GREEN FINGERED

A good pair of gardening gloves can make grappling with roses seem almost a pleasure. Which brand is best?
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The Independent Culture
WITH all the safety warnings aimed at gardeners, tending your garden can seem a pursuit almost as hazardous as hang-gliding. If you don't electrocute yourself with the lawnmower, you can poke your eye out on a cane - not to mention the dangers lurking in thousands of poisonous plants.

Getting blisters on your hands, or having your fingers scratched by thorns, may not rank quite so high on the list of possible calamities, but it's still worth having a good pair of gardening gloves to protect yourself. There are many types on the market, from flimsy cotton gloves to seriously macho gauntlets. The problem is finding a pair that will protect you but still give enough flexibility to allow you to do delicate jobs, like tying twine or potting young plants without fumbling. We asked a panel of professional and amateur gardeners to try a selection. The results were good, but it's still worth remembering the advice of one of our more experienced testers, Mary Keen. In winter, she said, waterproof gloves are essential but in summer it doesn't much matter what you wear. Her favourites aren't fancy gardening gloves at all, but the kind used for unpacking freezers.

THE PANEL

Mary Keen, Independent on Sunday gardening writer; designer Anthony Noel, whose garden (at 17 Fulham Park Gardens, London SW6) is open today from 2.30-6pm, proceeds to charity; Ruth Schamroth and Klaus Rossard, keen gardeners.

THE TEST

The panel gave the gloves marks for comfort, dexterity, how much protection they gave, looks and value for money. Unless otherwise stated, the gloves were suitable for both men and women.

*SAINSBURY'S HOMEBASE

Leather palm glove, pounds l.99

This pair, with its leather palm and knitted cuff, was one of the least popular choices. The panel awarded it fairly low marks on all counts, including, despite its bargain price, value for money. Anthony Noel said: "Dexterity good, but too lightweight. The leather did not seem tough enough. Disappointing." He didn't think much of their looks either. Ruth Schamroth liked them, however. "A decent glove for all-round use. These were really comfortable and attractive looking, and appropriately priced," she said.

****TOWN & COUNTRY

Ladies' dotted jersey gloves, pounds 2.99

Of the women's gloves tested, these came out top. Women have longer fingers and narrower hands than men, say the manufacturers, so these have been specially designed to fit this shape. Ruth Schamroth particularly liked them, and picked them as her favourites: "Good lightweight gloves, well-priced. Very comfortable and flexible, allowing my hands to breathe. They give only light protection, but are suitable for a wide range of tasks". Mary Keen cautioned that the plastic dots, which cover the palm and fingers to give a better grip on garden tools, can soon wear out - "though on this pair, they are reinforced where it matters." They were considered very good value for money.

***BURTON MCCALL

Garden Handy gloves, pounds 10.95

These costly gloves are unmistakable, looking as if they have just been dipped half-way into a vat of glistening liquid rubber. The manufacturers claim that the coating, made of a substance called Nitrile, is waterproof and chemical-proof and makes the gloves tougher and more long-lasting than leather. Determined jabbing at them with a pair of scissors failed to puncture the surface - it seems miraculously to resist the blades. Anthony Noel loved them: "934 out of 10. They felt lovely, gave good dexterity, and are strong." The only drawback, he said, was the daisy motif on them. "I couldn't look a client in the eye wearing these," he said. Ruth Schamroth rated them highly: "Comfortable, and they seem to offer good protection. Mary Keen was less sure: "Too cumbersome, like gardening with a hot-water bottle on your hand. Too warm for summer, and expensive."

****TOWN & COUNTRY

Men's lined leather-palm gloves, pounds 5.99

Of the men's gloves, this padded gauntlet was the winner. The two men on our panel gave them an excellent report, though they are too bulky for delicate tasks. Anthony Noel commented: "Lovely and comfortable, nice and manly looking, best for tough work. If I needed to do a pruning job I'd probably wear these, even if it was just out of vanity. Seriously good gloves". Klaus Rossard, who has very broad fingers and could not get some other pairs on, found these the most comfortable. "Solidly made, with good stitching and well padded," he said. "These would be very good for autumn or winter work, and for heavy-duty tasks such as making pathways or fences, or shifting soil and bricks. They are too warm for summer, though, and too stiff for light gardening."

*GARDENWARE

Vinyl-impregnated cotton gloves 9510 (men's) and 9511 (women's), pounds 1.75

These lightweight waterproof gloves aroused little enthusiasm. Klaus Rossard was critical: "They feel awkward, they rub on the hand and the material doesn't feel pleasant. I felt like I was losing the gloves when I was working." Ruth Schamroth agreed: "The fabric is horrible to the touch, and isn't very flexible." But Mary Keen was more positive: "They don't have a wristband, but otherwise they are good gloves and good value for money".

***TOWN & COUNTRY

Men's suede cowhide gloves, pounds 7.99

This manufacturer scored well once again with these gloves, though they are expensive. Made of a soft, unlined leather, they are more suited than the other Town & Country pair for men, to jobs which demand nimble fingers. Klaus Rossard commented: "They are very comfortable, look good, and are thornproof. Suitable for all-round gardening work, in all seasons. A bit pricy, though". Anthony Noel liked them: "A nice all-rounder, for slightly lighter jobs. Good gloves."

**ANDERSON'S TRUCKER

Model GLO68, pounds 4.25

The panel thought these gloves were tough and gave good protection, but felt awkward to wear. Anthony Noel said: "They look great, at a good price, and are nice and strong. I liked the protective gauntlet. They could be more comfortable, though". Mary Keen gave them a poor rating, particularly on dexterity: "They have very clumsy, fat fingers; the cut doesn't fit long-fingered hands".

*ANDERSON'S COTTON PICKER

Model GWO38, pounds 1.99

Most panellists felt these lightweight floral gloves, covered with PVC dots, would offer little protection. Mary Keen liked them, though, saying they were "nice and long, and dainty" but warning that they might not last for heavy work. The gloves' looks put Ruth Schamroth off: "Comfortable and easy to use," she said, "but the pattern, colours and overall look are hideous. I wouldn't buy them for that reason alone". Anthony Noel commented: "Too thin, and I didn't like the colours."

STOCKISTS: Sainsbury's Homebase: for nearest branch phone 0181-784 7200;Town & Country: 01530 830990; Burton McCall Garden Handy: 0116 234 0800; Gardenware: available from garden centres; Anderson's: 01685-814000.

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