Saturday, April 27, 2002

At the show

Real men dig flowers

        There's nothing flowery about John Torok. He's been married for years, lives on the west side and looks like a regular guy, which means he's not wearing a goofy sun hat or sandals with dress socks.

        Nevertheless, I found him at the Cincinnati Flower Show this week, scrutinizing the roses.

        “I enjoy it,” he says. “I let everyone know, "This is pretty,' or, "This isn't pretty.'”

        Like spring sun on a bed of tulips, the annual extravaganza at Ault Park brings out a certain breed of man. He's not afraid to be surrounded by gardening characters — those zany women who show up wearing gloves, flowered hats and vests appliqued with oranges and apples. He doesn't mind admitting that he likes pretty plants. Heck, he even uses the word “pretty” sometimes.

Evolving process

        At his home in White Oak, Mr. Torok, 49, creates outdoor “rooms” by building arbors and planting lots of roses. He gets ideas from HGTV and the British Broadcasting Corporation. On a trip to London, he fell in love with Kew Gardens.

        His eyes light up as he warms to his subject.

        “It's a matter of creation, what would look good where,” he says of gardening. “It's a constant, evolving process.”

        And the guys he knows, what do they think of the flower show?

        “I think I have at least one friend who would go,” Mr. Torok says.

        In search of other enlightened males, I find Dennis Manning, 47, who drove to the show with the parents association at Miami Valley School in Dayton, Ohio.

        Mr. Manning takes care of the school grounds, so he has a work reason to be here. But he's also buying for himself — lilies to plant in the backyard and one of those multi-vase contraptions for arranging perfect flowers.

        He'll use it, he says, to make a bouquet for his fiancee's birthday.

        No way. Where can other women get one of these? (Men, I mean, not multi-vase contraptions.)

        As if the flower-arranging guy isn't enough, I also run into Joe Gillman and Dave LeVasseur, who design car parts for a living. They took time off from General Motors in Bay City, Mich., to come here with their wives.

        Mr. Gillman, 57, is the quiet type, so his wife, Paulette, assists with the interview.

        “How many varieties of perennials do you have, Joe?” she asks.

        “A hundred and fifty,” he says. “We spend our weekends looking for more.”

        “Which flower do you like best?' I ask.

        There's so many, he says.

        “What about the Gerbera daisies?” prompts his wife. “You like those.”

        Of course, Mr. Gillman and Mr. LeVasseur are still the exceptions. Thursday, the flower show is packed with at least five women for every man.

        But as I pass a display of garden-related clothing, I catch a glimpse of the future. A woman walking with a little boy stops and points to a purple flower painted on a white shirt.

        “What's that one?” she asks.

        The tyke doesn't hesitate. “Iris,” he says.

        Mom beams.

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