My master plan of allotment winter work has gone by the board. The changeable weather has got the upper hand all the time and one just has to take advantage of every favourable opportunity.
As important as choosing the right task for the weather is choosing what to wear to keep warm, dry and comfortable for as long as possible. A 50-year-old book of mine by Percy Thrower, the first television gardener, shows him wearing a checked shirt and tie sometimes with a tweed jacket and, in winter, a woollen overcoat. We’ve moved on from those days. Many hobbies have specialised gear. There’s the cyclist in featherweight dayglo Lycra. Fishermen have distinguishing many-pocketed jerkins, and golfers have diamond-patterned jumpers and polo shirts. Garden centres will sell you any number of tools and gadgets, but apart from gardening gloves and an occasional wide-brimmed hat, I haven’t noticed any garments specially made for gardeners.
The choice of dress for the allotment is a personal one, but I know I have some very specific requirements for my outfits. I need pockets for string and knife. A secure pocket for my phone would save having to hunt among the strawberry beds when I’ve lost it.
It’s good to have something long enough so there are no gaps round my middle as weeding and planting often mean crouching down or kneeling.
I always try to set out from home feeling warm. The wartime land girls wore an early version of this year’s current fashion for onesies, albeit in a no-nonsense drab brown, with some features still useful today.
Digging certainly keeps me warm but there are other fiddly winter tasks, such as pruning, which don’t. Fleece can be cosy and easy to wash but it’s not always the best. It isn’t waterproof and the wind can whistle through it. Most days I prefer an old quilted thornproof jacket.
For the extremities, nothing beats handknitted wool socks inside my wellies. Mine were made by expert knitter Jane, who has a neighbouring plot. I like thin silk gloves from a climbing shop inside my thermal gardening gloves.
Humphing wet bags of compost or old prunings are mucky tasks. I’ve just been admiring my gardening friend Louise’s new answer to this problem. She has made herself an oversized, calf-length pinnie from a length of waterproof-coated kitchen fabric styled on those worn by gardeners long ago. It may catch on.