Arts and Entertainment

Plant ideas for Father

With Father's Day just a few days away I thought it would be fitting to throw out an idea or two that are sure to be a hit with dear old dad. Over the years of operating a garden center I have come to realize that there are certain plants that most men can't resist. To no surprise to the ladies, these plants are typically coarse, large-leafed creatures that may seem a bit unrefined and ill-kempt in the garden, just like dad.

As a general rule, men have definite tastes when it comes to plants. We are inevitably drawn to the big and bold foliages, the coarse textures, spiny stems, rank smells and phallic growth habits. Our tastes are unrefined and our plants can be combative and argumentative. Let us design a garden and you are asking for discord and tension. The more grotesque a plant, the more we desire it. Here are a few candidates that I consider "can't miss" plants.

GUNNERA this prehistoric perennial is a sure hit with dads. Looking a bit like rhubarb on steroids, gunnera leaves can exceed five feet across when mature. The leaf stalk is surrounded with "soft" spines and the leaf itself is as coarse as sand paper. The flower is a phallic cone two feet tall and 6 inches across. They require consistently moist soil and will grow in full sun or partial shade. You can see a mature specimen in the nursery and get an idea of its full potential!

CARDOON this perennial is essentially an ornamental artichoke that in its blooming stage reaches 8-10 feet tall. Again, the foliage is large and coarse and despite the fact that the flowers are a delicate blue and the leaves a soft grey, dads still like this plant for its stature in the garden. I've got one across the street that has been there several years now and it never fails to impress the guys.

JAPANESE FIBER BANANA this plant is the envy of every male gardener I have ever meant. Dads will die to have a real banana plant in their garden. Fiber Bananas hail from the higher elevations of Japan and once established are totally hardy for our climate. They form a large clump that can grow to 12-15 feet tall in a single season and occasionally even bloom and produce bananas (sorry, they are not edible). There is nothing like a banana plant to make you feel like you are in the tropics. Naturally, I have a couple large well established groves in my garden if you want to see what they can do.

WINDMILL PALMS Along with bananas, men covet the look of a palm tree. I know it's hard to believe, but the Windmill Palm is perfectly at home in the northwest. You can find large examples all over the Puget Sound area. Several of the local McDonalds even have them planted in their landscapes. Plant them where they will get lots of sun and heat, feed them with an organic lawn food and stand back and you will be amazed.

HARDY EUCALYPTUS Something from another continent in a different hemisphere no less, several species of Eucalyptus will grow here just fine. Hardy to 0 degrees, the occasional Arctic Blast will reduce them to a stump. Usually however, they bounce right back in the spring and will grow 6-8 feet in a season. Bluish green foliage is evergreen so you can use them as a backdrop for your palm and banana garden.

DRACENA PALMS these are those spiky things that we have been putting in the center of our planters for years. Low and behold, it turns out they are fairly hardy. I know a customer that has a couple massive ones that have survived several hard freezes and are 12 feet tall.

NEW ZEALAND FLAX there has been an explosion of flavors of this large dramatic grassy plant. Dad can find it in green, bronze, apricot, yellow, pink and several combinations of those colors. Even though grasses tend to be fine and delicate, the flaxes are wide-bladed enough to provide that coarse texture that dads love so much.

Ladies, trust me when I say that if you let dad grow any of the above plants you will score big time. Just ask my wife.

Steve Smith is owner of

Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, a retail garden center that is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. You can reach Steve at 425-334-2002 or online at

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