Garden Style: Bikini, Boots or Button-down?

Katharine White gardened in tweed suits and Ferragamo pumps. Pat Buckley preferred a bikini when deadheading her Connecticut rose garden. But what to wear to garden in a public space, Riverside Park, where I was not only visible but a kind of minor attraction?

As I tried to put together the perfect outfit, I had a few things to consider. First, since I travel crosstown to the garden and often make plans for afterward, I needed to come up with the equivalent of a “day to night” ensemble, but more casual. Also, since I’d become a neighborhood fixture for the playgrounders, joggers and other park regulars, I wanted to add some style to what is, after all, a “quality of life” project. But I also needed my clothes to protect me—working this garden is fraught with peril, from broken glass and slippery rocks to prickly thorns.

Jeans were the obvious choice—not Sevens, but classic Lee brand, bought in rural Vermont, with a kind of hick provenance and generous back pockets that easily accommodate my Felco pruners. Minimalist black sneakers (think Audrey Hepburn in Two for the Road), great for scaling rocks or sidewalks, worked perfectly. I paired a simple gray T-shirt, worn a bit tight—gardening is nothing if not sensual—with a white, long-sleeved agnès b button-down that I hung on a tree to stay crisp while I worked. A huge, wide-brimmed straw hat—a baseball cap would have been too prosaic—perfected my farmer chic.

I’d like to think my outfit reflected what E.B. White wrote about Katharine in his intro to Onward and Upward in the Garden: “She simply refused to dress DOWN to a garden … she walked among her flowers as she walked among her friends.” Garden Style: Bikini, Boots or Button-down?