In our series on gardening in style, we pay tribute to Valerie Finnis’ portraits of the great gardeners of her day. We’re asking some of our favourite garden people, “What do you wear to garden, and why?” Our latest contributor is award-winning garden designer Ann-Marie Powell:
Full disclosure I am a clothesaholic. I think I get this from my maternal grandmother who, when I was a very young child, I insisted was the lady I saw on the back of a five pound note. A working class single mother of five with a job as a trade unionist, Doris was always impeccably dressed. A fiery redheaded, opinionated yet fun loving woman, you knew when Doris had entered a room. On family stays, I would magpie her jewellery box brimming with diamanté, and pin (or clip) her glass gems all over my dressing gowns and pyjamas whilst listening wistfully to the music, chat and laughter coming from the family and friends get togethers going on downstairs.
Thankfully my career in garden design has meant that I need clothes for every occasion imaginable. With my morning cup of tea in bed (with toast at the weekends, never mind the crumbs!), I have a little conversation with myself about what I’m doing that day and how I want to present myself. It’s often not just about the way I want to look but how I want to feel. Clothes are such a mood enhancer not just for the person that’s wearing them, but for the people you’re meeting, so I do want to make the effort to look my best (that may be an excuse for over purchasing!).
My considerations are thus. Do I have a meeting? Am I on site? Does a stage await me? Is it grey outside (when colour is therefore essential)? Or am I on my hands and knees, bum in the air, gardening for myself at home? I honestly simply can’t imagine not thinking about clothes when I wake up in the morning.
Events (anything which affords a bit of showing off e.g. television, talks, awards hosting)
I feel I owe it to whoever has booked me to try and add a bit of glamour to the occasion. Colour, fit, and vibrancy are everything. Think classy drag queen (I often do when deciding – the more Rupaul the better!). Anything a little avantgarde, over the top and also slightly circus, I feel is absolutely perfect. I’m a statuesque 5 foot 10, but heels are essential too in order to at least try and achieve some of the elegance that I strive to be achieving (though this is often in my mind and rarely becomes a reality!). All of these boldly rich, textures, colours and prints are in a wardrobe nicknamed the ‘Showing Off Cupboard’ in my 11 year old son’s bedroom beside a full length mirror.
I’m sure they’re where he got the idea for becoming my own personal lockdown stylist as I dressed up for ‘Floral Friday’ on my daily lunchtime Instagram Lives to raise awareness of my favourite charity Greenfingers (https://www.greenfingerscharity.org.uk) during lockdown. The longer we went on, the more over the top my garb became (I believe we both have a little Doris, my grandmother, about us) – an absolute joy when, excepting our gardens, there was very little joy to be found in the world.
Building sites dictate certain clothing demands, but I still believe that even if I’m in full five point PPE (Personal Protective Equipment of steel toe caps, safety goggles, gloves, high vis and hard hat) that as a professional on site, I want to feel good and therefore make an effort with my outfits.
Dr Martins ‘Belsay’ Steel Toe boots are my site boot of choice – brown, fleece lined and pull on they look the part whilst still having a modicum of style. Long, loose fitting (but NEVER baggy) Uniqlo cargo trousers with pockets (for my notebook and pen) and a belt (for my tape measure) are essential, and my Didriksons waterproof parka may have been an investment but it is worth every single penny – fitted, windproof, long enough to cover my thighs with snaps at the cuffs and collar to keep the rain out. All these items, plus waterproof trousers and a spare change of clothes (including underwear!) are in my car at all times so I am never caught out.
Bold lipstick in red, pink or orange is also a non-negotiable site meeting item. Why not?!
I’ve never understood why people wear their old clothes to garden in. I value this time gardening for myself so highly, that I want to look, and so feel good whilst doing it. My home gardening clothes have hybridised and cross-pollinated from my site clothes over the years, but have taken on a more relaxed, and bizarrely more colourful guise. I love a band t-shirt to garden in – ACDC is my current favourite, beneath a Levi’s denim jacket, which can be tied round the waist, thrown on the ground, over a bush or up a tree without concern, and can be layered with micro-fleece, body warmer or under a raincoat (all in bright, life enhancing shades) as required.
My cargo trousers are threaded with my favourite belt from which to hang my felco secateurs and hori-hori holster which go on first thing in the morning and stay on until the sun goes down at weekends.
My old green Ash high top trainers are zipped at the side so easy to get on and off, and as winter has set in I’m increasingly using some Poddy and Black natural rubber booties as back door shoes (mine are wildly coloured and appropriately named ‘Half cuts’ in Mixed Border colours) to dash out and chase away squirrels from digging up my garden bulbs.
A beret (I have dozens in a wide range of colours) is essential to keep you warm and the odd light shower of rain off. And I do like to garden wearing the aforementioned bold lipstick – good to protect your lips from the elements, to make one feel GOOD, and pucker up to my partner Jules if he’s brave enough to get too close.