July 26th, 2007
Let’s face it. By genetics or osmosis or whatever, women have a much better clue about plants than men.
It’s almost pathetic when your basic football-watching, beer-drinking, golf-playing guy somehow ends up on assignment to the garden center.
This is not familiar territory.
Some guys go for the fakeout maneuver in which they act like they know what they’re doing, only to leave with a motley cart full of sun-lovers and shade-preferrers in assorted kindergarten Crayola colors.
Others admit they’re overmatched and seek out immediate help.
Either way, they can’t hide that deer-in-the-headlights look – especially not from discerning female staffers.
“You can see it in their face when they come in,” says Diane Salerno, who noticed this gender peculiarity soon after starting work at the former Rose Hill Farm Greenhouses in Fairview Twp. “They look overwhelmed. You can tell they want to do something, but they don’t know what.”
This is actually a good thing from a garden-center staffer’s point of view.
Ask a few questions, and most guys will take pretty much whatever you suggest, says Jodie Morris, the store manager at the Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill garden center in Linglestown.
“Women tend to ask a lot more questions, like ‘Does this come in a lighter shade of pink?’” she says. “Guys start off telling you what they’re looking for, which is usually something low maintenance and that gives them color. After that, they trust us to give them whatever’s going to work.”
Erica Beadle, the manager at Highland Gardens in Lower Allen Twp., puts it more bluntly. “Guys just want you to tell them what to do,” she says.
There are exceptions, of course. But if you think about it, this approach is typical guy.
Guys like to get to the point, to not waste a lot of time on cutesy details, to basically git ‘er done.
“Men like to keep this simple,” says Salerno. “They’re thinking, ‘This is the problem, what’s the solution? We don’t need to get into a lot of nuances.’”
Coordinate the colors? Contrast plant textures and forms?
A typical guy doesn’t know or care much about either of those, says Morris.
“A guy will say, ‘I dug the hole, what do I put in it?’”
Females tend to be much more discerning. In fact, their whole outlook on a landscaping project is usually much different than a man’s.
“Girls to tend to see the beauty,” says Beadle. “Guys tend to see the work.”
Says Morris: “Women will come in with pictures from a magazine and say, ‘I want something like this.’ With guys, it’s more, ‘My wife or girlfriend has been harassing me into doing something about my yard because it looks like crap.’”
Other times it’s a single guy who one day realizes that other people seem to have plants in front of their house but none have magically appeared in front of his.
One of Salerno’s first introductions to “guy gardening” was when the owner of a small construction company came in saying that he needed to plant around the entrance sign to his business.
“This was a construction company, and most of the visitors were guys, so he made it clear he didn’t want it to look foo-foo,” Salerno says.
Once you start showing them a few things, guys are very decisive about what they like and don’t like, Salerno adds.
So what might that be?
For starters, the colors have to be bright and vibrant.
That means bright red, bright yellow, orange, deep purple.
No pale pinks, light blue or lavender. Those are sissy colors.
Don’t even think about more discriminating shades such as taupe, mauve or plum. What even are they?
“If they’re going to like any pink at all, it has to be a hot pink like you’d find in a hibiscus,” says Salerno. “By and large, they don’t want white flowers either. To guys, that’s no color.”
Similarly, guys want leaves that are big and bold.
“Nothing subtle at all,” says Salerno. “They want it bold, bold, bold.”
If you can come up with plants that are big, bold and bright, you’ve hit the guy jackpot.
Those would include plants like ‘Tropicanna’ cannas, (bengal-tiger-like large leaves and orange flowers), ‘Black Magic’ elephant ears (black leaves the size of actual elephant ears) and red hot pokers (fat spikes of bright red).
In a pot, guys are perfectly happy with nothing but a few ‘Kong’ coleus, which have hand-sized leaves that are a kaleidoscope of bright colors.
“It’s no muss, no fuss, and all the color is there,” says Salerno. “All they have to do is water.”
Women, on the other hand, prefer a pot with three or four different plants in which all coordinate nicely in both color and texture.
Guys also tend to like ornamental grasses, water gardens and exotic-looking plants, but nothing feathery and especially nothing that their mother or grandmother would’ve grown.
“That means no marigolds and no geraniums,” says Salerno. “For one thing, you have to deadhead those, and that means work. But they’re also not manly. They’re plants that your mother or Aunt Sally probably had.”
When men show up at the garden center, they’d much rather be in the nursery with the trees and shrubs than in the flower section anyway.
“They like the bigger things and really don’t like to mess around with the little things,” says Morris. “But then we do get some guy plant collectors. And they’re very proud of it. They’ll tell you, ‘I have 500 varieties of this,’ or ‘I started that from seed.’”
Even more so, guys would just as soon head to the lawn-care section.
“It’s funny,” says Morris. “I could spend hours in the grass-seed aisle with a guy, but take him outside with the flowers, and he’s done in 5 minutes.”
Talk to enough guys and their tastes become pretty predictable.
Salerno has it down to a near-science. She hardly even has to ask many questions anymore.
“I had one guy come in looking for some hanging baskets, so I showed him this blue and red basket of Supertunias that were bright enough to stop traffic,” she recalls. “He says, ‘You know, lady, you never laid eyes on me, but you know exactly what I like.”
What guys like in the landscape:
Guy plant tastes are pretty predictable once you get the hang of it, says Diane Salerno of the former Rose Hill Farm Greenhouses in Fairview Twp.
Guys like big, bold plants and bright colors. No sissy pastels or dainty foliage.
See if you can see the pattern from the following guy and no-guy plants:
Guy: ‘Diabolo’ ninebark (8-foot shrub with maple-like leaves of dark burgundy). No-guy: Dwarf lilac (lavender blooms, small leaves).
Guy: Black-eyed susans (bright gold petals around a bulging central cone). No-guy: ‘Moonbeam’ coreopsis (soft yellow flowers, lacy leaves).
Guy: Hibiscus (exotic looking and big, bright flowers). No-guy: Orchids (too spindly and wimpy looking).
Guy: Those wild orange daylilies that grow in road ditches (tough, tall and bright orange). No-guy: Pastel daylilies (what even is mauve or dusty apricot?)
Guy: Persian shield (pointed leaves of silver and purple). Pink petunias (sissy flowers that Grandma grew).
Guy: Purple iris (tall, stiff blades and big, velvety dark-purple flowers). No-guy: Purple coneflowers (tall but flowers are pastel pinkish-lavender).
Guy: Hosta (big, bold leaves and some are even gold!) Ferns (look like feather dusters).