Published on 06/12/02

Comfort, Safety Best in Garden 'Back Forty'

If you ever watch "Keeping Up Appearances" on Georgia Public Television, you know that Richard has to garden in a tie. "Poor devil," as his next-door neighbor Emmet would say.

Well, they don't live in Georgia with its heat and humidity during gardening season. Me? I garden comfortably.

If you're gardening in the front yard, you may want to wear something more appropriate than when digging in the dirt in the "back forty." Back there, comfort is most important.

OK, it's one of the two most important things, along with safety. The statistics say anyone exposed to too much sun has a greater chance of developing a melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Protect Skin from Sun

Gloves, long sleeves, pants in breathable fabrics -- there is even a line of clothing made from fabrics especially woven to protect skin from the sun. I've worn it, and I know it works.

I have two pair of baggy carpenter jeans -- you know, the ones with several extra pockets for storing shears and other tools. I know my wife has patched one pair four times and threatened to throw them out many more times than that.

The second pair are my "front yard" jeans. They have only one patch. Until jeans get extra soft and are roomy enough and patched, they're not gardening jeans.

Wife Caught Me Gone

My wife caught me gone for several days and threw out my jeans coveralls that were just getting broken in. I had already been told not to be in the garden during lightning, because I would surely be struck, with all of the metal in the safety pins holding my coveralls together. Probably best she got rid of those. If she just had thought, though, she could have used them to patch the jeans.

I've tried boots, tennis shoes, rubber boots and rubber and leather combination boots, but the footwear that suits me best are extra heavy duty sandals.

I know that dirt filters through the socks and there are strange patterns on my feet when I take them off, but my toes like the feel of being free. I just have to be careful with the pitchfork while working with sandals on.

Favorite Shirt

I don't know of a gardener who doesn't have a favorite shirt. You know: the one that's hung out to dry before "she who must be obeyed" lets you bring it into the house to wash. It has that certain feel. It doesn't bind or constrain anywhere. Mine is long-sleeved to help keep out the sun.

Hats are altogether another story. I like straws with a wide brim and the tie under the chin. Straws allow your head to breath, and the tie keeps it from falling off and being chewed up by the mower. As with the shirt, each gardener has that favorite hat that suits to a T.

Gloves, Too

Gloves are another part of the gardener's apparel. I use the brown, cloth ones, because I continually lose them and dig them up the next year or find them chewed up by the lawn mower where I dropped them. They tend to keep the hands and fingernails cleaner.

Also, don't forget that hand towel for the back pocket. I can't tell you how many times this comes in handy -- just run it under the hose and wipe off. An indispensable part of gardening.

Be comfortable while gardening. Wear proper clothing and hats. Use sunscreen (there's nothing wrong with prunes, but who wants to look like one?) and enjoy yourself.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.