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 gardener, garden writer and garden designer Non Morris:
When I am gardening, I always wear blue. Not quite the dashing embroidered uniform of the Land Gardeners but my own dependable regulation bleu de travail which leaves me free to concentrate on whatever I am doing in whichever garden I find myself in.
I am learning that jeans are a divisive issue in the gardening community, but I am with Shane Connolly in regarding them as the supreme gardening trouser, comfortable and excellent for wiping muddy hands. I wear blue jeans, one of my identical tough blue cotton work shirts, and brown leather walking boots or weathered Blundstone boots. I buy the same brogued pair again and again. I love the way they look old straight out of the box. I am also never without a hardcover Moleskine red notebook which has a brilliant pocket for storing an elusive leaf or wildflower to be identified when I am back at my desk.
The blue thing began pretty young. Apparently, I was born with navy blue eyes and from then on frequently dressed to match. Legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland proclaimed encouragingly that ‘pink is the navy blue of India’. I have tried other colours over the years – white is good with jeans for a shirt – but when I am working, I love the simplicity of not having to think and come back and back to dark blue.
For colder weather I have a collection of aging blue cashmere jumpers. My absolute favourites are by Margaret Howell. These are seriously expensive but the best inky blue and the perfect boxy shape. I darn them and sow on suede patches when the elbows wear out to keep them going for as long as possible. A heavy-duty cashmere beanie is essential for winter. I currently have a pale grey one, a present from my husband Nick from Lock & Co in St James’s (they don’t make it in navy). It is brilliant, repels rain and never goes out of shape.
For very wet practical work I wear Great Dixter’s classic olive green trousers with bib and braces – 100% waterproof, windproof and breathable with good pockets. They are made from a supple rubbery fabric which is easy to wear. My only gripe is that even the smallest size requires lots of folds at the ankle. I have Japanese Hoken gloves for winter work also from the Dixter shop. Originally given to Fergus Garrett as a present, they are such welcoming gloves: pink, waterproof and lined with fleece.
I have layers and layers of old puffa jackets for when it is freezing – I like the lightness and once they are past a certain stage it doesn’t matter if you take them up a ladder to tackle the thorniest rose. I acquired a brilliant hooded knee length coat from Rains last winter. Extremely warm and completely waterproof. It is matt black and I look like a diminutive Arsène Wenger but it is perfect for long days on site on a windy hillside in early January.
Repurposed ski kit is needed for the coldest jobs. We once planted a garden in Oxfordshire in the last week of November. The weather suddenly turned to winter, with snow and overnight temperatures down to minus 8. The early morning drive along the M40 flanked by snow covered trees was like a magical trip to Narnia. Less magical was standing in our old salopettes and ski mittens pouring boiling water from kettles to dislodge yew and Sarcococca confusa from their containers. Should we cancel our perennial delivery? I remember discussing our options with Chris Marchant of Orchard Dene Nurseries. We had nothing to lose so we went ahead and planted into the frozen ground. Amazingly nearly every plant survived and thrived.
Different clothing is needed for different situations of course. When I started writing about gardens for Country Life, I worried that I didn’t have the female equivalent of an aged tweed jacket and country shoes. I needn’t have worried. I discovered that even the grandest of grandees might wear canvas sneakers with his cords and that his wife might appear in top to toe denim before hurtling around to show me their extensively planted acres with a speed belying their 80 plus age and paying testament to the long-lasting energy of the passionate gardener. For my part I am happy to rely on my jeans and a favourite worn-till-it-drops white shirt – or jeans and a navy jumper if it is cool.
Sometimes things need to be a little more theatrical. When I spoke about Mollie, the late 6th Marchioness of Salisbury, at the Garden Museum Literary Festival at Houghton Hall in 2019 I knew I needed to up my game. Mollie Salisbury was known for her romantic sense of dress and was never without a diaphanous scarf or pearls. I went unashamedly for a long dress with puff sleeves and a little lace around the collar.
Looking back at this year’s Literary Festival – held at dreamy moated Helmingham Hall – I realise in retrospect that I went a stage further and wore an outfit that literally matched the abundant scented borders.
My next project will take me away to botanise in Snowdonia and the European Alps. I am smitten by Fjallraven’s plain and simple trekking gear which can be made more or less water and windproof by applying or removing a layer of Greenland wax.
To get me in the mood as I write I rely on an appropriately dressed coffee pot. The Bialetti Moka Express Alpina spurs me on every time.