GARDENING SHOES OR "GARDEN SHOES"?
Note that I said "gardening shoes", not "garden shoes".
There is a difference.
"Gardening shoes" imply footwear that combines function, comfort and safety while working outdoors.
"Garden shoes" are an amalgam of style and color, with an overabundance of plastic. Their job: make the gardener look good, as in "Don't these purple sandals complement my English Lavender? And they go so well with the mauve wall color in our dining room!"
"Gardening shoes" are worn by horticultural heroes for whom the term "sweat shirt" means "cool weather warmth" or "The stinky, wet short-sleeve tee with the 1977 Lynyrd Skynyrd Tour Schedule on the back that gets worn every Saturday".
These are the gardeners who are dripping perspiration by 10 a.m., after spending the early morning shoveling, wheelbarrowing and transplanting.
"Garden shoes" are on the feet of rose snippers, leaf fondlers and blossom sniffers who wander through their garden after Sunday brunch, a copy of Sunset magazine in one hand, a Mimosa in the other. Their main job: straighten up the area so that their landscape service doesn't think they are slobs. Their shoes were not constructed to traverse any of these outdoor conditions: mud, weeds, snails or walking any distance more than the 70 feet between the front porch and the back fence.
And that's assuming they have a "backyard". Sorry, but that patio/outdoor kitchen (complete with overhead fan and pizza oven) inlaid with the 400 square feet of travertine tile that supports six oversized terracotta planters from Pottery Barn doesn't count. This group can take a swiveling seat in their Martha Stewart Bistro table and chair setup and go back to reading the artichoke quiche recipes in Sunset while us gardeners talk practical footwear.
What do hard working gardeners want in a shoe? A shoe that doesn't distract from a day in the yard. A shoe that a gardener can spend the entire day wearing without a complaint, racking up the miles and the fingernail dirt. A worry-free shoe that doesn't make you stop in mid-pruning to take care of blisters, cramped toes or sticky weeds that work their way into the socks. A shoe that repels water during a broken sprinkler repair job. A shoe with a solid sole for shoveling and a reinforced toe for when you drop your shovel. A shoe with no laces to come undone. A shoe with a sole that has some grip on slippery surfaces but doesn't track excess mud into the house.
No single shoe meets all those requirements. Some, though, come close. Among the popular gardening shoe brands mentioned by the radio listeners over the past couple of years are Bogs, Sloggers, Muckboots, Crocs, Blundstones. Me? I prefer either the Blundstones or Merrells. My wife likes her Birki-style clogs.
A review, based on 30 years of yardwork, as well as input from other gardeners. The grading system:
**** Great for gardening use. You won't think about them at all.
*** Recommended, with certain limitations. Good backup pair.
** Feels good when you put them on... you'll regret it later.
* Great while sitting on the patio. Hey, is there something burning in your outdoor pizza oven?
Function: *** Does it all for Pacific Northwest gardeners.
Comfort: ** Fine, for about 15 minutes.
Safety: **** Ain't nothin' gonna attack you through that!
Function: **** Good for hauling, climbing, shopping!
Comfort: **** All day gardening, any you don't think about your feet!Safety: *** Stiff toe for when you miss with the shovel.
Function: *** Does it all; laces attract sticky weeds and mud.
Comfort: *** With the right socks, yes.
Safety: *** Won't stop the mud in the house.
Function: *** Hard sole is good for digging.
Comfort: **** Wear 'em all day!
Safety: *** Clean before going inside, or you'll never hear the end of it.
Function: *** Not for digging hard clay soil.
Comfort: **** Yes, until the insides are gravelly.Safety: *** Watch your ankles for insect bites.
Function: *** A harder sole is better for digging.
Comfort: *** Excellent, until wet.
Safety: ** Foxtails stick in laces.
Function: * Have you ever tried digging in sandals?
Comfort: ** Fine, til the bottoms of your feet get sweaty.Safety: * Choose nail polish to match stubbed toes.
Function: * Matches blooms of "Cherish" rose.
Comfort: ** While sitting, drinking Mimosas...sure!
Safety: * "Mary Jane" style subjects foot to hot, dropping ashes.
Function: * Compacts soil. Twists ankles.
Comfort: * If you like the feel of nipple rings, you'll like these.
Safety: * Not for use during backyard games of "Twister".
Function: * Slug squishing keeps feet cool!
Comfort: ** Fine, until you step on a rock.Safety: * At least your socks won't bunch up.