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.


  • Prairie Gold quaking aspen
    Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Deciduous Trees for Winter Interest in the Northern Plains

    Winter in the Northern Plains brings an opportunity to appreciate the deciduous trees in our landscape for more than just the leaves and flowers they provide. Form and texture really…

  • snow and ice on a spruce tree
    Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Preventing and Repairing Winter Tree Damage in the Northern Plains

    In the Northern Plains, we have a long season of heavy, wet snow and ice, which can cause significant damage to our shrubs and trees. With most plants in a…

  • Evening Rose Hardy hibiscus
    Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Hardy Hibiscus for the Northern Plains

    Each year the National Garden Bureau chooses a bulb, annual, perennial, edible, and shrub to be featured in its “Year of the” program to draw attention to unique plants and…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Northern Plains: January Garden To-Do List

    Enjoy the winter landscape. Need to stretch your legs and get some fresh air? Get outside and enjoy your landscape in winter. The amazing details you will notice in winter…

  • coniferous ground cover
    Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Preventing Winter Salt Damage in the Northern Plains

    In the gardening world, the area between the sidewalk and the road is often known as the hellstrip due to the difficulty in getting plants to grow, much less survive,…

  • castor bean seed pods
    Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Annuals With Winter Interest for the Northern Plains

    Even though early fall frosts and freezes have caused your garden to enter a state of slumber, you can still enjoy color and texture from certain annuals or tender, nonhardy…

  • Northern Plains Regional Reports

    Northern Plains December Garden To-Do List

    Create a winter container. Fill a beautiful container with clippings from your garden to enjoy during the winter months and extend the gardening season. Containers are an adaptable and versatile…

  • 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…