Wisconsin climate bashing puts gardener on the defensive

Erin Schanen

I visited spring last week and it was lovely. But I left more determined than ever to appreciate the Wisconsin weather, even in March when it is hell-bent on crushing gardeners’ plans.

I walked out of Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., into the throngs of people waiting for ride share cars and noticed only one thing — the gorgeous magnolias in full bloom on the other side of the road. It was a salve for a gardener’s soul, and it only got better from there. Fields of daffodils were in bloom along the road. In the public garden where I joined a panel on garden design, hellebores covered every bit of forest floor, and the most glorious quinces were resplendent in apple blossom-type flowers.

An 8-foot-tall Japanese Pieris dripped with flowers and witch hazels (Hamamelis) charmed with their dainty flowers. The biggest gut punch was the utterly glorious Edgeworthia chrysantha with flowers that resemble large lantana blossoms and the most delicate and wonderful scent you might ever find in a garden. Because this jealousy-inducing shrub is hardy only to zone 7b, Wisconsinites will have to travel to appreciate it.

By the time I came across the third Edgeworthia, I was questioning why I live where I have to dig through a snowbank to see if my hellebores are budding in March.

My change of heart happened when I heard how my fellow panelists, who hailed from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia, referred to where I garden. “Aggressive,” “inhospitable” and “severe” were all used to describe the gardening climate in Ozaukee County, although I wondered if they perhaps thought I lived in Alaska. They seemed to have pity for us poor gardeners forced to make our way in such a harsh climate.

Starting to feel a little defensive, much as one might in the “I can say that about my family but you can’t” manner, I made a mental list of why it’s actually great to garden in Wisconsin.

1. Our long winter breaks give us plenty of time to rest, plan and get excited about gardening again.

2. In a typical year, we get a nice snow cover that protects our plants and provides much needed moisture when they wake up from their winter slumber.

3. Although our spring may not begin until after the calendar says it should, when the season does start it goes on uninterrupted, unlike some places where the heat and humidity make it nearly impossible to enjoy the outdoors in July and August.

4. Generally speaking, we have great soil, interesting and exciting native plants and delightful wildlife to invite into our gardens.

5. Our typically reliable rainfall means that we don’t have to worry about long-term irrigation in most of our gardens. In some places a garden design starts with where the irrigation pipes go.

6. There are very few creatures in our gardens waiting to maim us.

7. It could be worse. It could be zone 3.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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