During her 21 years hosting the beloved gardening how-to show, Ryan inspired thousands of gardeners across the state to express their creativity in their own homes, gardens, lawns and landscapes. Ryan passed away Thursday after a long battle with cancer. She is survived by her husband, Dennis Ryan, and their son, Kably.
With her always-friendly demeanor, good humor and inquisitive nature, Shelley became a television mentor for so many people over the course of two decades on The Wisconsin Gardener – encouraging them to get their hands dirty and explore innovative new ideas in their gardens. She created the show after becoming a Master Gardener through the University of Wisconsin-Extension and realizing that Wisconsin’s gardeners could benefit from a program focused on the attributes of horticulture that are specific to our state.
“Through her work on television and in the community, Shelley Ryan became a friend to everyone with a green thumb and those of us who hoped we could develop one,” WPT Director of Television James Steinbach said. “With The Wisconsin Gardener, Shelley created and cultivated a program that taught us all something new in every segment and motivated gardeners new and old to become better stewards of all of our natural spaces. I learned so much by working closely with Shelley for the past two decades. All of us at Wisconsin Public Television, and all of her viewers, will miss her enthusiasm, passion, vast knowledge and – more than anything – friendship.”
As Shelley traveled the state to explore Wisconsin’s most beautiful places, she made lasting connections with professional and amateur horticulturists, gardeners, landscapers and outdoor educators that she shared as important resources with her audiences.
Early in the television show’s run, providing in-person access to those resources would inspire the creation of Wisconsin Public Television’s Garden Expo – an event that now draws nearly 20,000 gardeners to Madison each February to uncover the latest in gardening techniques, tips and information.
Shelley retired from her role as host of The Wisconsin Gardener in 2013 after completing work on the show’s 21st season. At the time she shared news with her fans that her cancer had returned.
“It is not a decision I make happily or lightly,” Shelley said at the time. “Last year I learned that my breast cancer had returned and spread to my bones. My treatment this last summer and fall have really taken a toll on me, and I need to focus on my health.”
Throughout her battle with cancer, Shelley shared her experiences with fans in hopes of encouraging and inspiring others who were facing similar struggles. She remained positive and good-humored throughout the past few years, focusing her attention on family, friends and the beautiful gardens she continued to cultivate around her home in Blue Mounds.
Shelley’s work on The Wisconsin Gardener lives on in the hundreds of hours of television that she created, recipes she shared and informational resources she mined – much of which is available online as a lasting resource that is still used regularly by gardeners across the state.