Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Has spring sprung for you?

Now I know its not quite spring (as Lilgreenfingers tweeted yesterday, its not officially spring until we reach the vernal equinox, this year on 20th March), but with the sun shafting through the office windows illuminating shimmering motes of dust dancing in its beams, well this girl feels like a seasonal corner has been turned.

And whilst I could write about the beautiful carpet of snowdrops, aconites and crocus through which I have to tiptoe to reach my office; my garden to do list; the merits of seed catalogues; or the last rush to plant bare root trees and shrubs; this has been done by others hundreds of times before. Plus, there's only so much spring panic a gardener can take.

I could attempt to take a more serious line and write about something of global importance, which would hope to change your garden habits as we plunge into the growing season of 2010. But recent weeks have seen some amazing blogs on important subjects such as carbon sequestration and offsetting by Mark Diacono, and both 'how horticulture is political' and forest gardening by Lia Leendertz . These make for brilliant reading and if you haven't already, I urge you to read them; they are written more knowledgeably and eloquently on the subjects than I could ever hope to achieve. So this is out too.

Time for a different tack. Now call me shallow, but to me, spring doesn't just herald the reawakening of the garden and the ideas, theories and methods of gardening within it. Spring arrives just after London fashion week, itself a cornucopia of colour, design and wonder. Spring promises not just the unfurling of startling green upon green upon green, daffodils, longer days and the smell of freshly cut grass, it also promises a whole new season of clothes; clothes to lust after, fabrics to stroke, colours to revel in, new garments to treasure, (and immediately hide from my boyfriend to be seen at a later date with a 'what this old thing' casually employed), and occasionally new clothes in which to garden in.

Thinking of Jane Perrone's recent tweet re floral tool wraps made me think of how often we associate gardeners with what they wear. Monty Don is often referred to as 'The lord of Cord', is Sarah Raven ever without a great coat or lace up wellies, and dare we imagine James Alexander Sinclair bereft of his hat (ok, and his iphone)? Looking to add a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to my own gardening apparel, I looked to the web for inspiration and found some interesting insights into other gardener's preferred choice of attire.

A gardenweb thread on garden fashion revealed that many gardeners favour the inevitable clogs, straw hats, gloves, aprons and visors to dress for cultivation purposes, but one comment in particular stood out. Now no giggling please, there may be other readers, who like 'Donna37' from Missouri, herald from the other side of the pond who find this behaviour nothing out of the ordinary. Anyway, said Donna had an interesting, alternative to the well worn bandana, used by many to keep hair and perspiration in check. By her own admission, when she gardens she 'sweats a LOT' , but thankfully her husband has found a thrifty solution that works for her, which must save on a lot of washing in the process. "He took one of his old socks, folded it lengthwise and pinned it around his head. Worked great and really absorbs the sweat.....they fit well and are a good way to recycle those socks with a hole in the heel". Helpful 'Cajungardener' enhances the design by suggesting the inclusion of swell gels to make this makeshift 'sockdana' cooling as well as practical, and when some other contributors suggested that this could be a toxic disaster, even more helpful 'Tasymo' suggested substituting the swell gels with the absorbent crystals from disposable diapers. Nice. Could this be Spring headgear 2010? Somehow I doubt it.

Not feeling in the least bit tempted to reach for a pair of Jules' threadbare socks and slam then around my brow, I further dived to find something slightly more elegant in a quest to improve my soil stained gardening garb for 2010. Eschewing the new Garden Collection by H&M as too flimsy and short to be practical whilst on ones hands and knees, (even though all the garments have been produced using sustainable materials or using recycled PET bottles or textile waste I could not inflict this sight on anyone), I was relieved to find that to move forward in the horticultural fashion stakes, I simply needed to look back into time.

Courtesy of the eminently readable blog by Martha B, Nibs, I was alerted to 'Garden People: Valerie Finnis & The Golden Age of Gardening' by Ursula Buchan, Anna Pavord, and Brent Elliott. Apologies if you have seen this book before, and huge recommendations to buy it if you haven't. Page upon page of an age since past, Finnis's pictures capture the elegance and quirky style of gardeners from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Though not all of those featured are dressed up to the nines, it is the images of those that are that I love the best. Here was my answer to my fashion conundrum. I am sure many of the women dressed up expressly to impress Ms Finnis on her arrival, keen to be photographed at their best, with their legions of gardening staff safely tucked up in the shrubbery for the day. And I know that double digging, laying a lawn, or turning the compost would be made distinctly difficult if hampered by a long gown and incongruous footwear. But what a lovely idea, to treasure, revel in and enjoy gardening so much so, that an afternoons weeding was certainly worth dressing for. And how glamorous and decadent to care not a jot whether 'your best' would get covered in mud, torn or stained in the process. So, though I think I'll keep my everyday gardening uniform of fingerless gloves, combats and well worn boots, I shall at least look in the mirror as I stride out of the back door, I might even wear a slick of lipstick, and perhaps even a sparkly broach, with a nod and a smile to these grande old dames of our gardening heritage's past. Hey, this may not be 'only gardening' after all. Pictures below......

Parsley Muir enjoying a little light watering.....

Lady Birley readying herself for some heavy pruning......

And the inimitable Valerie Finnis herself, attired for the potting shed, naturally.