Urban gardener, Cleve West: Nudes' corner

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The Independent Online

I'll be studying the by-laws at the allotment this morning to see if disrobing is prohibited - as today, in case you didn't know, is the third annual World Naked Gardening Day (WNGD).

If all is well, I'll have one eye on the weather and the other on the lookout for anyone brave

enough to don their birthday suit - before deciding whether or not to join them. I've done it in the privacy of my own garden. Actually, that's not true. I've been naked in our garden (usually at the dead of night to break up a cat fight), but have never wilfully gardened in the nude.

It may not be as exhilarating as swimming in the raw but gardening can bring out the naturist in people. Sunshine on skin, fresh air blowing away the cobwebs from nether regions, all engendering a feeling of purity, health and well-being. Many frown upon such behaviour and see it as nothing more than bad taste from a bunch of extroverts. Still, gardening naked is hardly likely to inspire sexual desire. Who could be turned on by someone wearing nothing but wellies and a belt carrying a pair of Felco secateurs?

If I'm honest, the thought of gardening naked in the fresh air really does appeal. I once revelled, buff-bare, in a remote coomb on Exmoor. The sensation of a light breeze and gentle sun on skin was memorable - but rudely interrupted when a dog appeared from nowhere. Presuming that its owner was not far behind, I legged it back to where my shorts were hidden, only then to encounter a bad-tempered ram who had me sitting (or rather swaying) in a very small and rather whippy silver birch for 15 minutes (fortunately after I'd retrieved my shorts).

The experience has obviously left me scarred for life, as I would be far too self-conscious to strip now. Even if I were unabashed gardening naked, I would immediately bring to mind all those dangly bits that might get trapped, pinched, spiked, stung, ripped, nicked and cut. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. If you feel inspired to show some flesh today please avoid chainsaws and other power tools, where flying debris is liable to cause injury. On no account use (and apologies if the uncomfortable connotation here makes you reach for the smelling salts) a stump grinder.

The idea really is to relax and enjoy the experience so WNGD is simply encouraging people to get their kit off and do some of the lighter gardening chores - either alone or among friends and family, in private or, where the opportunity presents itself, in public. Britain's celebrated naked gardeners are Ian and Barbara Pollard, owners of Abbey House gardens in Malmesbury, Wiltshire (www.abbeyhousegardens.co.uk). Gardeners' World featured the garden in 2001 when it was first opened to naturists and around 200 out of 250 visitors bared all to enjoy the two-hectare garden. There are several 'clothes optional' days this year, the first being 3 June.

If you're game to take part in today's celebration you will, no doubt, experience the full range of innuendos from, 'would you like to hold my besom?' to 'can I scarify your thatch?' But don't let it put you off from the chance to feel liberated - naked gardening will bring you as close to the natural world as you'll ever get. And it costs nothing.

The more I think about it, though, the allotment may not be an ideal place to get your kegs off. For a start there will be children about and there really isn't time to warn anyone who might get offended. And despite the warm spring we're having, who's to say that the weather will be up to it? The old phrase, 'Ne'er cast a clout till May is out' is often used by gardeners warning us not to plant out frost-tender plants until the end of May. 'Clout' refers to clothing, so the saying has as much, if not more, meaning for naturists as gardeners - especially male gardeners, where shrinkage (a term you won't find in any horticultural glossary) is a distinct reality.

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