Credit: Jen Olenick



For most of my life, I lived in garden hardiness zone 10. Now I live in hardiness zone 3. Big difference, right? No kidding. Lol

When I started my horticultural journey, some 20 years ago in Southern California, the garden centers and nurseries were filled with a plethora of plant choices and they still are. During those 20 years, I was still harvesting crops in November and pruning my roses in January!


From November to March, the ground is covered with a thick blanket of white and utterly frozen. Only at the beginning of May does everything melt and the air warm up enough to safely expose seedlings to it. 

Here in Manitoba, we may have a much shorter growing season but the number of sunlit hours we get per day is astounding compared to what I was used to, with it being so much closer to the North Pole.

A snow covered road through an allée of bare trees

Throughout the summer months, the sun rises at around 4:30am and doesn’t set until around 11pm. So, the amount and duration of sunlight that our crops enjoy each day make them grow by leaps and bounds!

Clearly, mother nature’s way of balancing the scales for us Northern gardeners. Haha

But this meant that there was an entirely new timeline that I needed to learn to follow, in terms of growth rates and yields of different crops as well as what plants I could grow in the ground vs. in pots, and whether or not I could store them safely indoors during the winter months.


I had to start from scratch as if I never gardened before. So crazy! After speaking with a few locals when I first moved here, I heard a lot of “No, you can’t grow that here.” “Those don’t grow here, they’ll die. ” I began to get the slight impression that some had just given up on any kind of ambitious gardening in Manitoba.


I understood the harsh climate, especially after enduring my first winter here. They don’t call this town “Winterpeg” for nothing. But, I tend to be a bit obstinant about these things. I definitely had the will to grow plants found outside of the common Manitoba prairie repertoire, now I just had to find a way. It was just a matter of learning to work ‘with’ mother nature, sometimes perhaps ‘around’ her but never against her. She’ll always win. She’s bigger than me.

Credit: Min An


Complimentary plants in a container garden in Manitoba

Credit: Itasun

Through several growing seasons in Manitoba and a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned a great many things. I’m growing far more from seed than I ever did before and I’m really starting to see a positive side to gardening in a more harsh climate. There are certain perennials that I just can’t leave in the ground, so I’m learning to create beautiful container combinations.

Then I simply prune them back and keep them in the cool but not frozen basement so they can experience their much-needed dormancy period.

By diligently following this process, paying close attention to the variant temperature, light and moisture levels required by each type of plant, I can also keep the more tropical varieties that I have always loved like Brugmansia (Brugmansia suaveolens)and Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra choisy ). During the summer months in Southern Manitoba, the thermometer often reaches temperatures that remind me of a hot Las Vegas day except with high humidity. So, my more tropical varieties feel right at home.

The perennials I feel confident leaving in the ground are our blueberry ( vaccinium), haskap (lonicera caerulea )and rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) hedges. (Rhubarb grows like a weed up here. You see it growing out of cracks behind old buildings and such, it’s nuts! lol) Roses that are bred for the cold. Peonies (Paeonia )and tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium), I find, do really well. Especially if we get a lot of snow. 

A blueberry hedge growing in a Manitoba garden

Credit: Julia Volk

The snow actually acts as an insulator for the root systems, protecting them from the cold. Something being protected from the cold by frozen snow sounds completely counter-intuitive but that’s how it works!


In addition to discovering how to grow old favourites here, I’ve also discovered that due to this different climate, I can grow plants that I’ve always loved the look of but could never grow in a more desert-like climate. I’m having great fun with fuschias, hostas, ferns, bleeding hearts, heuchera, coleus, and Japanese Maples, all of which I have incorporated into our ever-developing shade garden which used to be just part of our lawn expanse. (Which also grows like crazy!)

So, if you happen to find yourself, as a gardener, in a new environment or you didn’t think having your dream garden was possible if you happen to live in a harsher climate, keep in mind… just as plants need three things to thrive (sunlight, water and nutrients), having a garden that brings you joy, no matter where you live also requires just three things. Passion, gumption, and a little obstinance.

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