Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

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Garden rooms

The layout of Lois and Dan Prickett’s backyard garden uses the “room” concept, giving it a sense of intrigue. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Grow your garden room by room

Published March 17, 2023, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

By Barb Gorges

            Last summer, Lois and Dan Prickett invited her fellow Master Gardeners over to tour their garden, which was 25 years in the making. I volunteered to stay out front to welcome visitors while they chatted with people in the backyard.

            Much of the small front yard was devoted to a berm with a wonderful show of native flowers for pollinators. But when I finally got around to the back…oh my gosh!

            Yes, it is bigger than the average backyard for the central part of Cheyenne, but it was the multiple horizons that made me want to follow the flagstone path to the points of interest in the distance.

            Now, in bleak late winter, while sitting at their table, Dan explained to me the “room” concept he and Lois have implemented. He saw a TV show about it years ago.

Instead of one lawn area with shrubs and flower borders around it, the yard has been subtly divided into rooms. But each area is not square or entirely walled in – it just has enough trees, shrubs and tall flowers marking its boundaries to keep you from seeing everything all at once.

Each section offers a peek to pique your interest. And yes, there is still some lawn.

            Some of the highlights include fountain and pond in the far corner, gazebo, garden shed/greenhouse, dead tree, patio, and flagstone paths and retaining walls.

            Dan was trying to remember how many tons of flagstone they ordered. Many pallets were delivered. But now plants curl around the edges and they look like they’ve been there forever.

            However, this spring, some of those flagstones will have to be pried up. Lois and Dan will be installing drip irrigation and sprinklers with timers because they want to travel, and no family members are available to water.

            Previously, Dan had a system for getting each area watered about twice a week by moving a sprinkler around. Lois got him a timer so he would have a reminder for moving the hose and wouldn’t accidentally leave the water on all night.

            A shirttail relation, recently trained in designing residential irrigation systems, will be helping the Pricketts plan the placement of the lines and the size of the emitters. But there will undoubtably be rocks in the way needing to be moved temporarily.

            Lois told me she wishes she’d taken the Master Gardener training 25 years ago, when they first started working on the backyard, instead of waiting until retirement. They might have planned a little better and saved themselves some extra work.

            The other advantage to the training is understanding where to plant which plant. Back where she grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, “You stick stuff in the ground and it grows,” said Lois. But here, she lamented, “Things lay down and die.”

Master Gardeners trained her to analyze information to choose the best plants for her location to improve her rate of success and save money.

            At this point in her life, Lois is looking for more perennials – food, as well as flowers, like her iris bed and butterfly garden, so she won’t have so much to plant each year. She and Dan already have fruit trees and shrubs, grapes and rhubarb. The new asparagus patch is coming along. Next on the list, horseradish.

            A long time ago Lois discovered the efficiency of tulips reblooming year after year and said she has planted them heavily in the backyard. There are so many that every May she was always able to cut a big bouquet for her office for National Nurses Week and you couldn’t tell any were missing. However, a few years ago, voles got in and ate quite a few bulbs, and she’s been replanting each year since.

            By chatting with Lois and Dan the last day of February, I thought I might get some tips on their early garden preparations, like seed starting. But Lois said she’s just getting into that. She usually relies on the Master Gardener plant sale for tomato and pepper plants. This year, it is May 6, out at the Archer Events Center. Next year, their garden shed/greenhouse should be ready for some seed starting.

            March is a good time to start some greens in a cold frame, or tomatoes under LED grow lights. I have lots of information from local gardeners at my website, or in my book, “Cheyenne Garden Gossip,” available at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and other local gift shops or online.

            Just remember, Cheyenne’s average last day of frost is around May 25, but you should be ready to protect your tender plants from frosty nights as late as the first week in June.

Habitat Hero workshop about prairie restoration, water

Habitat Hero workshop considers prairie restoration as a means for saving water

Published February 17, 2023 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

            Earlier this month, the ninth annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero workshop was held at Laramie County Community College. It attracted about 100 in-person registrants and 400 online. The topic was how to garden in a future with less water available.

            Keynote speaker Jim Tolstrup, director of the High Plains Environmental Center in Loveland, Colorado, gave us the background on how the high plains plant and animal communities have fared, first under the indigenous people, then trappers, settlers, ranchers, farmers and suburbanites.

            Ninety-seven percent of American grasslands are degraded. It means that what we need today is not conservation – there is barely anything left to conserve – but restoration.

            Restoration with native prairie plants is obvious for acreage owners. Prairie flowers replacing our urban lawns benefit pollinator species, if not antelope – unless you live near the base.

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan). Photo by Barb Gorges.

            One attribute of prairie plants is that once established, they don’t need irrigation.

            The voices of experience included Jim’s, with his slide of lush vegetation that is no longer irrigated. Rex Lockman from the Laramie County Conservation District discussed the Native Prairie Island Project that started a seeding program for old and new septic leach fields last year. Nancy Loomis explained how to harvest free water.

            Instead of driving over the snow in your driveway, shovel or blow it onto the lawn on either side. Nancy has put in a garden next to her driveway and the water from the snow she places on it means she doesn’t have to water it in the summer. She planted traditional groundcovers like creeping phlox, partridge feather and candytuft. Her future garden expansion will favor the natives she encourages at the garden next to Laramie County Library’s parking lot.

            In Nancy’s and my 1950s-1960s neighborhoods, the sidewalk is adjacent to the curb – no green strip in between. It makes total sense to throw the shoveled snow on your lawn or garden instead of in the street – which makes it difficult for people to park in front of your house when they visit anyway.

            A fair amount of your harvested snow from your hardscape, walks, decks, driveways, will evaporate on windy days. Plus, it isn’t going to sink much into the frozen ground. Obviously, more of the water from spring snowstorms will sink in.

            But extra snow cover provides longer protection from our drying winds for your lawn and garden.

            There is another way for you to harvest snow away from your hardscape areas. Let last year’s garden growth act as snow fence that collects blowing snow in drifts.

            However, I recommend removing vegetable garden vegetation because those plants are prone to diseases. Consider replacing them in winter with other obstacles for collecting snow.

            The most thought-provoking presentation was by Cheryl Miller, from the U.S. Geological Survey. She has a groundwater demonstration setup that reminded me of an ant farm. Sand and dirt were pressed between two clear vertical panels. Tubes inserted vertically represented wells. Food coloring representing pollution in one well could be seen to migrate into a neighboring well that was being pumped.

            The representation of a stream was kept flowing by snowmelt and stormwater runoff as well as groundwater. Pumping nearby wells caused it to dry up.

            Cheryl showed why septic systems need to be monitored so that they don’t adversely affect wells for drinking water. The same can be said for nitrates from over-fertilization.

            I think the take-home for rural as well as urban residents and gardeners is that groundwater is precious and maybe shouldn’t be wasted on landscaping, especially when there are low water alternatives for lawns and flower gardens.

            Zach Hutchinson from Audubon Rockies gave us an update on the development of a pollinator survey we can use in our home gardens.

Zach Hutchinson (center, green shirt) demonstrates how to do a pollinator survey one morning in July 2022 at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ Habitat Hero demonstration garden. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            Michelle Bohanan gave us a pep talk on winter sowing, and provided the jugs, soil and native seed to try it at home.

            We are already talking about a theme for next year’s workshop: getting back to basics. How do you restore, or install, a piece of prairie on your property?

            Meanwhile, check the Habitat Hero information available at Audubon Rockies and Cheyenne Audubon websites.

            This spring, look for native prairie plants for sale, but not the fancy varieties at the big box stores. Try shopping online at the High Plains Environmental Center’s plant sale featuring 150 straight native species. It starts March 31 and continues into September.

            Place your order and then drive down to Loveland in the next day or two to pick it up. Be sure to allow time for a walk around the demonstration gardens there. It’s hard to believe only the new transplants are irrigated.

Jim Tolstrup discusses prairie plant propagation at the High Plains Environmental Center June 2022. Photo by Barb Gorges.

New Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director

The focal point of the 20-acre Ellipse Meadow at the National Arboretum is the columns that were part of the U.S. Capitol 1828-1958. Photo by Barb Gorges.

New Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director is not far from home

By Barb Gorges

            My introduction to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ new director was around the small conference table in his office in the conservatory. Along with my husband Mark and the gardens’ exterior horticulturist Isaiah Smith, I was there to talk about Isaiah’s request to extend the Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden.

            Director Scott Aker arrived in Cheyenne this fall fresh from Washington, D.C., where he was the head of horticulture and education at the U.S. National Arboretum. You might think he would know little about Wyoming native plants that grow in the demonstration garden, but he grew up in Whitewood, on the northeast edge of the Black Hills in South Dakota. It’s botanically very similar to Cheyenne.

            He might think I would have no idea of his previous location, but Mark and I visited the arboretum in 2015. It’s 450 acres inside D.C. full of meadows and woods and gardens.

Scott Aker is the new director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Photo courtesy Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

Scott was the garden columnist for the Washington Post 2000-2010. He was also the Q and A columnist the next 10 years for The American Gardener magazine published by the American Horticultural Society, which I joined last year. The people I read on the Garden Rant blog are people he knows.

            How did a boy from the Black Hills get to D.C.? And why has he returned to the high plains?

            When Scott was 4 years old, his grandmother thinned her irises and gave the excess rhizomes to her daughter-in-law, his mom. She was busy so she told him to dig holes and plant them. The blooms next year captivated him, and he’s been into ornamental horticulture ever since.

            Scott’s dad, a would-be farmer, thought horticulture was for women, but historically, men were in all the higher positions, much like the chef/cook dichotomy that is slowly being equalized today.

            It’s hard to study horticulture in high school, but Scott made do with biology classes. There was a hort major available at the University of Minnesota St. Paul where he earned his bachelor’s degree. At the University of Maryland, study for his Masters degree took him far into lab work, but luckily he was also getting field experience.

            Getting a PhD in horticulture would involve more lab work, but Scott was done with academia and ready for the field, jumping into university extension work with the largest Master Gardener program in Maryland. Maryland is full of small agricultural operations which needed his help.

A year later his father-in-law told him to apply for the job at the National Arboretum. They were looking for an integrated pest management person and he had the credentials. Integrated pest management is using biological and physical solutions before resorting to chemical pesticides. Scott was able to reduce pesticide use by 75 percent.

Pest management took Scott throughout the arboretum’s different plant collections. He was a natural fit when the head horticultural position came open. Eventually, education program responsibilities were added.

On his 30th anniversary with the arboretum, early 2022, Scott said he technically could retire from the federal government and all its bureaucratic headaches. He was flipping through a listing of professional positions that all seemed to be in major cities, but he was tired of commuting so when he saw the director announcement for Cheyenne, he jumped at the chance to get out of the big city.

Scott said he visited in 2018 on his way up from the Denver airport to visit his mom and was impressed with the then-brand-new conservatory.

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ history starts with the 40 years Shane Smith and the community built it, then five years with Tina Worthman as director. Though not a horticulturist, she improved its fiscal soundness. I’m wondering what to expect from Scott, someone with managerial and horticultural experience.

The first clue is the unusual houseplants in his office window—they are his.

The second clue is when I was discussing trading out purple coneflower in the Habitat Hero garden for the narrowleaf species, he knew that it was the Wyoming native coneflower. He also knew the other coneflower that has popped up unexpectedly, Echinacea pallida, and he has experience growing the “Cheyenne Spirit” variety. A plant nerd—my kind of gardener!

Scott has ideas for taking the Gardens into the future. First step is updating the master plan. That’s a process for collecting ideas and then integrating them with unexciting stuff like revamping irrigation systems originally designed for watering turf before the garden beds expanded. Most importantly, Scott understands that what grows/goes in D.C. might not be suited to Cheyenne. He will be drawing on his small-town roots as much as his big city experience, to our benefit.      

Sunshine Plant Co. opens

Customer Christine Rowan shopped the selections at the Sunshine Plant Company recently. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Sunshine Plant Company opens its doors to houseplant lovers

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Dec. 2, 2022.

By Barb Gorges

Just in time for the height of houseplant season, the Sunshine Plant Company opened its doors Oct. 13 at 600 W. 17th Street, on Cheyenne’s West Edge.

Yes, I know, many houseplants live year-round indoors. But once outdoor gardening season is finished, it’s time to focus on houseplants.

The Sunshine Plant Company is a boutique specializing in houseplants: succulents, cacti, orchids, violets, bromeliads and other mostly tropical plants large and small. Customers can make requests.

The shop creates dish gardens and fairy gardens, terrariums, and self-watering planters. They will replant your plants for you. Commercial and residential plant maintenance is also part of the business plan.

The Sunshine Plant Company repurposes all kinds of containers as pots for plants. Photo by Barb Gorges.

With garage door-sized, south facing windows (it was an automotive shop once), this is the living room you wish you had. Co-owners Cylie and Alexa Blooding-Erickson describe the vibe as “modern Victorian.” No minimalism here, but a deep gold and green living room with comfy wing chairs. It gives you a better sense of a plant’s size to see them on a bookshelf or flourishing by the vintage dresser.

And if you like the hanging shelves, you can order a set for yourself. Alexa’s brother will make it for you.

Cylie and Alexa met at the University of Wyoming’s art department and after graduation (Cylie, international studies, and Alexa, sculpture with a minor in anthropology), they went off to see the wider world.

For Cylie, that included two years at Palmer Flowers in Fort Collins, Colorado, working in their extensive houseplant production greenhouse. For Alexa, inspired by gardening with her grandmother, it included accumulating one houseplant at a time, thoroughly researching it and learning to grow it before moving on to the next type.

Both had dreams of entrepreneurship someday, and when Alexa’s mom, Christina Blooding, offered to share half the 17th Street location of her business, Flydragon Design Art Studio, a “paint and sip” enterprise, they jumped at the chance to come home. Cylie is a native of Pinedale and Alexa graduated from Cheyenne Central High School.

For now, their plants come from Denver-area vendors. The Colorado Front Range has a long history in horticulture. But in the future, Cylie hopes to propagate more plants.

With more than a nod to sustainability, all kinds of containers have been converted to pots. The vintage teacups in the cup and saucer sets have drainage holes drilled so they are safe for plants.

The most intriguing repurposing is based on a design found on the internet. It cuts a wine bottle off at the shoulders, inverts the neck, plants it with tiny plants and a wick that trails out the mouth of the bottle. The lower part of the bottle is partly filled with water with the inverted part placed on top. The wick keeps the plants in moist soil. There were already a lot of wine bottles on site from Flydragon’s paint and sip sessions.

Cylie shows off a wine bottle repurposed as a self-watering planter. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Coming up Dec. 17 is a Plant and Paint workshop – plant succulents and paint a desert scene to make them feel at home.

Dec. 22 there will be a plant swap. Everyone from the “Oops I Wet My Plants” Facebook group, with 2,300 mostly Cheyenne members, is looking forward to that. I met one of the members, Christine Rowen, at the shop. She has helped get the word out by designing the flyer. Like many of us, she couldn’t leave without taking home a new, intriguing plant – or two.

Alexa and Cylie encourage houseplant owners to bring in their plant problems – but either as photos or specimens safely sealed in plastic zip-locking bags to protect the plants in the shop.

Like other people answering the public’s plant questions, Cylie and Alexa find the most common problem is overwatering. Here’s the tip for most houseplants: don’t water again until the top half to one inch of soil feels dry.

When watering, never pour in more water than the saucer under the pot can hold. Wait a minute to see if there is water trickling into the saucer. If there isn’t, water a little more. When there is water in the saucer finally, dump it out and quit watering. Or just water your plants in the kitchen sink.

Alexa recommends pothos, spider plant and peace lily for beginners as they are the most forgiving. She also thinks of them as drama queens because when they get too dry, they wilt dramatically – but revive quickly.

If you are sure you have a black thumb, stop by anyway. The Sunshine Plant Company also carries plant-related locally made crafts and gifts, including locally made honey products.

Sunshine Plant Company

600 W. 17th Street

Phone: 307-514-0028


Facebook and Instagram: @sunshineplantco.wyo

Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday,9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Tomatoes at altitude

Growing tomatoes without staking them is a common practice where Charlie Pannebaker is from. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There’s more than one way to grow a tomato in Laramie County

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Nov. 18, 2022.

By Barb Gorges

            Tomatoes are the epitome of backyard vegetable growing. They test both your gardening know-how and your ability to adapt to your circumstances.

            This past summer, two of Laramie County Master Gardeners’ informal garden tours, open to members, friends and family, featured tomatoes, but grown in radically different ways. However, both gardens were located west of town at substantially higher (read “colder”) elevations than Cheyenne.

Ron Morgan discusses his greenhouse tomato growing method. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            The first garden, off Happy Jack Road about halfway to Curt Gowdy State Park, is the playground of Ron Morgan. His solution to cold growing conditions 500 feet higher than Cheyenne is to use a greenhouse.

            With plenty of experience in the construction trade, Ron built a sturdy wooden frame covered in plastic sheeting used for high tunnels and other less-than-permanent structures. Wind and hail made short work of the sheeting, so he installed rigid plastic, 6 millimeter twinwall, which has survived the hail so far.

            Ron is also an able internet researcher, and found a clever irrigation system he could build out of used kitty litter buckets and new rain gutters, based on Larry Hall’s “Gutter Grow System.”

            Each tomato plant gets its own 5-gallon bucket. A hole is cut out of the bottom and a small basket-like device fits in it, extending below. The buckets sit side by side on top of the rain gutter, with the soil in the little baskets catching the water that fills the gutter, watering the buckets by osmosis. A float determines when more water is automatically added to the gutter.

            Ron has 104 buckets on one system, 23 on a shorter system, and is currently growing a few other kinds of vegetables besides tomatoes. You can see how once it is set up it saves time and water.

Ron Morgan grows tomatoes in his greenhouse using a 5-gallon-bucket and gutter system for irrigation. Photo taken Aug. 30 by Barb Gorges.

            Ron also uses an economical support system for his vining tomatoes, training them to grow upward by way of strings attached to the ceiling. Little plastic clips clip onto the string and hold the stems. He adds more clips for each stem as it grows. But he also pinches off any secondary stems, or suckers, to concentrate all the energy into the primary stem.

            Ron said his favorite tomato for flavor is a cherry-type called “Sweet Millions.” It forms grape-like clusters. His favorite mid-sized tomatoes are “Tasty Beef” and “Big Beef.”

            He starts his vegetables in his shop under lights. Though he could transplant them to the greenhouse in April, Ron’s found the required heating isn’t cost effective. He waits until the first or second week in May to plant them – still a couple weeks earlier than in an unprotected garden. By mid-summer he uses shade cloth to keep his plants from getting sunburned.

Charlie Pannebaker, red shirt, discusses his tomato trials with visiting Master Gardeners Sept. 8. The empty row is where the beans have already been harvested. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            Charlie Pannebaker, on the other hand, lets his tomatoes sprawl on the ground, uncovered. This summer he trialed 10 varieties to see which would be the earliest, tastiest, most productive in his growing conditions.

            None of the visiting gardeners had ever seen tomatoes grown without a support of any kind, but I had, at the Rodale Institute near Emmaus, Pennsylvania. I asked Charlie if it was a Pennsylvania thing. It might be, as it turns out he grew up on a Pennsylvania farm, and this was the way farmers grew tomatoes.

            Charlie and his wife moved to their place off Horse Creek Road a couple years ago, after 30 years in southeast Colorado. He knew his new place at 6900 feet elevation, 800 feet higher than Cheyenne, would require short-season vegetable varieties.

            When we visited September 8, jumbles of tomatoes in tangles of vines lay on top of black plastic in rows along the drip irrigation lines.

            A month later, after unusually late killing frost, Charlie sent me his results.

            Of the total 507 pounds from all 10 varieties, the top four producers made up 70%, or 337 pounds. They were, beginning with the most productive, Fireworks, Siletz, Bush Early Girl Hybrid and Summer Girl.

            However, he and his wife, Fran, liked the taste of Ru Bee Dawn best and he liked Summer Girl for shape, size and uniformity. Fireworks had the best fruit quality – Early Girl had a lot of blossom end rot.

            Fourth of July had fruit ripening two weeks earlier than the others. It had the best yield through August, until the higher yield varieties passed it in September and October (unusually late for killing frost this year).

            Next year Charlie is planting Fireworks for yield, Fourth of July for earliness, Ru Bee Dawn for taste and Summer Girl for fruit quality.

            He hopes to find new varieties that combine all four attributes, as well as look for an early paste variety.

            And Charlie should think about getting some hail protection in case there’s no drought to dry up the hail next year.

“Bush Early Girl” is one of Charlie Pannebaker’s trial tomatoes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Garden Godzilla runs amuck

Bailey, 11 weeks old in this photo, loves the garden and backyard – and loves to eat anything in them. Photo by Barb Gorges.

What’s running wild through the backyard? It’s the Garden Godzilla

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Oct. 21, 2022

By Barb Gorges

            It has been a tough growing season.

By the end of August, Cheyenne was behind in precipitation by 5 inches – of an average 10-15 inches per year. The upside was we got very little hail.

            The downside is that without rain to even out our irrigation attempts, a lot of plants are suffering – most noticeably trees. Young trees turned their fall colors early or died. Top branches of old trees died. Please water your trees on warm days in fall and winter too.

            People in my neighborhood who don’t water their lawns because their landlord doesn’t offer an incentive or they are unable to, grew fine crops of thistle and other invasive plants. I look at the thistle as a portent of things to come if we don’t get enough snow in the mountains and water rationing becomes severe.

            But right now, Godzilla is trashing my yard.

It isn’t the drought. Its real name is Bailey and she is a Golden Retriever puppy Mark and I brought home at 8 weeks old at the beginning of September.

            Our Midcentury Modern house came with a backyard enclosed by a 4- to 5-foot-high wall of pink concrete blocks so we don’t have trouble with rabbits. But two dogs ago, we fenced off the shrubs with 3-foot-high wire fencing and the flower and herb beds with fencing that is 2 feet tall. As our last dog became elderly and less interested in rampaging, and finally died this spring at 16, we took down the flower and herb bed fencing.

September 2 or 3, the 2-foot fencing went back up around the herb bed and the flower bed. We’d planted more shrubs with no fencing several years ago, but by September 10, Mark had 3-foot fencing up to keep Bailey from gnawing branches.

Bailey loves the echinacea on the front edge of the flower bed. By throwing herself on the fencing, at first held up between the steel corner posts only by a few green plastic-coated sticks of rebar, she could get the leaves to pop through the mesh of the fence and eat them. Echinacea has medicinal uses – is it the leaves? And then, on September 24, she started climbing over the fence. Mark bought and installed a roll of 3-foot-high fencing.

Good fences make good neighbors and better puppies. But the garden and shrubs aren’t the only parts of the backyard getting trashed. Bailey is eating holes in the lawn. I think she might be a truffle hunter.

Our previous Golden, Sally, nibbled little white mushrooms in our lawn without ill effect though we removed any we found first. There is this swathe of dark green that seems to harbor mushroom-growing abilities the rest of the yard doesn’t have. Bailey is smelling something and rooting out grass clumps. She’s also rooting out the new grass that Mark painstakingly grew this season wherever Sally burned holes.

Puppies chew in the house too. We pulled out our 30-year-old tube of Grannick’s Bitter Apple paste and applied it to various edges of lower kitchen cabinets, and I started looking for more. Petco couldn’t find theirs and Walmart only had 35-ounce spray bottles of bitter cherry, no apple. But our vet tech said cherry worked very well for her dog.

I thought maybe I could spray those holes in the grass that Bailey is intent on enlarging. But before I could try that, I sprayed my toes to protect them while I washed dishes. It kind of worked. Bailey stopped nipping and started licking my toes instead. Guess I’ll try ordering Grannick’s bitter apple.

Mary Sharp gave me a tour of her flower beds recently, and like other country gardens, most are enclosed with deer fencing. Some areas, like the vegetable garden that needs frequent attention, have a gate. Along the new berm, and a few other beds, there’s no fencing because the plants don’t appeal to Bambi and his herd. So far, there is no plant that doesn’t appeal to Bailey.

The good news is that puppyhood doesn’t last forever. But until Bailey grows an eight-hour bladder, I am the one getting up with her between 2 and 4 a.m. I gather the sleepy puppy in my arms and take her out to the backyard, stepping onto the cool grass barefoot. I set her down and she becomes a pale shape in the not-very-dark night. Through the leaves of the green ash tree, I can see the brightest constellations. On the warmest nights I hear the crickets [late September]. If I don’t get too lost in reverie, Bailey doesn’t wake up enough to get into mayhem. She comes when I call and we tiptoe back into the sleeping household.

Fruit trees for Cheyenne

Martha Mullikin stands with her fruit trees. Photo by Barb Gorges.

It isn’t too soon to think about the spring bareroot tree sale

By Barb Gorges

            Back in the spring Martha Mullikin told me I had to come and see her orchard. I didn’t get there until mid-August. It should have been a good time to see fruit, but it just hasn’t been a good year for fruit trees here, with blossoms getting knocked off by late spring frost. Other years have been much better.

            Cheyenne is not a hub for commercial orchards. Besides unpredictable weather we don’t have enough water. Fruiting trees and shrubs are not drought tolerant and need to be watered at least every week during the growing season. To up the chances of success, they need to be the right trees—and shrubs.

            Martha picked her trees over the course of several years of Laramie County Master Gardeners’ bareroot tree sales offerings. She showed me her receipts from as far back as 2017 where one tree’s caliper, or diameter of the trunk, was slightly less than one inch. Five years later it is nearly triple that.

            Small trees are easier to get established than larger ones—they recover from transplanting sooner (and they are easier to plant). And if they are bareroot, they establish faster than any with their roots coddled by potting soil.

            Martha’s first tree was a Compass Cherry Plum, a cross between a cherry and a plum. Her next was a Liberty Apple. Apples need another apple to fertilize their blossoms. Luckily the neighbor has a crabapple that blooms at the same time, and that works. That year she also added an Evans Bali Cherry. Then came a Ure Pear and a Summercrisp Pear—pears also need two to fruit. The Zestar Apple finally bloomed last year. This year the blossoms froze. And Martha picked up a few elderberry shrubs.

            This year’s LCMG bareroot sale includes 22 diverse plants from Bailey Nursery, a wholesale nursery in Minnesota. The choices are rated for USDA horticultural zones 3 and 4, colder than our Zone 5 area. That won’t protect them from frozen blossoms some years, but it should keep the trees from being killed by cold snaps.

            Look for the sale online at in January and place your order for delivery in the spring.

             There are a few plants on the list that aren’t fruiting: a couple of hardy peonies, a Bloomerang Lilac that will bloom twice a year, as well as two shade trees, Greenspire Linden and Lewis and Clark Prairie Expedition Elm. The elm is a cultivar from an American elm in North Dakota that survived Dutch Elm Disease years ago.

            The list includes fruiting shrubs like Serviceberry, Purpleleaf Bailey Hazelnut, Nanking Cherry, Red Lake and Golden Currants and also Fallgold Raspberry which produces fruit twice a year.

            Then there are the fruit trees. My favorite, Yellow Transparent Apple, is an old Russian heirloom. We had one in our yard in southeastern Montana. Its apples don’t store well but they make terrific applesauce.

            Other apples chosen by the Bareroot Sale committee were selected for their hardiness and taste: Wealthy Apple, an 1868 heirloom; Liberty Apple, like Martha’s; and Cortland Apple, chosen to reestablish the orchard at the High Plains Arboretum on the west edge of Cheyenne. The Chestnut Crabapple is also good for baking, sauces, jams and jellies, and for pollinating apple trees.

            Ure Pear is on the list again this year. This variety was discovered in Manitoba and is rated for chilly Zone 3. But remember, you need two pears, so you could pick up the other pear on the list, Golden Spice Pear, also a Zone 3.

            There are two plums. Toka Plum is self-fertilizing and a Zone 3 cross between American and Japanese plums. The other, La Crescent Plum, needs another plum for fertilization and is rated for warmer Zone 4.

            There’s an apricot, Pioneer Chinese Apricot. It’s one of the smaller fruit trees, about 10 feet tall when mature. It doesn’t need a second apricot, but cross-pollination does improve the yield.

            And finally, there’s Mesabi Cherry, named for a geographic feature located near its Minnesota origins. It’s Zone 4, self-pollinating, 10-14 feet tall. Best part? Harvest is in July, way before many of these other fruits.

            Before you place your order at the Laramie County Master Gardener website, be sure you have a planting location in mind that gets plenty of sun and to which you can get plenty of water.

            And then success is all about the whims of Mother Nature. At least these are nice looking trees and shrubs, even in years without fruit.  

Garden tours

Booyong Kim’s radial garden grows food in and out of the marked beds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Summer tours show wide variety of garden interests

By Barb Gorges

            Within the space of a week in mid-July, I went on seven garden tours—no, nothing like my week in Vancouver, British Columbia, with Road Scholar. Just Wyoming gardens.

            The first was Piney Island Native Plants at Sheridan College, owned by Alisha Bretzman. The greenhouse full of exuberant plants uses an evaporative wall and was cooler than the 102 degrees outside. The plant list on Alisha’s website is pretty much my wish list and she is willing to ship.

            The next day tromping around in the flower-filled Bighorns was another form of garden tour. Then Mark and I met up with our old friends Michelle and Bill to walk around Kendrick Arboretum adjacent to Trail End, the house Governor/Senator Kendrick finished building in 1913. He planted a specimen of each of as many Wyoming native trees as he could. In 2013, the area became a designated arboretum, a garden of trees, and more have been planted since.

            We visited friends Dusty and Jacelyn on their family’s ranch in the Black Hills and they gave us a tour of scenic spots. The ponderosa pine forest, my favorite, is very open and garden-like.

            Outside Douglas, my friend Jean took me to see her pollinator garden. Some of it comes from the free seed packets given out by the Converse County Conservation District. It’s a different mix from our conservation district. She also lamented how difficult it was to grow fruit trees, even though she is 1,200 feet lower in elevation than us. Those deer are so sneaky.

            Back home, Laramie County Master Gardeners met at a member’s garden to enjoy the results of her hard work. Jutta Arkan’s perennial garden beds are even more full and colorful than last year. Bees were busy and a hummingbird stopped by, even though her garden is an island on the prairie.

            Earlier in the day, Carol Creswell gave me a tour of her garden. She lives about 10 blocks from me. She and her husband have lived in the same house for 54 years. However, the house is not the same now—it has grown, filling the lot nearly to the mandatory setback from the property boundaries. Every remaining square inch is landscaped with timbers, rocks, pavers, shrubs, trees and flowers. There’s no lawn, but I think I spotted an ornamental grass or two. There’s a vignette around every corner. And so many corners to explore. The best is seen from the covered patio, but I like the view from the front sidewalk too.

            Carol is never satisfied. There’s always some improvement she can imagine. The week I visited it was the reconstruction of the waterfall so that it won’t leak. Next is installing drip irrigation. She’s been hand watering everything this dry summer. And then there’s the two-story atrium where Carol’s houseplants can stretch out in indoor sunshine.

            Booyong Kim’s house also has a two-story atrium. It’s where her friends send their plants when they outgrow ordinary house spaces.

            If you frequent the winter farmers market at the depot or the one on Tuesday afternoons in the summer outside the east end of the mall, you’ve seen her selling kimchee, potstickers and other delicious food. In the fall she will be teaching Korean cooking classes on Saturdays through Laramie County Community College’s non-credit Life Enrichment classes listed in their Outreach and Workforce Development catalog.

            Booyong’s description of her garden philosophy is intriguing, and months ago she agreed to my visiting this summer.

            First, her garden is shaped by a gently curved retaining wall on one side which is echoed in reverse on the other side, forming the tapered shape of an eye. Where the iris would be there are eight pie-shaped beds radiating, delineated by boards (her husband tackled the weird angles), with pathways between them. The very center is like the pupil, a round bed marked by bricks.

            The whites of the eye are rather free-form, filled with various flowers, some volunteers. The radiating beds, however, are under more intense cultivation: vegetables and herbs. Booyong’s mother, visiting from Korea this summer, is hard at work, but comes over to greet me. She is the reason the vegetables are identified with hand-painted signs in both English and Korean.

             Some of Booyong’s treasured plants grow in the walkways between the beds. The pigweed tidy gardeners would pull out or try to avoid by using weed-barrier cloth, are actually edible, with high nutrition values.

            While Booyong is still trying to decide what is special enough to plant in the very center, the pupil, she went ahead this year with an experiment: plowing a patch of prairie next to the house to grow row crops. Friends Rusty Brinkman and Vally Gollogly helped her plant two long rows of garlic that she was about to harvest. She uses it a lot in her dishes. Her other vegetables looked good, however, she said, the carrots were a bust.

            It’s been a tough year so far for our landscape and garden plants. But the growing season isn’t over yet. 


Transplant jam

Yellow monkey flower towers over other native plants waiting to be planted in the Gorges yard. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 16, 2022, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Transplanting calculations plague local gardener

By Barb Gorges

            Every summer I get myself in the same jam.

I transplant new plants and then leave them at the mercy of our pet sitter, Becky. She’s a good sport and good gardener and when we leave again later in the summer she will get to take home any of our ripe tomatoes.

            This time she’s sitting the cats and seedlings from my winter sowing as well as $100 of young plants from the High Plains Environmental Center in Loveland, Colorado. They’ve been propagating native plants from seed and demonstrating their use in suburban gardens for some time now, but it was during the pandemic when they adopted a summer-long, online plant sale.  

All HPEC’s plants—all straight natives, no hybrids—are offered for sale at, with photo and description (size, bloom color and season, water and light needs). Place an order and it should be ready for pickup in three days.

            A group of us coordinated our ordering and drove down together. Director Jim Tolstrup gave us a summary of HPEC’s origins. Some 20 years ago, when 3,000-acre Centerra was on the drawing table, the development set-back from the two reservoirs became HPEC’s 76 acres. Small fees based on square footage of residential and commercial buildings became HPEC’s endowment.

In 2018, Centerra became the first Wildlife Habitat Community in Colorado certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

            HPEC is open free to the public daily, dawn to dusk. It features hiking trails, community garden plots, native plant showcase and an ethnobotanic exhibit, the Medicine Wheel Garden.

            When I got home, my dilemma was whether I should transplant my new plants four days before my vacation or leave them in their little pots. I decided on planting. Some plants were potbound and would have needed frequent watering, more often than if they were new transplants.

            But first I had to make room.

Out back I dug out some turf for the western virgin’s bower vine and removed volunteer Sweet William to make room for yellow monkey flower. Out front, I removed part of a large swath of cornflower, or perennial bachelor buttons, and gave much of it away, with the warning that it is not native, fills space easily, and is popular with bees. In its place I’m trying more monkey flower, western spiderwort, blue lobelia, and right on the edge of the bed because it’s so small, fernleaf fleabane.

            My gardening is mostly about trying new plants. I wonder how these straight natives of prairie and mountain will do in my shady, tree root-filled yard. By buying at least three of each, I can try them either in different spots or together to measure their odds of survival. I find out what they look like in winter, early spring, mid-summer and fall, and which insects like them.

HPEC’s plants are in 2 and 3/8ths inch pots, but 2 inches taller and less tapered for more root development than the standard pot. And faster establishment than plants in a larger pot.

            I tried transplanting gallon-sized, blooming, purple coneflowers into bare spots in the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ Habitat Hero garden one July and no matter how often I drove over there and threw water on them, some folded up shop within a month and the rest didn’t come back the next year.  I don’t think I used my current bare root planting technique—gently knocking (or washing) off most of the potting soil before planting. Mulching after planting is important, too.

            I’ve also tried setting out seedlings and year-old plants in spring there, but someone needs to keep an eye on them every day, like I do at home. This year, I made a deal with Isaiah, the exterior horticulturist at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. He could have my excess winter sown seedlings if he would keep an eye on my year-old transplants. So far, his success rate is similar to mine at home.


            Rain clouds keep dodging Cheyenne. By June 19 we were 3 inches behind, compared to the average year by that date. That’s a lot when the total annual average is only 12-15 inches. It’s hard to make it up with irrigation. One upside: less rain, less hail.

            In the summer of 1980, I was hired by the Bureau of Land Management office in Miles City, in southeastern Montana, to do plant surveys. They were cancelled because it was so dry that year. Nothing greened up, thus no plants to survey. We aren’t that bad off yet.

            But be moderate with your watering—just in case next winter’s snow doesn’t refill the reservoirs and recharge the wells.

Rock for lawn

Beth Miller’s front yard is a rocky oasis for hardy plants and mental respite. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 18, 2022, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Rock “lawn” blooms in Cheyenne neighborhood

By Barb Gorges

            I noticed one of my neighbors replaced her lawn with a rock garden a few years ago and recently she gave me a tour.

            Coincidentally, I knew the previous owner of the house, artist Elizabeth Nelson, then in her 80s, who had a conventional lawn and landscaping. The current owner is Beth Miller, whom I knew before she moved in.

            Beth started the transformation in 2010 in the front corner, planting a juniper shrub trimmed in the pom-pom style. Think of bonsai but with green balls at the ends of bare branches. Beth put in rocks to mark the border between the lawn and the mulch around the shrub.

            Then she decided to rock the whole front half of the yard. Initially, she was able to find “moss rock” with its interesting crusts of cryptogamic plants in town at Riverbend Nursery, then later expanded her rock purchases to Colorado.

Note: You must get permission to collect rocks on private land and you must check regulations for public land.

            Beth decided to rock the rest of the front yard, leaving a gravel path to wander across. When two enormous blue spruces were taken down in the backyard in 2017, more rock garden was created, along with a graveled play yard for the dogs.

Beth Miller’s backyard garden is built with stacked rocks. It’s a busy bird sanctuary. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            Small boulders and stacked rocks affect neighboring plants. Water runs off the rocks so plants get more water than they would normally. You can see this effect along highways where water running off the pavement makes the shoulders lusher than the nearby terrain.

            Rocks also absorb heat so perennial plants wake up earlier in the spring. But then there is more heat in the summer, so Beth has picked heat tolerant plants like yucca, agave, cactus, Mormon tea and other desert species as well as drought tolerant prairie perennials. Because of these species’ resilience, after she waters enough to establish new plants, she usually doesn’t need to irrigate at all.

            Like other gardeners, Beth enjoys the challenge of figuring out which plants to try where. The downside is that not every perennial plant makes it through the winter. This year Beth realized it was time to pull a couple yuccas growing too large too close to the sidewalk—those pointy leaves are dangerous. She’s hoping the remaining yucca will put up a 10-foot flower stalk like one of the others did last year. I made sure to walk the dog past Beth’s house when it was blooming.

            There are no boulders in the backyard—they don’t fit through the gate, but the stacked rocks create “Maggie’s Island,” named for the Corgi who enjoyed snoozing there in the sun. It is also the view from the dining room and kitchen windows.

            Beth has an artistic sense in the arrangement of rocks and plants, though she claims she’s more a crafts person than an artist. However, she does enjoy art and has been collecting work by a retired Colorado State University professor. He repurposes agricultural implements into benches including two Beth owns. He also made the fanciful snowmen from plow disks. The life-sized metal ravens come from an artist in Pennsylvania.

            Beth feels that the Mid-Century Modern architecture of our neighborhood’s homes is the perfect backdrop for her garden style. To set it off even more, she’s installed a corrugated steel fence at one side of the front yard. Something about it looks very organic when partnered with spikey plants.

            While Beth admitted that much of her gardening inspiration comes from Monty Don, the most famous gardener on British TV and easily found online, I’ve met other gardeners into either rocky gardening or spikey plants.

            Loree Bohl is the author of “Fearless Gardening: Be Bold, Break the Rules, Grow What You Love” and blogs at Prickly plants are her favorites, too.

            Coloradoan Kenton Seth designed the crevice garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and has a new book coauthored with Paul Spriggs coming out in August, “The Crevice Garden: How to make the perfect home for plants from rocky places.” His website is

            Starting a rock garden is a little more work and expense than most gardens. So Beth has the support of her family—as well as their muscles when they help with the heavy lifting.

            Her unique garden has been a place of respite for Beth, a place where she spends time in the morning before heading to work, sometimes even driving home at lunch for a few minutes more. And it’s a destination for all of us in the neighborhood to see what’s blooming next.