In our series on gardening in style, we’re asking some of our favourite garden people, “What do you wear to garden, and why?” Our latest contributor is garden historian, researcher and presenter Advolly Richmond:
I have a dressing room… there I’ve said it. It is full of lovely and much cherished clothes, shoes and handbags. I love clothes. Life before Covid-19, ensured that my frocks and shoes (a bit like roses, you can never have too many) had regular outings.
I am extremely fond of my linen maxi pinafore dresses of which I have in a multitude of colours. I can wear crisp white shirts under them in summer or a soft cashmere polo neck in winter and off I swish usually with my hands deep in my pockets. There is something so satisfying about a dress with pockets and a gal’s got to have somewhere to put her ‘things’ in.
I am pretty handy with a sewing machine so I sometimes shorten or adapt some of my longer dresses when they begin to look a bit ropey. But again the most important thing for me when I am in the garden are my pockets. Depending on the time of year, an audit of said pockets might yield, mittens, assorted plant labels, bits of string, a rusty vine eye or two and a couple of corks which I use to pop on top of bamboo canes. I believe that is what is known as a “life hack”.
During the winter months anyone coming across me would immediately think of Miss Shepherd in Alan Bennett’s film Lady in the Van. I find that layers are easier to manage than bulky jumpers. I have a lot of pairs of black cropped jeggings, which are a cross between leggings and jeans and incredibly comfortable to work in. I can wear them under my pinafores or under a Bodycon skirt on nippy days. But, regardless of what I am wearing to work in the garden throughout the year, I always wear my head phones.
Why am I so wedded to my headphones? Several reasons but mainly because I tend to fit my gardening around my research and writing. Writing a new lecture takes me about 4 to 5 months and each episode of my The Garden History Podcast take a few weeks. In each case I record them on my Dictaphone at various stages and listen to them as I garden. All the time I am making mental notes so that when I return to my desk I can edit my work with a fresh eye and I might record my work 3 or 4 times before I am satisfied.
Also, I love reading, but I have found that as I have become much busier in the last few years, I struggle to find the time and so I tend to listen to a lot of audio books and the odd podcast. However on high days and holidays my Sony Walkman cassette player has been known to get an airing and I will listen to my ancient mixtapes. That last sentence may need some explanation for anyone under the age of 25.
Another indispensable part of my gardening attire are my lovely flowery wellington boots they were a 50th birthday present a few years ago. The RHS Hunter boots are decorated with beautiful historic floral prints from the Lindley Library archives and the images are so well illustrated that you can identify each individual flower. My boots patiently wait for me by the back kitchen door. But spare a thought for Victorian ladies learning to garden. When Jane Loudon wrote her book Gardening for Ladies in 1840, she suggested that when digging or ‘stirring the soil’ they should be provided with either clogs to put over their shoes or perhaps they might prefer ‘tramps’ which were small plates of iron strapped round her shoes with a leather strap and buckle. How lucky we are these days to be able to simply slip a pair of wellies on and away we go.
Although I have several pairs of gloves, I tend to weed and do many gardening jobs without them, things like tying in climbers or weeding around delicate plants, but I do wear them for certain tasks including pruning. I wear nail varnish most of the time even when I am in the garden. In summer my crazy floppy hat is essential for protecting my neck but still allows me room to wear my head wrap and headphones with comfort.
I have to admit that like many avid gardeners, I am guilty of pulling on my wellies while still in my nightwear. My intention is maybe to check the seedlings in the poly tunnel before settling in the study to meet a deadline, but this always turns into an hour or so of excitedly peering into pots and borders as new shoots and flowers begin to emerge. I have realised that over the years most of my ideas for the layout and planting of my garden have been in these pyjama clad and wellington boots moments.