Blood, Sweat & Dirt

It’s hard for gardeners to stay clean

By Anita Clevenger
February 2020

My husband says it’s like being married to Pigpen, the notoriously dirty character in Peanuts.

I might be cleaned up and ready to go out for the evening, but then notice a plant that needs water or run into the garden to check something. The next thing I know, my shirt is wet and smudged, my fingernails are grungy and there is debris in my hair. There have been occasions when I have had to wash up and change clothes twice before we finally pull out of the driveway.

I simply can’t stay clean.

I recently went to a jeweler to have a ring resized. I scrubbed my nails before I left the house, but was abashed that one of my nails was still dirty when I put out my hand for the fitting. The jeweler assured me that she too was a gardener, and had given up on manicures and spotless nails long ago.

We compared hands and talked about how we squished aphids off our roses with our bare fingers. If you see a gardener with greenish nails, it’s probably from bug juice.

Rose growers not only get dirty, they get hurt. When visiting a rose garden in Japan, I found it difficult to communicate with my translator until I shoved up my sleeve and showed the scratches on my arm. She beamed, shoved up her own sleeve, pointed to similar marks and declared, “Sisters!” Our conversation flowed after that.
No gardener that I know wants to be dirty or injured, but it’s an occupational hazard. The right clothing helps. A garden apron will keep your shirt clean, and give you a place to carry tools and gloves. I wear bib overalls made of tightly woven twill that protect my legs. The overalls have built-in knee pads and ample pockets. Long-sleeved denim shirts shield my arms.

​I’ve tried many different gardening gloves, looking for styles that are comfortable. Gloves don’t do any good if they are in my pocket or on the ground. Two different styles work best for me, depending on the job.

For weeding and light gardening, I like tough and flexible nitrile-dipped gloves. However, only the fingers and palms of the gloves are coated, so they don’t provide much protection to the backs of the hands. 

For roses and other prickly plants, I wear rose gloves, which are attached to gauntlets and fully protect hands and lower arms. They come in a variety of materials. My favorites are made of breathable and washable synthetic suede. 

All gloves reduce your dexterity. I set my cellphone to use voice commands to take a photo or place a call, and pair it to my Fitbit so I can check callers’ identities or read text messages without taking off my gloves. 

Gloves also make it difficult to tie up a plant. Renowned rose gardener Stephen Scanniello has a partial solution. He cuts off the tips of the thumb, and first and second fingers on his gloves so he can readily tie knots. His exposed fingers may still get stuck, but the rest of his hands stay safe.   

To deal with dirty or broken nails, I keep nail brushes, clippers and files in my car and tool bag. I’ve put nail brushes at every sink in the house and in my shower.

It’s important to wear sunblock when you are outside, but dirt will stick to it. If you are going somewhere after you’ve been in the garden, be sure to wash your face (and reapply sunblock).

Many endeavors are said to require blood, sweat and tears. While we gardeners often have disappointments in the garden, let’s hope our tears are few and bloodshed is at a minimum. Sweat and dirt, however, are inevitable.   

Anita Clevenger is a platinum Sacramento County Master Gardener. For answers to gardening questions, contact the UC Master Gardeners at (916) 876-5338 or, or visit Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento. The next Open Garden will be Saturday, Feb. 8, from 9 a.m.–noon at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, 11549 Fair Oaks Blvd. in Fair Oaks.

Stay up-to-date with our always 100% local newsletter!

* indicates required
Type of Newsletter
Share via
Copy link