There are far more than four seasons in Minnesota, the joke goes.
Winter. Fool's spring. Second winter. Spring of deception. Third winter. Mud season. Actual spring.
This season is the season of dreams. The season of Minnesotans slumped in store houseplant aisles, staring at the only available greenery.
This is garden show season.
In less than a week, the Minneapolis convention center will throw open its doors for the Minneapolis Home + Garden Show.
Outside, more than a foot of fresh snow sparkles on top of the old grey snow, on top of the older, greyer snow. And underneath, frozen, waiting; the garden soil.
Someday — maybe not today, or next week, or the month after that — it will be warm enough to plant something in that soil and watch it grow. Northern gardeners will be ready.
"Spring always comes," said Ryan McEnaney. "It never skips us. It will be here."
In one week, McEnaney will be on stage at the convention center, surrounded by hundreds of hydrangeas and thousands of people who haven't seen a fresh hydrangea in months.
"We all need a little bit of inspiration ... Especially today," said McEnaney, author of the Field Guide to Outside Style, and spokesman for Bailey Nurseries, which is debuting its new Pop Star hydrangeas at the show, from March 1-5.
The first signs of spring are already appearing through the knee-deep snow. The days are longer. The hardiest gardeners are turning empty milk jugs into miniature greenhouses – filling them with soil and seeds and depositing them outside in the snow to germinate and grow with the seasons.
There will be master gardeners at the show, offering lessons on how to turn milk jugs into greenhouses and much more. Because we expect much more out of our gardens these days.
The ecologist Douglas Tallamy once said that we expect gardens to be more than pretty these days. We expect them to protect the pollinators and conserve the water and save the planet.
If you're going to plant a garden that does all that, you might need help.
"We're getting close, very close to the end of winter," said Lara Lau-Schommer, interim executive director of the Minnesota State Horticultural Association, who is lining up milk jugs and dreaming of spring.
The horticulture association runs one of the stages at the Minneapolis show, offering talks, tips and a carefully curated selection of seeds, bulbs and tubers that will thrive in our brief, glorious growing season.
"I personally love hunkering down for the winter, grabbing a great gardening book ... all those things that are a little bit more mellow, a little more relaxing," she said. By the time garden show season rolls around: "Then I'm really excited for spring."
At the Minneapolis show, there will be massive displays of aspirational gardens, HGTV show star sightings, vendors, talks and tips. The air will smell like green and growing things. Very few of the shovels on display will be snow shovels.
Tickets are $2 cheaper if you buy them online, and cheaper still if you're a teacher, veteran, first responder or others who get free admission on one of the five days. If you can't attend, you can find inspiration online at the University of Minnesota Extension and northerngardener.org.
Sometimes — when the temperatures are subzero and the snow is deep, but not deep enough for Halloween Blizzard '91 bragging rights — you need the company of plants and pollen and hopeful gardeners.
During the bleakest days of the early pandemic, St. Paul residents used to stand outside the locked-down Como Park Conservatory, hoping to catch a whiff of the flowers in the sunken gardens through an open window.
Minnesotans are missing spring. But spring never misses Minnesota.