In the Garden:
New England
January, 2007
Regional Report

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Slip on a pair of goatskin gardening gloves and you'll be hooked!

A Glove for Every Purpose

I don't consider myself to have a glove fetish, but I admit I have five pairs of winter gloves. They all have different functions for different activities, and I use them all (or at least I would if we got some decent snow). So don't ask me why I expected to get by with only one pair of gardening gloves. I received a pair for my birthday a few years ago -- a beautiful dark red goatskin, satiny smooth and very flexible. I never would have bought such a nice pair of gloves to use just for, you know, digging in the dirt. I had always bought cheap gloves of assorted materials, and I never gave them much thought.

But those goatskin gloves spoiled me. I took good care of them, wiping off the dirt when I took them off, and laying them flat to dry. No matter what I asked of them, they performed beautifully and comfortably. The problem was, I asked them to do everything -- digging, potting, weeding, pruning, scrabbling around in the soil. They had a lot of life in them, and might still be keeping me company if I hadn't worn them out while building a new retaining wall. The abrasion of the stone tore holes in the fingers. Goatskin's supple texture makes it less than ideal for handling hard, rough surfaces. Cowhide gloves would have been a better choice.

Still, I went right out and bought myself another pair of those red goatskin gloves, which I reserve for the jobs they're best suited for. And I started buying gloves with the task in mind.

Each type of glove has its merits and limitations, so to protect our hands -- and our gloves -- against damage, it's worth matching the gloves to the job.

Leather Gloves
Different types of leather lend different qualities to a glove. Goatskin gloves are supple and give decent dexterity for many gardening tasks. They keep hands relatively dry and don't stiffen after they get wet. They are too soft for working with stone, concrete, and brick. Sheepskin gloves are similar in comfort, but they tear more easily than most any other leather. Some goatskin and sheepskin gloves can be machine washed.

The most rugged are cowhide and pigskin gloves -- your typical work gloves. These are strong enough for handling rough surfaces and for planting trees and shrubs. They also are the most protective for working with power equipment. Their downside is they offer limited dexterity, especially when lined for winter warmth, and they stiffen after getting wet.

Cloth Gloves
These run the gamut, from hardware store cheapos that are ok for working in dry soil to the colorful, hand-hugging Foxgloves, which are the best gloves of all for dexterity. If you work with prickly plants, be sure to choose a pair with palms and fingers that are reinforced with latex. Most cloth gloves can be machine washed, which can extend their life by removing dirt that can rub holes in the cloth. A gardener can easily go through a pair of these in a year.

Rubber-Coated Gloves
A step up in protection from the reinforced cotton gloves are those covered entirely by a rubber or PVC coating. These are good protection from rose thorns. If they fit fairly snugly, they aren't too clumsy. I had a pair that was too large, and they kept slipping right off my hands when they were in the middle of a rose bush. Ouch. These gloves are handy for mixing soil and working in wet soil (which we shouldn't do if we can avoid it ... ruins soil structure and all) and cold soil. They can be hot and sweaty in midsummer.

Other Materials
Every year there are gloves made with new fibers, in new functional designs, and it's worth checking them out to see if they solve a problem you've had with a current pair. I found my new favorite rose gloves (from West County Gardener) at a gardening show, made of a synthetic material that's comfortable and pliable and very protective against thorns. And they're red!

The Fit
Don't buy any gloves that say "One Size Fits All." They don't. Ideally, you should be able to try on gloves before you buy. Make a fist and check for any uncomfortable spots that pinch or pull. If you can't try them on, here's a way to gauge your size.

Measure your flat hand around your knuckles (not including your thumbs). If your hand measures 6-1/2 to 7-1/4 inches, you need size small gloves. If you measure 7-1/2 to 7-3/4 inches, you need medium. If you measure 8 to 8-3/4 inches, large; 9 to 9-3/4 inches, extra large; 10 to 10-3/4 inches, extra extra large.

Your gloves are as much of a tool as anything in the tool shed, so invest in what you need. And if that functional pair of gloves happens to also be beautiful ... well, what's the harm!


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