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Larry A. Sagers
Ben Behunin is the owner of the Garden Lodge, which sells plants, tools and much more.

Looking for some great gifts for your gardening family and friends might be a little easier this year. The Garden Lodge opened its doors this spring, and I stopped by to get some suggestions from the owner, Ben Behunin. I have known Behunin as an arborist for many years and asked why he had shifted from his traditional landscape and arborist business to retail.

He responded, "We have all of the children and some of their spouses involved in our business already, and it seemed like a natural fit to open this store. We never determined a specific reason to call it the Garden Lodge other than the fact we wanted it to have the look and feel of a lodge."

I admired other garden gifts from the most practical to the exotic inside this lovely store. This is not an average nursery and the only one I have ever visited that sells gold, frankincense and myrrh. While I know the first is not a plant, we will cover more on the others in a couple of weeks.

Behunin's company has a long tradition of Christmas and helping to decorate the city. "My father, Leland, started the company and was the first person to climb and prune the historic trees on Temple Square. He also was the first to light those trees, and our company is the only contracted company to ever light the trees there."

In this area, he made an important but nongardening suggestion. "The up-and-coming lights are the LED lights. LED lights require one-10th of the electricity of a standard light set. You might pay six or seven dollars more per strand, but you pay for that in less than three years. They are also much brighter."

It is impossible to argue with his expertise. Behunin's father's expertise was passed onto the next generation who continue the holiday tradition. Their annual lighting of the Delta Center and Jordan Commons has them putting up more than a million lights in those locations alone.

Behunin turned his attention to the Christmas plants. "I think one of the nicest is the amaryllis (Hippeastrum). I gave out 40 or 50 last year, and everyone raved about them. They are amazing, but you must buy the big bulbs. I gave one to my wife last year, and it bloomed from January until mid-May. Of course, we have Christmas cactus and the flower of Christmas, the poinsettia," he said.

He also suggested that many gardeners might want garden tools. "We have lots of various kinds of tools, including hand trowels, rakes, shovels and many others."

Since Behunin demands a lot from tools in his profession, I asked to give some pointers on how to pick the right tools. "The difference between a really good tool and a mediocre tool is how well it withstands sharpening. A poor-quality tool is dull within a couple of cuts, and a good tool will last several days, even when you are pruning all day long.

"We have shovels that range in price from $12 to $13, up to $60 in price. The difference is that you only buy the expensive one once in your life, and you might buy a cheaper one with a wooden handle many times."

He showed other specialty tools, including interesting those made for flower beds by the Dewit Co. in Holland. They are smaller but are high quality, and are made for tough, intense use.

Behunin attributes his passion for carrying high-quality merchandise to his father. "My dad started the company in 1943 and in the early years pruned orchards along the benches of Davis and Salt Lake County. He insisted that everything be pruned according to its growth habit, and if you did not do it right, you did it again."

The business has a state-of-the-art imported greenhouse covering some 10,000 square feet of space. Inside you can find the gift plants mentioned previously and many other green foliage plants to brighten your home for the holidays.

Garden decor is also popular with many fountains, benches and other garden furniture. If none of those strike your fancy, consider giving a gift from the design center. You can renovate your existing landscape or design a landscape for a new home with their expert help.

While most nurseries offer a few books, the Garden Lodge has an extensive selection to make gift shopping easier. Behunin and staff pride themselves on offering a library of books and articles focused on Utah's environment.

While the outside is quiet at this time of year, it features a plethora of different plants in the display garden. Next season look for a railroad garden, children's garden, annual and perennial plantings plus many new shrubs and garden displays.

Larry A. Sagers is the horticulture specialist, Utah State University Extension Thanksgiving Point.