Column: Less snow, more gardens

val0227hong Butterfly on coneflower in a Lake Elmo raingardenThere comes a time in every Minnesota year, usually late February or early March, when our collective patience with snow storms and sub-zero temperatures finally reaches its limit. This year, that happened sometime back in January. As I write, I can barely raise my shovel-weary arms high enough to reach the keyboard, and the yard outside … well … it’s hard to remember what it used to look like. Though I can’t shake the nagging fear that perhaps the earth has shifted on its axis, making Minnesota the new North Pole, I’m fairly certain that spring actually will come eventually. At least it has every other year
Beginning in early March, the Washington Conservation District and local watershed districts will begin offering free landscape design workshops to help winter-weary Minnesotans plan rain gardens and native plants that help to create habitat and protect water resources. The first two workshops are scheduled for Tuesday, March 4, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Washington Conservation Center in Oakdale and Tuesday, March 11, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Woodbury City Hall. After a 20-30 minute introductory presentation, workshop participants will spend the rest of the time working with Master Gardeners and conservation district staff to begin designing water and wildlife friendly gardens for their homes. There will be a variety of plant guides and gardening resources on hand and, for those that register in advance, the Washington Conservation District will print out aerial photos of their properties to use as well. At the end of the workshop, people can sign up for free site visits later in the spring and can apply for watershed district cost-share grants to help cover the cost of plants and planting materials.
The Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization will also offer rain garden design courses in Stillwater and Bayport. There will be a three-hour in-depth design workshop in Stillwater on April 7, 5:50-8:30 p.m. at Family Means or, for people who prefer to spread out their learning into smaller chunks, a three-part series at the Bayport Library on April 24, April 29 and May 1, all starting at 6 p.m. During both, Washington Conservation District landscape designers will help workshop participants to prepare a complete rain garden design and installation plan and at the end, those living in Stillwater, Bayport and other Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization communities will walk away with a $250 plant grant to install their rain gardens. (Other Washington County residents can apply for cost-share grants through their local watershed districts, which can range from $250 to $2,500 depending on the size of the project and the potential benefit to nearby wetlands, lakes or streams).
Planning a new garden is a much better way to occupy your mind than cursing the snow and ice. Just think of the possibilities! You could have a shade oasis filled with ferns and woodland flowers, a piece of prairie with towering bluestem and coneflower, or a simple and colorful assortment of sedum and day lilies. There are big rain gardens and small rain gardens, rain gardens that stair-step down hillsides and those that wrap around porches. Some are crisp and formal, while others are wild and woolly. Best of all they, like us, survive even the harshest winters, which means that planning a new garden this year means having a beautiful garden for many years to come.
To learn more about the upcoming workshops and find registration information, go to

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water. Contact her at 651-275-1136 ext. 35 or [email protected]