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Male Order Gardens : In horticulture, as in life, the genders differ. Clubs that cater to men make sense.


Which 10 flowers would I choose to take to a lonely island? My answer: 10 tulips.

--Victor Borge


I recently engaged in a lively debate over the established custom of private men's clubs--havens where one can talk politics, enjoy a whiskey and a cigar, in addition to letting all that testosterone circulate. The question arose: What about private clubs for male gardeners?

Surprisingly, they already exist.

Of the 115 men's garden clubs nationwide, all but 27 are coeducational, says William Lanning, president of the Gardeners of America Inc./Men's Garden Clubs of America, which is based in Johnston, Iowa.

"In the early '90s, we officially became TGOA/MGCA for clubs that have both men and women," Lanning says. "Each club has the option of admitting both men and women or retaining all male members."

To many, the reason for an exclusive garden club for men may seem a mystery. But men and women often take a different approach to the art of horticulture, especially when it comes to methods and types of plants.

"The main difference I find between men and women gardeners is that men are more combative, even severe, when it comes to attacking the needs of plants," says John Hacku, president of the Men's Garden Club of Santa Rosa, in which there are 38 members, including two women.

"When El Nino produced rust, black spot and downy mildew on the Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center's entire rose garden [in Santa Rosa], a member of the Rose Society suggested we take off all the diseased leaves and cut the plants back, practically down to the bottom bud," says Hacku. "The women felt it was too brutal; they wouldn't do it."

Garden observers also say men generally prefer hardy plants and those that take care of themselves.

Most of Duane Jones' Santa Ana garden is drought-tolerant, "which gives me and my wife, Faye, the luxury of leaving it for long periods."

Hacku adds that men like drought-tolerant plants and ones that reseed themselves. "Most of us aren't into everyday nurturing," he says. "We want to be able to go about our business and come back four days later and find everything's thriving on its own."

Here's a peek into four gardeners' gardens:

Simple Reason

Jones started his half-acre garden in Santa Ana more than two decades ago. He focused on choices that offered permanence. Jones prefers long-blooming companions, bulbs that reappear season after season, blossoms that self-seed, shrubs and trees that produce fruit or flower. His garden aesthetic is based on control and simplicity.

Drip irrigation systems wind through Jones' beds, and are turned on weekly.

Dutch iris and annuals such as pansy, petunia and knee-high sweet peas enhance borders in early spring, giving themselves over to perennial drought-tolerant and low-moisture choices--dusty miller, Mexican sage, lavender, rosemary, penstemon, lion's mane, salvia, and in fall, rosy-trumpeted naked ladies (amaryllis belladonna).

Miniature poinsettias from previous holidays and statice (sea lavender), both requiring little care or water, bloom profusely along the front walk. Sword fern and crimson sprekelias (Aztec lily) add to the enchantment, flowering several times throughout the year.

Jones has also mastered the art of growing 'Stargazer' lilies (lilium Asiatic), Oriental hybrids with palm-sized, rose-red trumpets freckled with chocolate and edged in pure white.

" 'Stargazers' are so rewarding and much easier to grow than most people imagine," Jones says.

Many of Jones' plants and bulbs are acquired from plant sales at the Fullerton Arboretum and UC Irvine Arboretum.

Jones' secret for well-tended and productive garden beds?

"I load up my car with three or four empty trash cans and drive over to Atwood Sales in Anaheim, where I fill them with compost," says Jones. "Atwood has so many different mixtures. You tell them what you're using it for, such as roses, and they'll tell you the best compost. I bring it back to work into the beds or use as mulch."

Found Garden

James Cotten of Canoga Park is fondly known in his family as a resourceful scavenger or a "plant bandit." Massed beds of towering gold and orange canna lilies reflect Cotten's philosophy of creating something out of nothing.

"After the 1994 Northridge earthquake," says Cotten, "people piled masses of broken and damaged plants on their curbs to be hauled away: canna, epiphyllum, sword fern, broken bits of unusual cactus and other succulents. They were there for the taking."

These same plants now flourish in Cotten's garden.

Other specimens of Cotten's plant acquisition resulted from neighborly prunings, cuttings and root divisions, and specimens found hanging over a nursery pot or garden fence--filched when no one was looking.

"All perfectly honorable methods among gardeners," Cotten says, a hint of smile crossing his face.

Damaged plants often have enough healthy root and plant material intact that, if handled correctly, will develop into strong roots and regrow. This also applies to woody-stemmed cuttings and softer-stem cuttings.

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