Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Audio Play Icon Headphones Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Check Icon Print Icon Note Icon Heart Icon Filled Heart Icon Single Arrow Icon Double Arrow Icon Hamburger Icon TV Icon Close Icon Sorted Hamburger/Search Icon

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.


  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Northern Plains November Garden To-Do List

    Save some seeds. Before cutting down plant material, go through your garden and collect any seeds that you may want to save to start new plants. By now, nature has…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Perennials for Fall Color in the Northern Plains

    Many trees and shrubs take the spotlight in the fall with an array of foliage colors, but they are not the only ones who can provide a late-season “wow” factor.…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Northern Plains October Garden To-Do List

    Mulch in place. Keeping up with the raking and blowing of leaves in the fall can be a never-ending task, especially when every breeze in our windy region brings in…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Top Plant-Trial Picks for the Northern Plains

    Before we know it, autumn’s first frost will be making its way through the Northern Plains and another growing season will come to a close. But it is never too…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Northern Plains Disease Watch: Thousand Cankers Disease

    Thousand cankers disease is a serious threat to the Northern Plains black walnut (Juglans nigra, Zones 4–9). Understanding the disease can help prevent the loss of these ecologically and economically…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Shade Perennials for Weed Suppression

    Pulling weeds usually isn’t at the top of the list of anyone’s favorite things to do, so why not utilize nature to prevent those weeds from growing in the first…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    McCrory Gardens: A Hidden Gem in the Northern Plains

    McCrory Gardens, founded in 1965, features a 45-acre arboretum and 25 acres of formal gardens located on the western edge of the tallgrass prairie of the Northern Plains. It’s filled…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Northern Plains September Garden To-Do List

    Prep houseplants for moving back indoors. As temperatures begin to cool and days get shorter, begin readying your houseplants that have spent the summer outside for winter indoors by moving…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    The Best New Compact Shrubs for the Northern Plains

    If you are like me, you are always looking to see what the latest and greatest shrubs are to add to the landscape. I look for shrubs that are not…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Drought-Tolerant Trees for the Northern Plains

    The heat and winds of summer in the Northern Plains can wreak havoc on plant life, especially to nonnative species. Sometimes it seems like summer rains fall everywhere except where…

We hope you’ve enjoyed your free articles. To keep reading, become a member today.

Get complete site access to decades of expert advice, regional content, and more, plus the print magazine.

Start your FREE trial