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 contributors are Marianne Mogendorff and Camila Klich, founders of Wolves Lane Flower Company, a North London-based micro urban flower farm with an organic and sustainable approach:
Gardening is all consuming. In the more challenging moments it can feel like you’re running a field hospital packed to the rafters with demanding patients who all need more water, more room, or have an infestation of something nasty that needs your attention. Despite having one of the best and most beauty-filled jobs in the world you’re harassed. Have we got enough stems to cut? Why didn’t we net the Cosmos? There has inevitably been too much rain, too much sun or not enough of something else. With a mind whirring with sowing schedules, stem counts and an extremely early start to beat the sun (resulting in throwing on something you’ve retrieved from the floor that smells questionable) fashion can be decidedly absent from the working week.
But we’ve had enough. Three seasons on from when we first started our north London micro flower farm, we’re demanding more of our wardrobe and our workwear. Not purely because practical clothes to spend your days outdoors is vital, but because it makes a difference to our state of mind. Marianne’s mum describes it as being ‘up together’: to feel on top of things, positive about yourself and able to tackle the tasks ahead.
We spent our first season at Wolves Lane wearing unsuitable flimsy trainers, clothes we liked and subsequently destroyed and not respecting the elements sufficiently. Our sun exposure is relentless and we now try to wear a sunhat at least throughout May – September. Like the entirety of our workwear wardrobe we haven’t nailed this item. Camila has a fabulous straw visor that adds a touch of LA glam to the digging and Marianne oscillates between a funereal, black, wide-brimmed charity shop number and a baseball cap stolen from her husband. That, and a woolly winter equivalent is probably the most important element of a gardener’s wardrobe so answers on a postcard with any bright ideas please.
Crowd-sourcing and pooling ideas for suitable women’s workwear is clearly something many of us are craving. Our recent Instagram post (responding to Kirsty Reid of Teeny Weeny Flower Farm’s original post on the subject) decrying the lack of options provoked an outpouring of similar frustrations. Female gardeners are not a new phenomena – our most celebrated historical horticultural icons are women (see Gertrude Jekyll, Margery Fish, Beth Chatto and Vita Sackville-West) but perhaps it’s still not seen as commonplace in professional farming and outdoors sectors. The lack of options would suggest as much. As the necessity to respond to the ecological emergency and regenerate our soil and farming practices grows, perhaps the next 20 years will see women leading the charge.
But we need to be appropriately clad to do this and our workwear is currently holding us back. Paula Baxter from Millpond Flower Farm raised the important issue that wearing PPE designed for men isn’t just uncomfy but unsafe. We both opted for the male Dickies overalls because you got to have brass zipped pockets that provided a hint of sartorial flair while dressing. Those zips give a little boost of ‘up togetherness’ in our daily lives but the too big, baggy legs and turn-ups catch easily and can be a bit of a liability.
But there are options out there! Friends, we’ve done the research and hope to make some investments for this forthcoming Autumn/Winter season to report back. Price point is important. None of us want a disposable clothing industry or cheap, ecologically unsound materials, but nor are we all in a position to splash out on items well beyond £100 without knowing they’re going to be with us in another 5 years.
Three brands we think are ticking enough of the boxes for us at the moment are Lucy & Yak, Polka Pants and Spry Workwear and all three were happy to chat workwear with us. Each are female led, small companies who are keeping sustainability, practicality and style high within their design and manufacturing process. Spry’s tagline is ‘clothes for life’ and the crossed backed, navy dungarees manufactured in Great Yarmouth have rather captured our hearts. The small but permanent collection of designs sits snugly in the Venn diagram of fashion and practicality.
Lucy & Yak could take you from compost heap to school gate or dinner party (remember those?) seamlessly with a colourful array of dungarees and boiler suits. Their range is all organic cotton and also high on green credentials (they work with Offset Earth who invests in projects that remove more greenhouse gases than our own carbon footprints put in). The clothes aren’t made with workwear in mind specifically but they recommend their Originals range which has additional elastane (for all that bending) and like Spry, also have a brilliant outlet for seconds and sale items making a purchase you know you’re instantly going to cake in mud feel more manageable.
Our final find is Tottenham based Polka Pants just down the road from us. Chanel alumna Maxine, traded the fashion world for cheffing and quickly realised (in an experience mirroring our own) how few clothing options there were for female chefs that could really take the heat, so to speak. Polka’s ethical credentials are faultless – their fabrics are milled and screen printed by the same supplier in Turkey and their trousers are made in a small production studio below their London Head Office. “Using EU sourced fabrics and having our production in house in London allows us to reduce our carbon footprint.” Maxine told us. “We use a pattern placement system in our production process which allows maximum use of fabric/ minimum fabric waste, our prints are repeated every season so screens are not wasted, and can be reused time and time again.”
Before beginning Polka, Maxine did her research to check she wasn’t just being ‘a diva’ in demanding more from her workwear. And since this conversation began, we too wondered if we were just asking too much from our workwear and should just shut up, patch up the holes in our jeans and get on with it. But we all deserve choice and solutions as females working outdoors to allow us to get the job done. Gardening, farming and growing will become one of the most important professions in the next 20 years. And we need to be ready.