What clothes do you wear to garden in? Should they be stylish or practical?
It was a question that came up this week when we were watching Monty Don’s new series of ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces’. It’s quite clear that Monty’s a fan of practical attire, usually found meandering through country estates in the Cotswolds or Yorkshire dales in a blue boiler suit or smock. Charlie Dimmock also goes for comfort over style… and I have to say I agree it is the best way to conduct gardening business.
Doing some reading on the subject, I came across a brilliant article in the Telegraph on the style and personal brand of one of the most famous gardeners of our time – Lancelot Capability Brown. After all, what you wear says a lot about your personality – so the saying goes.
One aspect of Brown’s life and career which is often overlooked is what a savvy businessman he was – not only as a gardener, but also as an extremely canny manipulator of his own image.
First and foremost there was the nickname – ‘capability’ which, Brown said, came from his habit of musing on the “capabilities” of landscapes. Clever, as it simultaneously ensured his clients thought he was ‘capable’ of all things gardening! Not a bad brand association to have.
There was also Brown’s ability to be anywhere and everywhere at once – in an era long before iPhones and emails. He travelled huge distances on horseback and kept in constant touch with his aristocratic clients by letter – ensuring they were always in the loop about his latest endeavours.
Finally, and back to my original point, there was Brown’s image. As the offspring of a land agent and a house servant, he knew that he could never be considered the social equal of his clients (amongst them were many MPs and even the Prime Minister) – though he was quite often invited to dine with them. Brown was always careful to ensure that in his portraits he was depicted in the plain clothes of an unpretentious working man.
Manipulation of one’s image has been important to landscape designers ever since. Gertrude Jekyll, for example, presented herself as a dowdy spinster when in fact she was an avant-garde artist.
It just goes to show that you should wear the attire that is appropriate for the task in hand. If that’s an office, it should be a corporate suit, but if it’s a garden, it should be hard toed boots, a pair of shabby old trousers and a warm fleece. And that applies to everyone – whether you are on the telly or simply pottering around on the allotment.
Monty Don, we love you!