Chris Schlenker

Chris Schlenker

Chris Schlenker is the horticulture and grounds manager of McCrory Gardens, a 70-acre botanical garden located on the campus of South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota. While pursuing his degree in landscape architecture from SDSU, Chris joined the student summer staff at McCrory Gardens and fell in love with the gardens and the appeal of public horticulture. Upon completion of his studies, Chris continued as a seasonal staff member until the gardens constructed an education and visitor center and became a year-round destination. As head gardener, Chris leads a team of employees and volunteers and focuses on the mission of McCrory Gardens: “Connecting people and plants through education, discovery, research, and enjoyment of the natural and built landscape.” Chris is responsible for leading the garden’s horticultural and facility initiatives and performance goals through management of the gardens, production and display facilities, curation of the collection, research initiatives, educational programming, and outreach initiatives.


1. What do you like most about gardening in your region?

My favorite aspect of gardening in the Northern Plains is the seasonal changes and the problem solving we must utilize to make our landscapes have appeal throughout the year.


2. What’s the biggest challenge to gardening in your region?

The weather is the biggest challenge we face. If it isn’t a drought, it’s a flood, and if it isn’t the oppressive heat and humidity, it’s the frigid cold and constant wind.


3. What plant are you jazzed about in your garden right now?

‘Blue Ribbons’ bush clematis (Clematis integrifolia ‘Blue Ribbons’, Zones 4–9) is one of my favorites right now. The flower color, quantity of blooms, decorative seed heads, and even the foliage make this plant a real eye-catcher year after year.

Blue Ribbons clematis
‘Blue Ribbons’ clematis is a unique shrubby variety with delicate, nodding flowers of a deep indigo color. Photo: Chris Schlenker


4. What was the last plant you killed?

The last plant I may or may not have killed was a ‘Frizzle Sizzle’ corkscrew albuca (Albuca spiralis ‘Frizzle Sizzle’, Zones 9–11). This was likely the result of the most common killer of houseplants, overwatering, but I’ll never admit it.


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