The Skinny on Naked History: Nudity’s Not Just for Gardening

Ancient Olympics in Greece

Hooray, hooray for the first Saturday in May, when we can all take a break from the frictions and fictions of the modern world and connect instead with our history and humanity by celebrating World Naked Gardening Day

Bold as it seems, dropping the duds for a day reconnects us with how mankind has lived for most of its existence, at least in warmer climes. In certain remote parts of the world today, men, women and children still start their day by doffing their clothes and pursuing their chores, just as their ancestors had done. In fact, in these cultures, clothing is still reserved mostly for celebrations. For them, every day is World Naked Gardening Day

How did we wind up so bundled up? And what connections to our gardening past – including lawn-mowing – are today helping revive interest in restoring these natural connections? Here’s the skinny.

The Greek connection

The Greek poet Hesiod became an early advocate for nude horticulture (not that they needed one) when he summarized the advice of Demeter, goddess of seasons and harvests, this way: “Sow naked, and plough naked, and harvest naked if you wish to bring in all Demeter’s fruits in due season.” In these modern times, we might debate the hygiene of hairy, naked men bundling our green beans, but the reality then was, naked farming was common and soiled clothing was suspect.

When they weren’t naked farming, athletic Greek men were competing au natural in the Olympics when they began in 776 BCE. The reason? Well, although women were not allowed to attend male athletic events in Greece back then, an alternate but more practical reason for athletic disrobing may go to the legend of an athlete named Orsippus of Megara. As the legend goes, Orsippus either loses his loincloth and wins his Olympic race, prompting others to toss theirs. It inspired male athletic nakedness for centuries.

Wine and spirituality

Winemakers, in particular, prized the spiritual and holistic benefits of naked agriculture, reasoning that a harvest conducted in happiness would please the wine gods. In Georgia on the Black Sea, vintners would strip down and harvest their crop under a full moon when the sap is highest in the vines, thereby optimizing their harvest and eliminating the risk of fabric contamination.

The practice, which inspired grape harvests for 4,000 years, is experiencing a rebirth today by vintners like Australian winemaker Mike Hayes of Symphony Hill Wines, who continues his full-moon full moon harvests as part of a Churchill Fellowship.

Woodstock liberates the community

On a societal level, nudity was tightly confined in North America until the baby boom hippies unleashed the beast at Woodstock. Slowly, believers stepped loose from society’s nudist label to spread the communal celebration, most often through fundraising events that challenged doubters to reconsider the naked body as a freedom symbol.

Suddenly, well-covered cities like Chicago and Portland, Ore., were hosting World Naked Bike Rides and 5K runs, Florida cities were hosting annual streaking and even nude boating events, and the American Association for Nude Recreation was explaining the growth in nude beaches and resorts to baffled American families, inviting them in. Ironically, in the century in which the fully-dressed Summer Olympics took the world stage, a grassroots uptick in natural naked outdoor fun echoed its own beginnings.

Backyard nude nooddling continues to grow, thanks in part to the endorsement of Hollywood practitioners, including “Clueless” star Alicia Silverstone, “Cheers” alum Woody Harrelson and “Hitch” star Eva Mendes.

Back to the garden … for pay?

Naked composter
Australia’s Bare All Cleaners nude cleaning service also offers an exterior option.

As annual events like World Naked Gardening Day continue to coax us back to clothes-free communing, a surprising new wrinkle has taken root overseas: Naturist gardeners.

Bare All Cleaners, a popular, scantily-clad, all-woman Australian cleaning service, this year launched an all-male backyard counterpart that will mow your lawn and clean your pool deck buck naked. The yard service maintains the same look-but-don’t-touch policy as its cleaning crew. Meanwhile, Trim Your Bush has offered a similar service in the UK.

In the United States, however, neighbors with small children still have the upper hand with naked lawn mowers who attempt front-yard maintenance. 

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Veteran freelance writer, blogger and humorist, Jay MacDonald's work has been widely honored with awards from Forbes Best of Web, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).