Gardening is a talent most people believe they either have or don’t. But even the most seasoned gardeners typically stick with plants that are sure things—that thrive in their climate. In Minnesota, these are things like evergreen trees, squash, tomatoes and carrots.
But Nick Plank, now 19, had a different idea about how he wanted to garden when he started as a kid in 2011. After visiting family in southern Florida, he says his immediate thought was, “Oh my gosh, all these plants are so much prettier than what we have around in Minnesota!”
After his eyes were opened to a completely non-Midwestern climate, Plank felt inspired to start his own tropical garden—even here in Woodbury—in 2012. As of this writing, he’s cultivated banana plants, citrus trees, ghost peppers, and even a cactus collection. “I even have a few palm trees,” he says.
Dana Plank, Nick’s mom, says lots of his interests have dovetailed with his love of gardening. “It started with a love of weather when he was in elementary school,” she says. At a young age, he wanted to be a weatherman. Then he fell in love with geography, then gardening, and Dana says, “it has not stopped since.”
His research in weather and geography has given him a leg up in giving his garden exactly what it needs, but he wasn’t always the experienced gardener he is now. “My first couple of years, I actually killed everything I grew,” Plank says. After he learned how to make it all work, Plank says he ultimately hasn’t had any major problems with the cold and the snow.
When Plank first started taking an interest in tropical plants after that fateful trip to Florida, his family started taking frequent visits to Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul. “It was a fun family activity,” Dana says.
At the nature center, the Planks would take the time to immerse themselves in nature and walk through the hundreds of acres on the site, including a farm and bee apiary.
Nick Plank eventually started to go forward on this own, and started buying tropical plants online, slowly creating the tropical garden he knew he wanted to grow.
As we know all too well, Minnesota winters can be fickle. Keeping tropical plants alive might seem like an impossible feat. But Plank used his resources to find a way to keep all his plants alive. “My dad actually owns a car dealership, and I put my plants inside on the floor,” he says.
“When people stop at our business, they’re like, ‘Where are all these tropical plants from?’” mom Dana says. The family loves the garden, and it’s unlike any of the other yards in the neighborhood. And Plank has become quite an expert. “He knows way more about plants and what they need,” Dana says.
Plank’s knowledge is sought-after in Woodbury. Neighbors from all over the area call to have him check up on their plants, Dana says, even if their plants aren’t tropical. She adds that neighbors even refer other friends to him if they’re looking for someone to give them gardening advice.
When Minnesota gets its first frost each year, Plank moves his plants into the car dealership where they’re kept at a relatively balmy 60 degrees. “They go into dormancy until April, and then I bring them back home,” Plank explains.
Although he loves the gardening process, Plank says, “To be completely honest, I usually give the fruits and vegetables to my friends and family.” He says sharing his hard work with his loved ones, as well as watching his plants grow, is fun for him.
Dana echoes that. “He has started to eat more” of the fruits of his own labor, she says with a laugh. But Plank’s greatest joy is the gardening process itself.
Since graduating from Woodbury High School in 2018, Nick has since dreamed of making gardening a career, although he’s not sure yet if that’s the direction his life will take. As of now, he says his goal is to move to Florida in the next year to be in the climate where all his favorite plants thrive.
His mom, Dana, looks fondly upon Nick’s gardening habits and the ways he’s grown as a person and a plant-lover. Although there are “dirt and seed starters” all over the house, she says, Nick’s love for his plants is worth every speck.