Is it wrong to be in love with your garden gloves?

Consider that garden gloves protect against thorn pricks, bug bites (unless the bug is in the glove, but I'll tell you that story another time), blisters from shovels or rakes or scrapes from weeds. They come in all sizes, colors and makes, from the softest and most supple deerskin to special latex-free, powder-free vinyl gloves for people with sensitive hands. The makers of the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bat have launched a line of Bionic Gloves, made of flexible sheepskin and strategically placed padding to reduce vibration and hand fatigue. The Arthritis Foundation has endorsed the gloves for their hand support. Gloves used by medical professionals have crossed over to the gardening realm, including latex surgical and nitrile surgical gloves.

There are still "gloves off" gardeners, folks who like to feel soil and seeds with their bare hands. Yet, as we slog through wet clay soil, our hands need protection. Likewise, bare hand contact with wet soil amendments, such as compost or manure, is a no-no. If you have a cut, you risk infection. At the very least, if you are dealing with particularly smelly materials, your hands will smell.

Different jobs demand different gloves. Pruning and hoeing require thicker gloves, perhaps made from cowhide or pigskin, as pigskin tends to outwear other leathers. These leathers are loose - if you want a tighter leather glove, choose goatskin or deerskin, which are also more supple leathers than cowhide or pigskin. Sometimes leather gloves are treated with lanolin, which in addition to protecting the leather serves as a hand moisturizer for the gardener. Pigskin has larger hair follicle pores, allowing the glove to breathe better. You might consider oiling your leather gloves to help guard them against wet conditions.

Weeding requires a flexible glove with fingertips that can stand up to the digging and pulling. One popular brand, Foxgloves, were patterned after women's dress gloves from the 1950s, but made of nylon for durability and Lycra Spandex for four-way stretch. They're pricey, but their wearers swear by them. After all, these are your hands we're talking about!

A less expensive option has popped up at nurseries, dollar and discount stores. These garden gloves typically have a thin and flexible latex coating that covers the fingertips and palm, with the top of the glove constructed of a breathable fabric. They are thin, so they let you feel the weeds and seeds. Because the gloves are durable, you can work with heavier and rougher materials. An elasticized top prevents the gloves from falling off, and garden detritus from making its way into the gloves. The latex grip lets you handle tools. Atlas makes many of these gloves. If you like to run your latex gloves through the washing machine, you can prevent them from getting gummy by line drying.

For people with sensitive skins, Allerderm makes vinyl gloves that don't contain chemicals used in ordinary synthetic gloves. They're waterproof and run less than $5 a pair. You can also wear glove liners, disposable cotton knits that are popular in hospital labs or the electronics industry, and cover them with vinyl gloves. Atlas makes a glove from nitrile, the material used in surgical gloves that is appropriate for some otherwise sensitive skins.

If you are working with lots of water, or waterlogged soil, you might consider wearing the inexpensive, knit mitts underneath a tall rubber glove. That way you'll get insulation, plus a waterproof barrier.

As for the issue of cost, I'll just say that if you lose gloves frequently, you might not want to pay a lot for yours. Expensive gloves can get lost just as easily as less expensive gloves. The previously mentioned Bionic Gloves run about $50 - Foxgloves or Womanswork gloves can cost about half that amount. I have lost a pair of Womanswork gloves, and since then I have turned to a variety of less expensive brands and makes, making sure to alternate my handwear, depending upon the need.

I keep my pigskins for winter and spring gardening, for their ability to stand up to rose thorns, light mud and water-soaked clay soil. If there's lots of water to deal with, I'll turn to elbow high and long-cuffed, orange waterproof gloves with a synthetic lining, making sure to take them off when my hands start to sweat. For grubbing around in the borders, where I'm working my hands and want to feel roots and rocks, it's got to be the lightweight, rubber on the palm and cotton on the top gloves.

Finally, for just looking good while holding a bouquet, cup of something hot and soothing or glass of wine, I'll put on my new minty green, lined latex gloves that I call my Audrey Hepburns. Tea, anyone?

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online to peterson@pacifier.com

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