An Accidental Gardener Dresses the Part



By Paula Ganzi Licata

A SWIPE at my wind-blown hair with a mud-caked glove has left me feeling like Scarlett O’Hara with a fistful of Tara’s red earth. As God is my witness, I’ll never plant impatiens in direct sunlight again.

I’m wearing baggy jeans, an oversize sweatshirt and a straw hat sprouting a straw daisy. I’m hideous. An über eyesore. The antithesis of those ”Sex and the City” sirens. Who am I? I’m the Accidental Gardener.

It took several seasons with my green-thumbed husband to stockpile this fashion statement. Growing up in an apartment in the boroughs didn’t require gardening clothes, so why save old sneakers and outdated styles?

Besides, with fair skin and a wicked fear of insects, I was a bug-zapping, shade-seeking, al-fresco-frowning anti-outdoorswoman.

But eventually Mother Nature had her way with me. It happened gradually, similar to the way my azalea bush changes colors from green to fuchsia in spring.

Initially, my gardening involvement consisted of admiring my husband’s handiwork. In time, Robert requested my help. This lackey position not only piqued my interest in flowers, but it also tested our relationship. Both garden and marriage survived.

Now I’m a gardener in my own right. Last spring I soloed. Thanks to me, cosmos were growing tall against the fence in our backyard, potted geraniums decorated our deck, impatiens were transferred from individual cells in plastic flats to the rich soil of my flower beds. I have a favorite potting soil, a set of tools serious enough to inspire a murder mystery, and a few pairs of well-worn gardening gloves.

My friend Diane Dobler of Glen Cove has a lush garden with tangerine-colored roses and big mopheads of blue and violet hydrangeas. Diane doesn’t wear gloves. ”I want to feel the flowers,” she explained.

I’m not there yet — I don’t want to feel anything. Gloves are my armor, the barrier between finger and slug, skin and spider. Initially, I wore surgical gloves beneath gardening gloves to protect my manicure, but that was too cumbersome. For wet chores, rubber gloves are best. (Find me a comfortable hazmat suit, and I’d consider it.)

Despite my squeamish approach to working the earth, I finally feel at home in the yard. But I fear that my wardrobe makes me stand out like a sore green thumb. Most gardeners wear shorts and T-shirts. I’m outfitted in a long-sleeved, high-necked shirt and long pants. While I’m confident that cotton shields me from ultraviolet rays, I’m not convinced it’s an effective defense against stinging insects.

In spite of the bugs, the sun and the heat, I love gardening. What are the telltale signs that you’re a gardener? Your husband brings home a dozen roses, and you find yourself wishing for a bag of mulch. The word manure is on your shopping list. You say things like, ”We need the rain.”

Last fall was unusually warm, enticing me into fantasies of bypassing winter. It wasn’t until Dec. 1 — a 69-degree day — that I decided to pull up the flowers and put away the pots. No more splashes of color out the kitchen window, no more dangling petunias on the deck. Even the squirrels, busy foraging for nuts, seemed annoyed by the changing seasons.

Standing there, looking at the gray and brown, the lackluster green lawn dotted with dead leaves, I suddenly realized that fall isn’t my favorite season anymore.

But now the blooms are back.

This season I’m wearing better backyard fashions: a frayed white button-down Ralph Lauren shirt (buttoned up) and a pair of green Banana Republic stretch slacks, the casualty of an uncapped pen. I’ve stopped throwing on ugly promotional sweatshirts of questionable blends.

Hey, Scarlett O’Hara knew when to pull down the portieres to dress up for the part. Perhaps my gardening garb won’t be spotted on the runways of Paris or Milan, but my Accidental Gardener line of lawnwear is gracing the driveway at the House of Licata. It could become the rage of Bellmore.

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