California Dreaming on a Winter Day

Start dreaming about raingardens like this one in Lake Elmo.

When we first moved to Wisconsin from California, people used to ask me, “Why would you move here from there? How will you survive the winter?” The truth of the matter is that winters in California aren’t all that great.  Where we lived in the central valley, it rarely got below 40°, but it was grey and drizzling almost every day and the fog was so thick that sports cars routinely got stuck under semis. Sure, we never had to shovel our driveway, but you can’t ski on fog and a 40° rain can chill you to the bone quicker than you might imagine. Be that as it may, I can’t help but feel a pang of longing around this time of year when I talk to my dad, now living in Palm Springs. “It’ll be unseasonably chilly while you’re visiting this weekend,” he said to me recently. “They’re predicting highs of only 60°, and, more importantly, there might be wind.” “What a shame,” I replied as I glanced out my frost-covered windows at the snowplow driving by on my street.Two weeks ago, my mom and I took baby Charlie to the Como Park Conservatory for his first time. Outside it was 2° below zero, but inside the air was warm and rich with the smell of earth. I wasn’t sure if a 14-month old would enjoy looking at a room full of plants, but the minute we walked in the door, his face lit up with pure, unbridled joy. “Ahhh!” he proclaimed as he began trotting down a fern bordered path. “Ahhh!” he called out as he circled a fountain and bent down to touch a large, green leaf. As his joy intensified, he picked up speed, practically running as he moved through the rooms, smiling at people and plants as he went. “Yes,” I thought as I saw it all anew through his eyes, “flowers and ferns and water are magnificent things.”

Though I know that roughly three months stand between me and my first chance at planting, it helps to start dreaming about gardens now while there is still time for planning. Already the local calendars are filling with workshops and seminars on gardening. Wild Ones Design with Nature Conference is scheduled for March 2 in Plymouth and this full day event is sure to inspire native plant enthusiasts around the metro area. Beginning in April, there will be several local workshops on how to design and plant raingardens. The latest gardening craze in the Upper Midwest, raingardens play the dual role of helping rain to soak into the ground while also beautifying yards and businesses. Though a wide variety of plants can flourish in a raingarden, many people choose native flowers and shrubs to attract pollinators and birds to their yards. As an added bonus, local Watershed Districts provide incentive grants for homeowners to build raingardens in neighborhoods draining to lakes and streams.

The Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District will offer a three-part raingarden workshop series beginning in April, in conjunction with the cities of Maplewood and North St. Paul. The Carnelian- Marine- St. Croix Watershed District and Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed Districts are co-sponsoring a raingarden workshop at Prairie Restorations in Scandia on April 20, and here in Stillwater, a raingarden workshop is planned for early May. Add to your favorites list to find out about these and other events as they are scheduled.

Though winter’s hold may leave us California dreaming by the middle of February, I like to remind myself that eventually the tables will turn. One day soon my dad will call to complain that the desert is dry and brown, with temperatures of 100° even at night. “Mmm hmm,” I’ll nod peacefully as I sit in my lawn chair, surrounded by gardens and green.