By Marty Ross
There is a lot to learn about gardening, especially in the Midwest’s challenging climate, but experience pays off. The Midwest is a region of smart, hardy gardeners.
“We could move to the Pacific Northwest,” a garden designer from St. Louis once told me, “but we stay here for the challenge of gardening.”
Beautiful things happen in Midwestern gardens. In spite of blistering cold winters, steamy hot summers, wind, snow, drought, and deluge, our gardens thrive—most of the time. Resilience is one of our best qualities.
In the interest of spreading that spirit, I asked three flourishing Midwestern gardeners to share some of their wisdom with me. These professionals have almost 175 years of gardening experience among them.
Ben Sharda is director of Kansas City Community Gardens, which helps students, low-income families, and others learn about vegetable gardening. Anyone can join KCCG; I have a small community-garden plot KCCG manages.
- If you’re new to gardening, start small, Sharda says: “Don’t get in over your head.”
- Grow at least some crops from seed. “They’re one of the great bargains of the world,” he says.
- The self-confidence that comes from growing your own food is huge, Sharda says. Give it a try. “If you can grow a crop, it’s like being a craftsman,” he says.
Ed Hasselkus is curator emeritus of the Longenecker Horticultural Gardens at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is a recipient of the American Horticultural Society’s prestigious Liberty Hyde Bailey award for lifetime contributions to horticulture.
- “I’m in the Hydrangea paniculata period of my life,” Hasselkus says. “It’s such a useful plant for our part of the world.” Gardeners of any age can appreciate ‘Limelight’, ‘Little Lime’, and ‘Quick Fire’ hydrangeas, he says.
- Take notes. “I make useful observations about plants every day and write them down,” he says.
- You’re never too old to garden. “The passion just never quits,” he says. “I’m always on the lookout for new things. I think about what I’m going to plant next spring.”
Jennifer Davit is director and head horticulturist at the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park. The renowned Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf designed the 5-acre garden’s rich and exciting plantings.
- “Enjoy the process” of gardening, Davit says. Gardening is “more about a constant evolution of a space” than about final results.
- Plants are just part of the picture. The experience of a garden “shapes and enriches people’s lives,” she says.
- Don’t get discouraged. A plant that isn’t thriving isn’t a sign of failure: It provides an opportunity to learn, she says. Move it, or tear it out and keep going.
The gardening wisdom of these professionals makes me feel good about my own backyard, where I have been cultivating my gardening enthusiasm and all kinds of plants for 23 years. I’m having a lot of fun, and I’m just getting started.
See more Midwest Gardening Articles.