Photo courtesy of Mary-Kate Mackey.
It’s that time of year when Oregon deserves its rainy reputation. I live in a part of the world that receives approximately 45 inches of rain, and most of it comes barreling in off the Pacific Ocean in a series of winter storms.
In between the downpours, we experience what are locally termed “sun breaks.” But even then, the air is moist (you could say dank), all plant material is saturated, and daytime temperature highs can hover in the low 40s.
There’s plenty to do here in terms of winter gardening, from late fall-early spring pruning to incessant weeding, but working outdoors now means cold cold hands.
For the rest of you who live below Zone 8, I’m describing fall and spring conditions. So at the holiday season, when gardeners can lay out broad hints for gift ideas from family and friends, or are looking for just the right present for a fellow gardener, I would like to recommend my favorite cold- and/or wet-weather gloves.
The following is my unsolicited and unpaid-for opinion.
The great glove search
Over the years, I’ve gotten quite a glove collection, because as they get soaked — and convey the cold to my skin — I change them out for a new pair. On winter days, I can go through as many as six pairs.
Some, like my Foxgloves are comfortable but strictly for dry-weather gardening. Others, like my nitrile-coated Atlas gloves resist water — at least until the backs get wet — but are thin protection against the cold. And my thicker Bionic gloves still allow water to seep in.
Then one year at the annual Garden Writers of America symposium, I came across a booth on the display floor that featured West County gloves. They had several different kinds, but I tried on those that were touted as “waterproof.”
The fit was snug but comfortable. They were thick with insulation and more clumsy than what I was used to, but winter chores are not about refined gardening or picking up dimes with your gloves on.
When I got home I ordered a pair — not cheap, they list retail at $31.95 on the website — but I wanted to see just how waterproof they could be, and I was willing to pay more than my usual glove price to find out.
The website has a printout of a hand so I could measure exactly what size to buy. When the gloves arrived, I immediately pulled them on for a test run.
That day I wore them to prune a fruit tree — so far so good. I handled soaking wet lichen-covered wood with absolutely no moisture inside the gloves. Then they got grubby with an hour’s worth of weeding in cold, wet clay soil. I even plucked some leaves off the surface of a small water feature. I never needed to change them out.
Although the finger tips and palms seem like leather, they’re not. The gloves are machine washable. Most of my others go through the washing machine, too, but for these waterproof gloves, I’ve found a better cleaning technique:
I simply come in at the end of a muddy day and, with the gloves still in place, I wash my hands with a squirt of soap and rinse the mud off in the laundry sink. If I take a certain care not to slop water over the wrist edges, the insides of my gloves stay dry. Then I take them off and hang them up, so the exterior surfaces can dry. The gloves are soft and malleable for the next time I wear them.
A glove valentine
I was so sold on these gloves I bought a waterproof pair for my husband — a man who can get cranky about high-priced gardening items. “What’s wrong with leather work gloves from the farm store?” was his response to my present.
Then he wore his new gloves to climb a ladder and unblock a gutter full of pine needles and oak leaves. By the time he came down off the ladder, he too was a happy camper with still-warm (and dry) hands.
Have you found a great pair of gloves that performs exactly the way you wish they would? Leave a comment below and we’ll share your information for gardener gift giving — for yourself and others who want to work with warm (and dry) hands.
Mary-Kate Mackey, co-author of “Sunset’s Secret Gardens — 153 Design Tips from the Pros” and contributor to the “Sunset Western Garden Book,” writes a monthly column for the Hartley Greenhouse webpage and numerous articles for Fine Gardening, Sunset, and other magazines. She teaches at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism & Communication. She writes about water in the garden for Diggin’ It.
Editor’s note: To read more by Mary-Kate, check our blog archive. Gardening articles on a variety of topics can be found at the Monitor’s main gardening page. Also see our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest.