Yard gard

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And now for something completely different. Here’s a guest post from Catherine Berlin, a Buffalo attorney who now lives in Sweden and writes on style for the magazine I edit, Buffalo Spree.—Elizabeth

I should not be offering gardeners any advice on what to wear this summer. I don’t have the flower bed cred. Gardeners are a headstrong group, comfortable with Latin and quick with a blade. Seriously. Who else do you know willing to stand up to the few billion years of biology, chemistry, and astro physics that we call Nature and say, “Thanks, but I have something else in mind for the lot at 792 Pritchard Lane.”

It is not just a tough mindset that they have. It is a tough mindset that succeeds. Gardeners can coax blossoms out in winter, groom evergreens into Westminster poodles. They can beat invasive ivies into retreat. They know that from tulip to sedum, it is all about timing. Yet within all this discipline there is a magic. A soul shows through in each landscape and flower box. If you have a favorite street to walk, it is because of gardeners. Every driveway marks a new setting. Start by enjoying beech tree canopies. Move on to something more midsummer night dreamy. The next yard could be chiseled or languid, color coordinated. It could be explosive or arid or French. In fact, the aesthetic is so personal that in all my years of walking and wishing, I have identified only two common denominators in each true gardener’s display: The space feels inviting; every inch is hard work.

Unfortunately for me, the yard is dangerous work. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I rank gardening up there with farming. So much potential for pain and error. So little sympathy. Gardeners must master the invisible, the uncertain, and the intractable. To be a gardener is to be a control freak, a micromanager with a broad vision, undaunted by the fact that challenges appear suddenly from the sky, hide in the soil, or are buried underground. I am a person who gets daunted, and this blocks overall planning. I focus on the odd yard project that seems finite enough. But no yard project is finite. Those ants are coming from somewhere. Dig, dig, dig. Hey, as long as I’m digging, maybe that tree would look better over there. Dig, dig, dig. Who lays sod over an old patio? Dig, dig, dig, curse.

And with all this digging and cursing, I forget about my body, which in turn distracts me further from world creation. I never learn how much sun is really “half sun” or that plant tags have spacing recommendations for a reason. No, I’m too busy discovering that my clavicle is more brittle than old shrubbery roots, and that rakes left in the grass will attack. Like in cartoons. My eyes have a blind spot for stinging nettles, and by late afternoon my back won’t unbend. My mother could tame a forest and only have to reapply lipstick before driving off to her garden club. All it takes is a flat of marigolds to make me look like a doomed character from a young adult dystopia. “What happened to you?” somebody always asks. “I work in a quarry,” I always lie.

No, real gardeners out there don’t need my advice. This is more an indulgence, a chance to list a few items I depend upon for safety and sanity in my struggle to conquer crabgrass. It is also a request. If in your travels you ever happen to see anyone outfitted in the items listed below, please stop and say “hi.” Stop and say hi and then encourage me to call a professional, or my mother.

Ralph Lauren Long-Sleeve, Boat Neck Tissue Tee. This is the first item out of the drawer. The boat neck and long sleeves keep my chest and forearms out of direct sun. Fitted enough to keep loose parts from snagging on a branch or gate, it also shields whatever I wear underneath, without overheating me. In white and bright colors, the tee offers a good spirit lift, especially when worn over a favorite cami or tank top—just enough shows through. As you will see, it is also the only item that doesn’t make me look like a Marvel Comics’ day laborer.

2XU Compression Sleeve, and McDavid Hex Pad Arm Sleeve (top). It only takes a dirty look to bruise my forearms now, and the marks take weeks to disappear. I asked my dermatologist if there was a fix.  “A fix? Well, sure, if you have a time machine. You need to go back to when you were a kid. And this time use sun screen.” I’d have to go farther back than my youth. I’d have to get cracking on an earlier production of broad spectum protection. So I tried something else instead—a Jobst compression sleeve. It was too thin to prevent new scrapes and bruises, but the improved circulation helped old marks disappear. Lately I use the compression sleeves worn by runners. On outdoor work days, I add a wrap. I’m thinking that the McDavid football arm guard will give me protection and graduated circulation all in one product, but I’ll wait until it ships in pink.

Stetson Baytown Straw Cowboy Hat. Baseball caps just don’t cut it anymore. They leave my neck and most of the lower face too sun exposed. Wide brim beach and gardening hats do what they promise, but they also flop, and a floppy brim drags down a face. The Stetson Baytown Straw has an almost 4-inch-wide brim and a dense weave, and does something that almost only cowboy hats do: it smiles. When a hat brim smiles, it lifts up everything underneath it, including an “I’ve worked all day” face. The pinch front crest of the Baytown favors a woman’s smaller jawline. If you think you can get used to the idea of wearing a cowboy hat, give it a try. Save the Tilley for the days when you are working in tight spaces. A cowboy hat is wide and does not droop—all good things until you need to be small.

Timberland Canvas Fold-Down Boots. I use an ax. I carry spades. I am not sure if my chopping and digging counts as gardening. It feels more like cross training and anger management. Regardless, all I have to do is just think of picking up a shovel and my ankles panic. For this reason, clogs and old sneakers won’t do. I need a boot, preferably one with a strong toe and with coverage towards the shin. No one boot is perfect though. A good tread prevents slipping. A good tread tracks dirt inside. I have kids and serious coffee needs, and if I have to lace and unlace too much during in-house trips, I stop unlacing after a while. Then I have to start sweeping floors. Then I wonder if we have wine for dinner.  I’ve been experimenting with the Timberland Canvas Fold Downs. I can lace up, or leave relaxed. The Reebok Stealth Women’s Desert Tan Composite Toe Side Zipper Boot provides military level protection, with sneaker comfort and a side zipper. The new floral print Caterpillar boot makes me smile, while the Wolverine steel toe, waterproof sneaker strikes me as a wise investment. There is a pair of Sorel’s that caught my eye, but I would probably be afraid to get them dirty. I have one tee shirt, but five pairs of work books must-haves.

Citizens of Humanity ‘Dylan’ High Rise Loose Fit Jeans. As a work pant, the boyfriend jean has a lot going for it. Plenty of pockets lose enough to drop things into, and a waist that keeps you covered no matter how far you bend over or dehydrate. The looseness also keeps air circulating around your legs and lower torso for coolness, and the denim protects your skin. The work pant used to be whatever I didn’t have the heart to throw away, but no more. As long as they are fashionable enough to wear with favorite sandals to a favorite coffee place, it is a must. I have never seen it written anywhere that “hard work” is a synonym for “ugly.”

Bose Wireless Headphones. This one’s for sanity and safety. Cords are a menace. Music and podcasts and audio books are a godsend. And thanks to a whole lotta NFL coaches and Dr. Dre, big is in. The one drawback is that my Bose only fit over a baseball cap. Samsung Level U Headphones are a wireless that hang on the back of your neck. No matter what it takes, wireless is the way to go when working with any kind of hand tool, and it lets you keep your phone on something other than your body.

Posted by

Catherine Berlin

on March 29, 2016 at 7:15 am, in the category Guest Rants.


  1. Me too. I wear old jeans or pants gleaned from yard sales and the Goodwill. My current favorite pair of work pants have some poly content as well as cotton. The knees still haven’t worn out after 2 years which is a major record for me. T-Shirts might be cast offs from husband or Goodwill – main requirement is to cover the backside. And over it all is an old linen shirt (yard sale treasure) that has stains everywhere but is a good sun and bug shield.

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