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Home > What do gardeners wear? – Tania Compton

What do gardeners wear? – Tania Compton

Today I shall mostly be wearing….frankly most of the outfits I wear in the garden would pass a Jesse’s dubious fashion tips test. Let’s analyse today’s layers, all of which have just been bundled muddily into the washing machine. Two pairs of waterproof trousers, mine, Schoffel, did not concur with my Elle Macpherson leg length fantasy so have an annoying barbed wire crotch slash (pretty) so they can only do short showers, not today’s pelting rain. I always seem to judge the changeover moment to my husband Jamie’s Berghaus pair a bit too late but can pull it off with the speed and dexterity of any Diva in the wings. Only the result of XXL Gore-tex up to my chest is more Laurel and Hardy than Cher.

The top is Schoffel again. As light and expensive as gold leaf that like the trousers can be made to disappear into one of its pockets like a rabbit vanishing into a magician’s hat. So many pockets. One perfectly placed for a ball of twine that itches my chin, end between teeth, when tying in roses. Under that outer layer today, was my second skin, a Patagonia nano puff jacket, the recycled polyester one, quicker to dry than the down version.

Collectively these cost as much as couture but I spend long winter months alone in Scotland and the only shop in a 20 mile radius is Braemar Mountain Sports who lick their lips when they see me coming. Every year is marked by new boot socks, fleece lined beanies, Biggles caps and camo Buff’s, all put to the test in the garden. But none of those were needed today. Just my father’s old tweed fishing hat that has notches from fishing flies. He had a bigger head than me but shorter tresses so my hairclip fills the void. Oh yes, I was wearing another achat Ecossais. My Meindl Bhutan walking boots. These are heavy great things but they make you feel as though you are walking on air or the moon. If their deep treads aren’t caked with mud, well, as my tell-tale trail often attests, they stay on until bed time. The complex overlapping of their laces reminds me of preparing for ballet classes as a child, conjuring a similar sense of excitement and expectation only they signal a starting gun to heavenly time outdoors. As I get older time indoors feels more and more like time wasted. Even in deep dark winter. Mark and Kris who garden with me on Fridays take my horti-sartorial eccentricities well in their stride. Only my fleece lined ex German airforce onesie paired with a fur ear flap Russian military hat incites fear. No need for a chilblain radiator break from pruning in that duo, Boss!

Whirring around in the machine are a couple of pairs of dungarees of which I am a dedicated devotee. Some scour the internet for shoes and handbags, I’m adding waist friendly outerwear to the basket. Today’s pair were thick Summer 2020 electric blue organic cotton from Lucy and Yak, yesterday’s were cheapo lightweight navy, in some indeterminate man-made fibre cut short with pinking shears and paired with a bikini top. I think my Parisian godson who was chez nous for 12 weeks of lockdown was un peu etonné the first time he saw me wielding a spade in my favourite bikini/dungarees sunny-day combo.

I have drawers full of old worn out pairs more precious than teenage diaries, each rip, patch or tear imbued with the gardens I have worked in. And nurse an unfathomable fondness for the shredded remains of a pale lilac linen pair from a 1990’s Sundance catalogue, possibly abetted by the memory of Robert Redford’s beaming smile on the inside cover. Then there are several sturdy Faithfull’s that not even a rose with the ferocity of Wickwar will snag, some I am still wearing 20 years and a trillion wash cycles later.

Ah, the wash cycle. Well it’s all in the dryer now. Except for the gloves. I never EVER wore gloves until a decade ago when I picked up a pair of Showa’s next to the till at Derry Watkins’ Special Plants nursery. Now I have Showa’s for spring, summer, autumn and winter. 370’s are my go to, in packs of 10, Thermo 451’s are good for a regular cold day, 306’s are good for rain but not cold, the 720R with long arms for pulling reeds and pond work and the fleece lined 6781R used in the freezer packing industry is fab for really cold days, unlike ski gloves that can be tempting but get wet too quickly. As not even long sleeved silk thermals keep the wind out of that crucial-to-cover wrist zone long gloves are good but harder to get on and off when frozen fish fingers are attached to your arms. The only garden task I used to ever wear gloves for was muck spreading, now the only ones I don’t wear them for is anything to do with seeds and blissful Sunday afternoon hand weeding in seedling vegetable rows with the classic serial. An assortment of French net shopping bags half hung on coat hooks and colour coded by content are my solution to tipping a jumble of socks and gloves on the floor in the hope of finding a pair.

A silk scarf around my neck is essential to prevent a sore throat. Hand dyed in woad, weld or dahlia. Diva? Moi? Now I am sounding more and more like Cher. I have something of a reputation with foreign clients for my baggage allowance rider. Surely I can’t need 25kg of clothes for planting in Greece? It isn’t just clothes stuffed into the old travel cot cover, we haven’t discussed my exigencies around tools, from the secateurs to the ratchet pruners, the hori hori to the soil scoop, like a travelling chef with his roll of knives nothing drives me to distraction more than an ill designed plastic handled trowel.

Jamie’s sartorial gardening life is sooo much less complicated. He never changes to go out in the garden, it’s either shorts or jeans with whatever shirt was on the top of the pile and whatever jumper was lying on the floor from the night before. His harridan wife gives him a new jumper every Christmas morning with the stark caveat that this one is NOT for gardening in. By the end of the boxing day bonfire there he is and no, those aren’t moth holes because this is his NEW jumper, they are burn holes from cinders and hitches from whatever he has dragged to the fire. Hey ho, I did not marry a clothes horse, it was he who got the nag…

On the theme of Valerie Finnis, I wish I could remember what I was wearing when she asked me to pose with my head popping out of her Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ in fully layered wedding cake glory on a June day in the late 80’s while she teased and talked in that photographer’s ruse to keep your attention and stop you pulling your mirror face. Also in shot was not the man I married, as she loved telling Jamie with wicked glee each and every time we saw her together. Usually in a wheelchair on press day at Chelsea with Brent Elliott in attendance. Valerie, as ever in a fawn burberry mac, Barbour Islay waterproof bucket hat and sturdy leather lace up shoes she latterly swapped for trainers.


Tania Compton is generously opening the gates to her garden at Spilsbury Farm as part of our Secret Garden Visits fundraiser to raise urgently needed funds to save the Garden Museum from the impact of the coronavirus. Find out more and book below.