural haute couture runs smack up against the ancient and inalienable right of gardeners to dress in rags. The time-honoured dress code is to wear while gardening those clothes that have become too shabby to be worn anywhere else. Comfort, familiarity and a certain devil-may-care insouciance far outweigh considerations of prevailing taste.

In footwear particularly, practicality is of the essence. One is in and out of doors so frequently, ease of slipping footwear off and on is crucial. This is best accomplished with battered runners or dress shoes that have seen better days. Laces are eventually discarded or permanently knotted, and the backs flattened into unpreposessing flip-flops.

There is no compelling reason I can think of that while pruning the roses ones socks should match.

For people so frequently down on hands and knees, appearance is the least consideration to be applied to pants. Splitting resistance is everything. Among the finest work pants I ever owned was a pair of unsuccessful casual slacks acquired from the Sally Ann. Made of 100% polyester, miraculously stretchy and hideously yellow, they resisted tearing and fraying for what seemed like decades.

When seams do eventually split, particularly in sensitive areas, they can be closed with strategically placed safety pins, a standard, if hazardous, accessory in the retro-grunge gardener's ensemble.

Torn t-shirts, unravelling woollen sweaters and dress shirts with irredeemable ring-around-the-collar are all appropriate. Colour coordination is not necessarily a consideration. In cool weather I'm partial to an ancient down vest that exudes through multiple tears and punctures tiny puffs of down whenever I move.

I shan't dwell at all on gloves, as one of each pair is so quickly lost among the compost heaps and leaf mold piles, mixed pairs are as common as in tennis.

Hats, however, are an essential element. In cold weather I rely upon a battered baseball cap with foam rubber lining that keeps my bald patch warm. This past summer, I replaced my old straw hat with a fancy new cap designed to block UV radiation. Practical to a fault, it sports a large bill and neck-protecting flap, all of it a luminescent red. Wearing it, I'm advised by acquaintances, I rather resemble an oversized pileated woodpecker.

But there's the point: the keeping up of appearances is simply not on. Those of us up to our elbows in compost are hardly about to abandon an ancient and venerable gardening tradition for some beau monde vogue for horticultural fashion statements, are we?


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