Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Trellis and vine

Trellis and clematisPublished Nov. 1, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Trellis and vine: A guide to vertical beauty for Cheyenne gardens”

Story and photos by Barb Gorges

Once the leaves are gone for the winter, we have five or more months to admire the structure of deciduous tree trunks and branches.

So how about adding more vertical interest to your garden or the side of your house with a trellis?

The purpose of a trellis is to get vining plants off the ground, which is handy in the vegetable garden. The simplest methods involve stakes, string and wire cages. But these are temporary.

Instead, let’s look at more permanent trellis ideas used with ornamental vines.

Some trellises are attached to walls, some are free-standing, and some are formed into arbors, meant to be walked under. Some can even be sculptural parts of dead trees or scrap metal. Or perhaps one of the porch posts will do.

Lattice trellis

David Mullikin built this trellis from lattice panels. It supports several different vines.

Sometimes, the desire for a trellis comes first, rather than the desire to grow a vining plant. Is there a plain wall or fence that needs something to dress it up? Is there a view you would like to block? Is there a view you would like to frame with an arbor? Are you looking for some shade? Need a little height to give your garden some pizazz?

Trellises with engineered straight lines and perfect curves can offer contrast to natural vine shapes. Trellises with a less formal structure can blend in with nature.

As you drive around town this winter, look for trellises. Some are obviously the kind you buy, the simple fan shapes, lattice panels or ladder shapes. But there is some original artwork out there.

Wood is the easiest for most of us to build with, but if you are thinking long-term, be sure to use wood that will endure, like cedar. You don’t want to get trapped into having to paint your trellis, especially if you are contemplating a perennial vine that adds growth from year to year. But if the vine gets cut back annually, re-painting might be possible.

Car spring trellis

Bruce Keating’s unique trellis, made from an old car spring, bounces in the wind.

Metal is the best. Wrought iron looks good for a long time and it is sturdy enough for heavier vines.

Or how about pipe? Copper looks really nice and might not be so hard to work with, although you don’t want it to be publicly visible or someone will steal it for its cash value.

Bedspring trellis

Jeff and Mary Weinstein attached box springs to their fence to support grape vines.

But perhaps you aren’t a welder. Then it is time to think creatively about repurposing. My friends Mary and Jeff Weinstein had an old box spring they needed to dispose of. After removing the cloth and wood, the springs are attached to their wood fence and covered by their grape vine.

An arbor or pergola is roof-like. It can include sides that are trellises or just the support posts. The roof can be flat or arched. Short arbors form a doorway from one area of the garden to another. Martha Mullikin, a Laramie County master gardener, makes sure her arbors frame views, even a focal point as simple as a container of bright annuals. Despite her several arbors being made of different materials, she chose them all to be flat-topped, echoing the same form.

rose temple

Bruce Keating welded this Victorian rose temple together from scrap metal and trellises.

More elaborate is the “Victorian Rose Temple” in Bruce and Carla Keating’s garden that Bruce welded, offering support for climbing roses on all sides. Plus it is a shady place to sit.

Recommended vines

As artful as a trellis may be, it needs a vine. I asked Susan Carlson, also a Laramie County master gardener, for her list of recommendations for our area, and I also checked the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website’s handout, “Vines for the High Plains Landscape,” available at, under “Gardening Tips.”

Susan said perennial vines are not going to cover the new trellis at once.

“Annual sweet peas and morning glories can act as filler for a few years where slower growing vines are planted. It takes a few years for the roots to become established.”

And she had some advice on where to plant vines.

“Some protection from wind would be beneficial, she said. “I have vines on all sides of the house, except the west.”

wooden arbor

Martha Mullikin’s arbor, adorned with a new clematis, frames a view of her yard.

As I researched each of the recommended vines, I noted they prefer sunny to partly sunny locations. All vines flower, some more noticeably than others. Except for grapes and hops, any fruit produced is appropriate for birds, not people. All vines mentioned are perennial, except morning glory and annual sweet pea.

Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)

Orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds. It can be an aggressive grower. Flowers on new wood, so it can be pruned in early spring without affecting blooming.

Clematis species (Clematis spp.)

Needs to keep its roots cool, either shaded by low growing perennials, mulch, or a rock. Many species and varieties are available with different growth habits. Recommended for Cheyenne:



–Jackmanii—purple flowers, spring & early summer blooming, can be pruned in early spring.

–Henryi—white flowers, blooms in June on last year’s wood, blooms again later on new wood.

–Nelly Moser—pink flowers, late spring and summer. Prune no more than top third.

–Sweet Autumn—white flowers bloom on new wood so prune after blooming. Native and very hardy.

Hops (Humulus lupus)

Odd, but interesting green flowers. It dies back after frost and grows new shoots from the roots in spring. Hops are an ingredient in many beers.

Morning glory

Morning glory (annual)

Morning Glory (annual) (Ipomea purpurea)

Blue-flowered varieties are most popular. Blooms most prolifically beginning in late summer. Needs lots of sun and water. Can be seeded directly when soil temperature is 60 degrees, but speed things up by starting inside three weeks early. Prefers poor soil. Supposedly grows 8 feet long but mine went 18 feet this summer. Grow multiple vines in each location.

Perennial Sweet Pea (Lathyrus latifolius)

Purplish-pink flowers fade to white and are not fragrant. Blooms mid-season. A low water and low maintenance plant. Seeds are poisonous.

Sweet Pea (annual) (Lathyrus odoratus)

Fragrant blue, pink, purple and white flowers. Prefers cool, but sunny locations and lots of water. Plant seeds up to 3 weeks before last spring frost.

Kintzley’s Ghost Honeysuckle (Lonicera reticulate)

Yellow flowers in late spring, but large, silvery leaves are its hallmark. First propagated and grown by the Kintzley family in Iowa in the 1880s and rediscovered in Fort Collins and propagated by Scott Skogerboe.

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

Red trumpet-shaped flowers bloom much of the summer. Blooms on previous year’s wood, so prune after flowering. Japanese honeysuckle is less hardy here, but is considered an invasive problem in 29 eastern states.

Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Flowers are not noticeable, but the birds love the berries and drop seeds that sprout all over my yard. Leaves turn red in fall. Little disks allow vines to adhere to walls, a problem when removing them.

Silver lace vine

Silver lace vine

Silver Lace Vine (Polygonum aubertii)

White flowers bloom in late summer, early fall, and well into October this year, Martha Mullikin told me. It is considered a relatively fast and hardy grower.

Climbing Roses (Rosa spp.)

Technically, climbing roses don’t twine around or attach themselves to trellises, but they can use the support.

Grape arbor

A grape arbor marks the entrance to Martha Mullikin’s vegetable garden.

American Grape (Vitus labrusca)

scrap metal arbor

Bruce Keating’s scrap metal arbor, festooned with clematis, makes a gateway to the garden.

Table grape varieties that do well in our area, according to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ tip sheet, include Concord, Valiant, Reliance, Himrod and Swenson Red.

Wyoming vineyard


Danny and Pam Glick consult with Chris Hilgert from the University of Wyoming Extension (right) in late April while the vines are still dormant. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Oct. 11, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Introducing the rare but fruitful Wyoming vineyard. Wyoming has what it takes to grow grapes. A Laramie County couple’s vineyard produces a Frontenac variety that was developed for colder climates.”

Photos and text by Barb Gorges

A vineyard is a rare sight in Wyoming.

When the Laramie County Master Gardeners’ advanced class was invited to learn about and practice pruning grapes at a local vineyard, it was hard to believe one existed.

The destination was Pam and Danny Glick’s place outside Cheyenne. You might recognize Danny as our county sheriff.

Good thing Prohibition is long past.

grapevine pruning

An advanced master gardener practices pruning grape vines at the Glick’s vineyard. For maximum grape production, what seems like severe pruning is necessary. Photo by Barb Gorges

It was late April, a little bleak on the High Plains, and the vineyard was dormant– just gnarly trunks and leafless canes.

While there are several methods of training grape growth, the Glicks are set up for a two-wire system known as the “Four-cane Kniffen.”

Our job was to look at each plant, now several years old, and figure out the best shoots to be the leader, and backup if necessary. The 12 students made significant progress on the 500-plus vines in an afternoon, getting more confident as they went.

The pruning seemed so ruthless. But the instructor, Chris Hilgert, state Master Gardener coordinator for the University of Wyoming Extension, assured everyone this is what is needed to produce grapes.

Even if a shady arbor is the goal, ruthless pruning will benefit it.

Still, grapes are very forgiving of novice pruning attempts.

checking grapes

Pam Glick checks on her grapes in mid-August. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Choosing varieties

In mid-August, I met with Pam to see how the grapes were doing and find out more about how she and Danny got into this agricultural niche.

A few years ago, Pam said she and

friends went on a Wyoming wine tour, including Chugwater, LaGrange and Torrington.

That got her excited. So she and Danny thought it might be a good investment for their retirement to get a small vineyard going. They did their research, including consulting Patrick Zimmerer who, with his family, owns the Table Mountain Winery and vineyard by Huntley, just south of Torrington.

As small and new as their operation is compared to Patrick’s 11,000 vines, the Glicks have sold as much as 500 pounds of grapes to the winery one year. Production is dependent on weather more than anything, but vine maturity—and good pruning—can increase the yield.

Frontenac grapes

Frontenac wine grapes growing in Table Mountain Winery’s vineyard near Huntley are nearly ready for harvest in late September. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The Glicks chose to grow Frontenac, a red wine grape introduced in 1996, and Frontenac gris, a white wine grape introduced in 2003.

The varieties, with origins in Rochester, New York, were developed specifically for cold climates and disease resistance by the University of Minnesota, which holds the patents. According to their website, “Frontenac has the potential to produce outstanding dry red, sweet red, rosé, and port wines.”

More recognizable French varieties trace their roots to grapes that are not hardy in our climate. But Frontenac comes from a wild American grape ancestor and does well here. Success is also dependent on lots of sunshine, and sandy soils because “grapes don’t like to have wet feet” – clay soils can hold water a long time.

As for the vines? Despite the severe pruning we had given them in April, they had grown and leafed out.


The Glicks made a bulk order that amounted to about $3 per vine. Each was about 2 years old, 1 foot tall, but with 3 feet of roots. They used an auger to make planting holes.

Blue plastic tubes provided collars to protect the new plants from rabbits. Of the 535 vines friends and family helped plant, only a few were lost, Pam said.


There are several problems to solve in a vineyard: water, weed control and pest control.

The Glicks have drip irrigation set up to water the entire vineyard once a week overnight, 5 gallons per plant, with adjustments for the weather.

Weed control isn’t so simple.

Pam, a recent graduate of the Laramie County Master Gardener program, does not use herbicides. She has been experimenting with different kinds of mulch, grass clippings, straw, discarded feed sacks, and cardboard.

Tilling around the vines would disturb their roots. However, hand weeding has the added benefit of giving the viticulturist a chance to inspect the vines.

Vines need tying up as they grow and suckers need pruning. Every evening, Danny walks the vineyard for an hour, and early on Saturday mornings too, Pam said. It has become his therapy when his job is stressful.

Harvest hazards

In June, the vines were hit by a hailstorm that totaled the roof of the Glicks’ house, but at the time of my visit nearly two months later, the vines had pretty much recovered.

The other hazard to grapes is birds.

I called Pam on Sept. 14 to schedule another visit to see the ripe grapes. But she had bad news: The grapes were gone.

They had set aside a day in early September to put up netting. This protects the grapes until they are ready for harvest.

Unfortunately, that was the day they needed to respond to a family emergency.

Without the netting, the birds had gotten every last grape while they were away, including the table grapes growing on the arbor by the house.

As with other soft fruit, the birds seem to prefer their grapes tart–less ripe than we like them.

Despite losing their harvest, the Glicks will still have to perform fall chores in preparation for next season.

Table Mountain Winery

Patrick Zimmerer, one of the owners of Table Mountain Winery near Huntley, displays a bunch of Frontenac wine grapes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Table Mountain Winery

On Sept. 20, I stopped by Table Mountain Winery to see what Frontenac grapes look like when nearly ready for harvest.

Patrick grows several other varieties, but said Frontenac seems to be the one favored by birds. He also had hail earlier in the season so there were a few little dried brown grapes in his bunches, but only on the side the storm had come from.

A cold, late spring was responsible for the thick canopy of leaves hiding the grapes. He said each year’s weather affects the taste of the vintage—one year he could taste the excess rain, another year, the effect of drought. The soil adds to the flavor, the “terrior,” as well, and apparently in a good way. Table Mountain wines, which include grapes they grow as well as those from small Wyoming vineyards like the Glicks’, have won prizes at prestigious competitions in well-known wine-growing locations.

Time to tunnel?

Before this year’s raid by the birds, Pam was thinking about enclosing the vineyard in high tunnels, something that is being tried in New York and Canada, adding a layer of protection from wind, hail, early snow and birds.

Then perhaps she and Danny won’t have their utility lines filled with robins making their own harvest plans.


If you are interested in growing cold-hardy wine grapes, visit University of Minnesota’s website,, and contact Chris Hilgert,

If you want to know more about the Table Mountain Winery, go to Their wines are available at several retail outlets in Cheyenne.

Herbs: scent, flavor, flower and fun

Herbs in strawberry jar

Master gardener Kathy Shreve planted a strawberry jar outside her kitchen door this year with Thai basil, “Purple Ruffle” basil, flat-leaved parsley, sage, chives, Greek oregano, French thyme and summer savory, including the herbs required for several of her favorite varieties of ethnic cooking.

Published Sept. 6, 2015 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Journey section, “Herbs, Grow them for scent, flavor, flowers—or fun

Text and photos by Barb Gorges

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Remember me to one who lives there

She once was a true love of mine.

–traditional English ballad verse

            I have to admit, my interest in growing herbs was sparked by old lyrics made popular by Simon and Garfunkel. Back then, these four herbs mentioned were considered “essentials.” Now I grow them for their scents, flavors and flowers.

The definition of an “herb” is a useful plant, the leafy part, used in smaller quantities than vegetables.

Spices come from other plant parts–roots, bark, seeds.

Some herbs are grown as medicinals. However, without the oversight of a trained herbalist, I wouldn’t recommend experimenting with herbal remedies.

Instead, let’s look at culinary herbs in my garden–all easy to grow. My experience in Cheyenne is that some are annuals, while others self-seed. Some are short-lived perennials and some survive a number of winters.

I usually mulch my herb garden in late fall with a 3 to 4-inch layer of crispy, curled, dried leaves from our ash trees. Straw can also offer protection.

Remember to never treat herbs with pesticides of any kind– herbicides, insecticides or fungicides–if you plan to eat or cook with them. Otherwise, they don’t need anything that flowers and vegetables don’t also require.

Fall is a good time to check local nurseries, which may still have a few herb plants you can set on the window sill for the winter and plant outside next spring. Having fresh leaves to pluck means you don’t have to bother with drying.

Thyme sign

Master gardener Linnie Cough grows herbs using drip irrigation and wood mulch, and Victorian-era styled plant markers.

Next spring you can tuck your plants into a mostly sunny corner in your garden the way master gardener Linnie Cough has, next to vegetables or flowers. Or pop them into a strawberry planter like master gardener Kathy Shreve does. She sets it on the deck within reach of her kitchen door.

Herbs are happy in any situation, from containers to the symmetrical beds of formal herb gardens.

The four “essential” herbs


Parsley flowering.

Parsley (Petroselinum) – This is a biannual classified into two groups, curly-leaved and the Italian flat-leaved. Mine self-seed and now new plants come up every spring. Chop leaves and add to soups, salads, Italian dishes, just about anything. Or dry or freeze them.



Sage (Salvia officinalis) – Don’t mix this up with sagebrush, which has toxic oils, even though it also has a woody stem, is evergreen and has leaves of sage-green (and now other colors). I’ve been able to keep plants growing for several years at a time. We flavor roasts with sage.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Another woody herb, it is often seen as a little potted evergreen tree. Master gardener Michele Bohanan brings hers in for the winter. I’ve been able to mulch and overwinter the prostrate variety a few winters. Rosemary is great in meat and vegetable dishes.



Thyme (Thymus) – A low growing woody perennial in the mint family, some kinds work well as ground cover between patio stones. Apparently there are dozens of kinds, with different scents and ornamental leaves. T. vulgaris is the culinary type. We’ve admired its tiny flowers more than we’ve cooked with it. Perhaps we should put sprigs under our pillows, as they did in the Middle Ages, to aid sleep and ward off nightmares.

More mints

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can be made into tea. I like it for the lemony scent. But it is a mint and has invaded most of my raised bed. I yank it out wherever I want to plant something else. Wise gardeners keep it in containers as they would with chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’), peppermint and spearmint, in containers, either above ground or in the ground.



Oregano (Origanum vulgare) – It’s one of my favorites—for Italian cooking as well as for the tiny flowers that attract lots of bees. It is a mint, but fairly well-behaved, spreading each year just enough to dig up and share some with friends.

The other Italian

Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) – There are many varieties with leaves of different colors and flavors. This annual, is easy to start from seed indoors and transplant to the garden, but the first hint of frost will finish it off. Besides Italian dishes, the leaves are also sprinkled in salads and soups. Pinch off flowers for better foliage, but leave some for the bees. This year Kathy grew “Purple Ruffle” and Thai basil.

Edible flowers—just the petals



Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – A clump of chives is self-perpetuating. Mine is 25 years old. The grass-like leaves are easy to snip into any dish where onion would be at home. The ball-shaped purple flowers are also edible as individual florets. This is one of the culinary herbs native to North America.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolume) – The showy orange and yellow flowers are reward enough for taking time to grow this annual, but the flowers can add color and a peppery flavor to salads. Direct seed it in the garden in spring.



Lavender (Lavandula) – I love the scent in soaps and sachets. Leaves can be used with roasts and the flowers on desserts. “Munstead” is supposed to be cold hardy. Mine has overwintered several years now.



Calendula (Calendula) – This is another self-seeder after it’s been in the garden a season. I’ve grown it for years, though I haven’t tried strewing the petals over dishes, like a poor man’s saffron. Its other name is “Pot Marigold.”



Bee balm (Monarda) – A variety I have with over-sized red flowers has been very popular with hummingbirds that migrate through Cheyenne mid-July through August. A slow-to-spread mint, the crushed leaves smell interesting and the flowers can be added to salads.

Other herbs to try

Cheyenne gardeners have good luck with a number of other herbs: borage, chamomile, cilantro (the seeds are coriander, a spice), dill, fennel, lovage, Greek oregano and summer savory.

Ways to preserve harvested herbs

In her book, “The Garden Primer”—a great all-around gardening book suitable for our climate—author Barbara Damrosch explains that what we’re after, flavor or scent, is the result of plant oils. Harvesting and storage should maximize them—if you aren’t just snipping a few leaves to add immediately to the soup.

Hang dry – The oils are at their strongest just before plants bloom. On a nice day, cut stems and hang them upside down, inside a paper bag, to dry. Strip dry leaves and store in airtight containers.

Freeze in ice cube trays – Basil doesn’t freeze well. Damrosch suggests pureeing it with butter or oil and then freezing it in ice-cube trays, then popping the cubes into a zipper lock bag so it’s easy to pull out what you need later.

Freeze whole in sealed bag – Other herbs with less tender leaves can simply be frozen in a plastic bag.

Preserve in oils and vinegars – Another way to preserve herb flavors is in oils and vinegars. Recipes abound in cook books and online.

Recipes with herbs

Gardening magazines are rife with recipes seasoned with herbs. My old favorite, “Organic Gardening” magazine, has morphed into “Rodale’s Organic Life,” but it still includes recipes, giving me ideas for more herbs to grow. And then I’ll need to look for seeds in the specialty catalogs, like Richters,, in which I counted 38 kinds of mint.

It’s fun having a collection of herbs, even just for rubbing a few leaves so I can enjoy their scent while working in the garden.

Composting can be simple

Compost bins

These composting bins built by Don McKenzie of Cheyenne are crafted with a few extra features, such as handholds on the front boards to aid in sliding them up and out when the time comes for turning or removing finished compost. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Aug. 2, 2015 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Journey section, “Don’t be afraid to compost. Put your food waste and yard waste to work; composting is easier than you might think. ”

By Barb Gorges

“Compost, 3. A mixture of various ingredients for fertilizing or enriching land.” (This definition first recorded in print in 1258 A.D.)—The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

It wasn’t long after agriculture was invented, I’m sure, that someone began talking about composting. Maybe it even predated agriculture, and someone simply noticed the plants growing next to refuse piles were larger than the rest.

Today, composting methods can vary, but they ultimately accomplish the same thing: provide a nutrient dense soil for your plants.

Styles of composting

There are the free-form methods of composting where, like jazz, we are inspired to experiment with what’s available. Whatever goes into the piles, eventually decays.

Then there are the methods requiring careful construction, like classical music: a particular size and construction of bin, proper proportions of green and brown materials, and a certain amount of moisture and manipulation to maximize the speed of decomposition.

And of course, rather than make their own music, many folks opt for the radio, sending yard waste to the city’s compost facility. And, hopefully, everyone is also picking up finished compost to use in their gardens.

Benefits of composting

Whatever kind of composting you choose, keep in mind the benefits of applying composted material to your yard:

–Compost provides nutrients, same as chemical fertilizers, plus more micronutrients.

–Compost has microorganisms that help plants absorb nutrients.

–Compost releases nutrients slowly so that plant growth is healthier.

–Compost helps the soil hold water.

–Composting by using leaves and grass clippings as mulch means you don’t have to buy other mulching materials. (If your yard doesn’t produce enough stuff to compost, visit the city compost facility or ask neighbors.)

At the most primitive level, composting can be accomplished with tools you already have for yard and garden maintenance, and with not much more effort than disposing of yard waste.

The science of composting

Over time, Mother Nature rots nearly every once-living thing. Still, there are a few principles to keep in mind for best results.

Several sources say the optimal size of a pile is a cubic yard, 3 x 3 x 3 feet. Using some kind of container–a bin, trash can or fencing–holds it together.

Composting requires the right amount of moisture. With our dry climate, you may need to add water sometimes.

Composting requires oxygen, or you may begin to get the odor of anaerobic decomposition. Holes in the side of the bin or wire mesh sides help. So does turning the pile, so that the stuff in the center trades places with the outer part.

Introducing good microbes speeds the process and is as easy as adding a little dirt—even soil clinging to weed roots may be enough.

Mixing green stuff, like grass clippings, with brown stuff, like dried leaves, with the addition of regular turning, can make the compost “cook” hot, possibly hot enough to kill weed seeds and diseases. But like me and my husband, most folks I talked to don’t manage their compost at that level–not enough to reach that sanitizing heat level.

What not to compost

We are primarily discussing composting yard and garden waste and so everything is a candidate. However, we should talk about a few exceptions:

–No seeds of weeds. Add weeds to compost before they go to seed.

–No weeds that sprout easily from little segments of roots, like bindweed and creeping bellflower. (Creeping bellflower has lavender bell-shaped flowers, and is common in Cheyenne.)

–No diseased plants.

–No woody stuff unless it is chipped into small pieces. If it doesn’t decompose in one batch, sift it out and add it to the next, or put it under your shrubs and trees as mulch.

–Nothing that has been treated with herbicides within two months. Same goes for pesticides, especially if it is intended for the vegetable garden.

Manure is a more complicated subject. It has to be from a grazing animal—not from cats, dogs or people. It could be full of seeds. It could be full of salts, which our soils do not need. It could be full of medications. It could be too hot—too strong—and burn your plants if it hasn’t aged enough.

Composting kitchen waste is something I’ve never been able to get my family interested in. But what I’ve learned is you want to stick to plant materials. No meat, no dairy, no grease, no oils, no salt, no processed food with unpronounceable ingredients. Maybe eggshells. To be safe, just stick to fruits and vegetables—including coffee grounds.

And no wood ash. Gardening books written by easterners forget that places like Cheyenne already have alkaline soils and wood ash will make it worse.


Years ago, Mark and I bought a system that is essentially a sheet of heavy green plastic with several stakes that fit into any of multiple slots in the sides to form it into a barrel shape 3 feet high and 8 feet around (2.5-foot diameter). We throw stuff in and when we need some compost, perhaps months later in the spring, we dig out the stuff at the bottom.

We have four large trees that shed plenty of crispy curled brown leaves in the fall. Some of those we layer in the vegetable garden after frost to decompose. Some I use in the perennial flower bed for winter insulation—thinning them out in the spring if necessary.

The rest we bag up to keep them from blowing away, saving them for spring. Then, we dig more of them into the vegetable garden, use them as mulch or add them to the bin between layers of lawn clippings—though clippings are often used as mulch as well.

I recently visited Laramie County master gardener Maggie McKenzie to see what she is experimenting with these days.

Her husband, Don, built a nice three-bin system, much like the one you can see next to the green shed at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. One bin is for collecting, one for cooking and one is available for spreading.

Lasagna gardening

Hugelkultur, a European gardening method in which compostable materials are layered over logs and wood debris, is catching on in the U.S. Maggie McKenzie established this bed last year and her husband, Don, decided to add the retaining wall. Photo by Barb Gorges.

She is also having success with “lasagna gardening.” To start a new garden bed, lay down a thick layer of wet newspapers (The Wyoming Tribune Eagle is printed with soy-based ink and is safe to use) or wet cardboard.

Top that with a 2-to-3 inch layer of peat, then a 4-to-8-inch layer of yard waste, then more peat, then more yard waste, until you have built up 18 to24 inches. As it ages, it will shrink. Letting it overwinter is best.

Maggie’s lasagna is for vegetables and is set up inside a raised bed frame, which keeps the wind from taking it apart. For annual upkeep, just add more layers. It is supposed to be ideal for starting and maintaining any kind of garden.



(Hugelkultur) Hugelkultur, a European gardening method in which compostable materials are layered over logs and wood debris, is catching on in the U.S. Maggie McKenzie established this bed last year and her husband, Don, decided to add the retaining wall. Photo by Barb Gorges

Maggie is also trying a variation of lasagna gardening that includes logs and other woody debris. Known as a hugelkultur bed, the woody layer is placed on top of the wet newspaper or cardboard.

The decomposing wood provides a steady supply of nutrients and holds moisture. Don finished the mounds nicely with retaining walls of sandstone.


Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Look for the brochure on composting under “Gardening Tips.”

University of Wyoming Extension Department, Search for “composting.”

“Organic Gardener’s Companion, Growing Vegetables in the West,” by Jane Schellenberger, editor of the “Colorado Gardener,”

“The Colorado Gardener’s Companion,” by Jodi Torpey of Denver.

“Lasagna Gardening,” by Patricia Lanza.

Match wits with weeds

Tyler with stirrup hoe

Tyler Mason, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ horticulturist, demonstrates use of the stirrup hoe in his wide beds in his plot at the community gardens. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 12, 2015 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s Journey section: “Can you weed out the weeds? Try these strategies to get your lawn and garden in tip-top shape.

By Barb Gorges

“A year of weeds leads to seven years of hoeing.” –Folk saying recounted in “Sustainable Horticulture for Wyoming,” University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service.

The penstemon in my perennial flower garden is creeping into the lawn. The grass is creeping into the flowers. Technically, that means both penstemon and grass are weeds—out-of-place plants.

Besides growing where they are unwanted, most weeds are aggressive, crowding out preferred plants and even reducing the productivity of vegetables. Often native to Europe or Asia, coming here accidentally or intentionally, they seem to outpace even native plants, excelling where ground is disturbed.

Unfortunately, weeds aren’t usually as edible as our vegetables or as beautiful as our flowers. But for a different outlook, check out “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds” by Katrina Blair, a Colorado gardener.

I recently visited with Tyler Mason about strategies for dealing with weeds. He is now the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens’ horticulturist. He practices integrated pest management, opting for the least toxic, but effective, methods to control weeds.


Canada thistle may require several applications of appropriate herbicide to eradicate it. If you chose not to poison it, don’t let it flower and spread seeds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Know your adversaries

The two biggest weed pests in gardens here are field bindweed and Canada thistle. Both develop extensive roots. And any tactic that doesn’t remove or kill every little piece will increase their vigor.

Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides), with stalks of multiple lavender bell-shaped flowers, runs a close third because it spreads too well.

Also on Tyler’s list: dandelion, curly dock, crabgrass, plantain, and common groundsel.

The book “Weeds of the West” is a great field guide to weeds in gardens, cropland and rangeland.

Beware of Trojan horses

Manure is great fertilizer, Tyler said, but not if it still has viable seeds when not thoroughly composted. Sometimes, weed seeds may come with plants you bring home.


Plantain, native to Europe, is a shallow-rooted weed that likes bare, compacted soil, thus its nickname: “white man’s footprint.” One plant can produce 20,000 seeds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Don’t stir things up

There are hundreds of seeds lying dormant in the soil just waiting for a bit of sunlight. Tilling the vegetable patch brings them to the surface.

No-till gardening is becoming more popular. Once a bed is built, the soil and its micro-organisms are allowed to do their thing, improving soil structure and fertility. Amendments are added as top-dressing.

In the Botanic Gardens’ community garden Tyler is using wide-bed gardening in his plot this year instead of the traditional rows. Each bed is a berm about 6 inches high by 2 to 3 feet across, running the length of his garden. Access paths on either side are well-mulched with straw, reducing the area needing to be weeded.

By not stepping on the berm and compressing it, the soil holds more water.

“Be effective with your water,” Tyler said. Water right where you need it. Same with fertilizer–don’t broadcast it over the garden, otherwise the excess will feed the weeds.

Stirrup hoe

The stirrup hoe, pushed or dragged so that its sharp lower edge is barely under the soil surface, severs weed seedling roots. Because it disturbs so little soil, fewer new weeds will follow. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Get them early

If your garden has any bare soil, you are bound to see weed seedlings. Pull them right away. Even thistle and bindweed are easy to pull, roots and all, when they are less than 2 inches tall. To disrupt seedlings while you are in a standing position, use a stirrup hoe like Tyler does, pulling it through the top quarter-inch of soil to severe the roots.

How do you know which is a weed seedling and which is a vegetable seedling? Plant seeds in a pattern. Or give your garden an advantage over weeds by transplanting starts rather than direct seeding.

Keep them in the dark

Black plastic sheeting, with holes cut for inserting vegetables, is a way to mulch. Used with drip irrigation and soluble fertilizers, it can be pricey.

Weed barrier cloth is often used for landscape plantings. But it can make it harder for the roots of desired plants to get water and nutrients. Over time, dirt blows in on top and weeds sprout anyway.

Rock mulch is popular these days, but it doesn’t contribute nutrients the way a mulch of organic materials can, like bark.

Creeping bellflower

In Cheyenne, creeping bellflower is quickly taking on a reputation similar to bindweed. It spreads and is difficult to eradicate. Photo by Barb Gorges.

In flower and veggie gardens, Tyler recommends materials that compost quickly and can be turned under, like grass clippings, tree leaves, straw (not hay with seeds). Take care they are not from diseased plants. Also, make sure they were not sprayed recently with herbicides. Weeds that poke through are easier to pull because the soil surface has not been baked by the sun.

Another way to keep weed seeds in the dark is to grow more densely—keep the ground shaded. Maintaining a healthy lawn cut about 3 inches high will shade out weeds, Tyler said.

Behead them

It is amazing how many seeds one weed can produce. The master gardener manual says dandelions have 15,000 seeds per plant.

Don’t let weeds flower. If you don’t have time to remove them, deadhead them by hand or mower.

Hori hori knife

The hori hori knife, a Japanese garden tool readily available here, is good for removing bigger weeds. It has a sharp edge on one side and a serrated edge on the other. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Dig them out

Tyler is fond of the hori hori knife, a traditional Japanese garden tool that looks like a narrow, pointed hand trowel with a sawtooth edge on one side. This is a good tool for weeds that breach the mulch, are too big for the stirrup hoe, or that have roots about as deep as the hori hori is long.

Overgraze them

When I was a range management student, I learned that cattle prefer forbs (wildflowers) over grass. They will nibble these “ice cream plants” to death if left in a pasture too long. Conversely, they could be trained to eat weeds.

So if you have thistle and bindweed in your garden, keep removing the green leafy parts as often as you can and eventually the plants can very well starve to death. At least they won’t spread.

If you have an over-grazed pasture full of weeds, please consult the Laramie County Conservation District.


One of the most difficult weeds to kill, field bindweed grows bigger leaves in more fertile soil. Tyler Mason likes to isolate bindweed from non-target plants by coiling up the vines in a cup with a hole in the bottom, and then spraying it with an appropriate herbicide. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Poison the invincible

There might be a situation that justifies using herbicides. But first, you have to find the right one for your weed, so you must be able to identify it.

Then you must follow the directions exactly as to formula strength, timing and weather conditions. Keep in mind that some herbicides will volatize—turn to toxic gases—when temperatures are more than 85 degrees F and then will blow onto non-target plants, the neighbors, your pets or yourself, Tyler said. He doesn’t recommend broadcast spraying or using feed and weed products. It can lead to toxic runoff which pollutes surface and ground water. Spot treat instead.

Exceeding herbicide label recommendations is another problem. It can burn the top of the plant, not allowing the plant to transfer the toxin to its roots—and so it re-sprouts instead of dying.

Finally, be sure to deadhead weeds before spraying so that bees and butterflies won’t be poisoned by poisoned flowers, Tyler said.

Draw the line

I heard that a concrete curb poured around the edge of a flower bed can be breached by grass.

I’m trying this solution, edging a bed with flagstones flush with the lawn. The lawnmower can run two wheels along them and no string trimming is necessary. However, in the spring, or whenever grass shows up between the stones, I can upend them and take a shovel to the white root-like grass stems, known as stolons, and cut them back.

Another advantage over concrete curbing: I can change the size and shape of my flower beds whenever I like.

Gardening is about discrimination, discouraging some plants and favoring others. Vigilance is important. But is there a gardener who doesn’t enjoy an excuse to spend time out in the garden?

Firewise: Preparing your home for wildfire season

Bob Lick's defensible space

Bob Lick keeps brush and native grass mowed next to his house in the forest west of Cheyenne, creating a defensible space in case of wildfire. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published May 31, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Take steps to become Firewise.”

By Barb Gorges

In the summer, when we smell smoke from the forest fires in Colorado and beyond, we might think we are safe here in Laramie County.

But several grassfires this winter and early spring should give us a heads up, whether we live within the city limits or “out in the county,” as people say around here.

It only takes an ignition source lightning, a burn pile, a cigarette ember), fuel (dry grass, resinous wood, anything flammable) and oxygen.

But there are things you can do with your house and landscape, especially if you live in what the firefighting community calls the wildland/urban interface, to reduce fuel, which can improve your chances of firefighters being able to defend your home.

Firewise Community sign

The community of Granite Springs Retreat in Wyoming is now a designated Firewise Community. The sign informs wildland firefighters that residents have taken action to make firefighting easier and safer. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Firewise Communities

Betsey Nickerson is the Laramie County coordinator for Firewise, a national program that works through the Wyoming State Forestry Division to help property owners, especially in forested areas, assess their fire risks and develop mitigation plans. Sometimes funding can be found to implement the plans.

The Firewise Communities program, in which a town or a group, like a homeowners association, works together, is most effective.

Bob Lick of Granite Springs Retreat, a development in the ponderosa forest 25 miles west of Cheyenne, attended one of Betsey’s talks about three years ago and realized his homeowners association needed to get onboard immediately.

This is the second year since it qualified as one of more than 1,000 Firewise communities nationwide. This Firewise committee educates neighbors and takes actions such as thinning pines along access roads and establishing one location where everyone can bring their tree prunings for safe burning.

On a rainy day in early May, as I visited Bob and his neighbors, it was hard to remember the approaching hot, dry and windy summer days ahead. Ironically, a wet spring means grasses will grow tall and lush. But when cured brown by mid-summer, they will provide perfect tinder.

The less flammable house

The Firewise website,, has recommendations for the least flammable roof, wall, widow and vent materials.

Decks and fences attached to the house are considered part of the house. Bob and Marty Gill, another Granite Springs Retreat resident, have both used plastic lumber for their attached decks, which will melt in a fire, rather than burn.

Wooden fences need to be separated from the house with something that is not flammable, such as a metal gate or a brick pillar.

When there’s threat of fire, homeowners should remove straw welcome mats, patio cushions and other flammables.

The first 5 feet

The good news is that landscaping with rock is in fashion these days. Bob is in the middle of arranging a 5-foot-wide border of rock along the edge of his deck. Around the rest of the house is gravel, including his driveway, and more underneath the deck, to make sure nothing can grow, dry out and provide a rogue ember with tinder.

Barb and Milt Werner have built a terraced stone patio against one side of their log house that does double duty as a firebreak.

The three homes have hardly any foundation plantings. But with a beautiful natural setting, why bother?

Here in the city or out on the prairie, foundation plantings seem more aesthetically necessary.

Even though I live only 200 feet away from a fire hydrant, Betsey thinks I should remove the junipers that grow against my house. More than any of the other evergreens, junipers are about as flammable as a can of gasoline, she keeps reminding me.

Also consider the pine trees that lean over people’s homes, shedding needles on the roof and in the gutters. Talk about good tinder.

Deciduous plants are much less flammable than evergreens. The list of less flammable plants on Natrona County’s Firewise website is a roll call of native species found in mountain meadows. They are becoming more available through local nurseries.

A Firewise demonstration garden planned by Betsey and Laramie County Master Gardeners is being installed this summer at the Curt Gowdy State Park visitor center to show there are lots of aesthetically pleasing flowering plants that are fire resistant.

Barb Werner

Barb Werner and her husband Milt keep their pines limbed up, removing lower limbs to the recommended height to avoid ground fires from “laddering” up the trees and crowning. She also removes pine needles and cones within her defensible space. The wet day in early May belies the hot, dry summer days to come. Photo by Barb Gorges.

30 feet out

When firefighters refer to “defensible space” around a home, homeowners get a vision of moonscape. True, you wouldn’t want your propane tank here, or the cute shed with the wood shake shingles, or your wood pile.

Trees are fine, in small, isolated islands, not in a continuous mass like a windbreak. Short shrubs, mowed grass, and gravel paths between flower beds can make a charming, fire-resistant landscape.

Even pine trees can be acceptable if they aren’t too close together. One secret Bob learned is that you can remove one pine in a clump of three, for instance, to allow the other two to take up more water, making them more fire resistant.

Also, limbing a pine tree—removing the lower branches—keeps a ground fire from laddering. That is, using branches, fire can easily make its way up the tree to reach the crown. Here, the flames catch more air and wind, billow out and throw fire-brands at nearby roofs and trees.

The recommendation is to remove evergreen limbs up to 6 to 8 feet above ground level. However, the pine trees near Barb and Milt’s house are hardly 12 feet tall so they use the other rule: remove no more limbs than those in the first third of the tree’s height.

One unexpected benefit is that more grass grew under the trees, Barb said.

While her gardening is limited to half a dozen containers well-fenced to keep deer out, Barb does put a lot of effort into raking up pinecones and excess pine needles that could be fuel for a stray ember.

30-100 feet out

Those in neighborhoods with less than 100 feet between their house and property boundary realize the need to work with their neighbors.

Out on the prairie, after the ground-nesting birds have fledged in late June to early July and the taller grasses begin to turn brown, it may be time to mow this zone.

Homeowners in the forest may have grass to mow there also, as well as trees and shrubs to manage as in the 5-30-foot zone.


Once you’ve had your property assessed for wildfire risk, and you spent the next few years completing all the recommended mitigation, you still have to keep up with maintenance. Check for leaves and needles in gutters, debris under the deck, dead wood, vegetation growth, and clutter.

Just chant the Firewise mantra: “clean, lean and green.”

Access road improvements

The homeowners’ association has worked to make the roads more passable and safer for wildland firefighters by removing, thinning and limbing trees along access roads. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Short of moving downtown, following Firewise principles is the best insurance against the increasing risk of wildfires during hotter and drier summers, and even dry winters.

Would using Firewise make a difference in home insurance policies? Betsey said she hasn’t heard of anyone receiving a discount, though it might help prevent loss of insurance.

But it should make for more restful nights for the increasing numbers of homeowners who take fire preparedness into their own hands.


Betsey Nickerson, 637-4912, 421-8012 cell

University of Wyoming Extension, “Living with Wildlfire in Wyoming,”

Firewise Natrona County, plant list,

Colorado State University Extension, Firewise Plant Materials,

National Fire Protection Association, Firewise Communities,


Wildscaping: bringing nature home


Allium flowers attract a bee. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published May 3, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bringing nature home with wildscaping.”

By Barb Gorges

The idea of wildscaping, landscaping your yard for the benefit of wildlife, has been around for a long time.

But there is a new spin on it. Here, the emphasis is on using native plants to provide shelter and food for wildlife.

Why native?

Let’s say you plant a shrub that is native to another continent–an alien. It may produce berries our birds will eat, but it did not evolve with our local insects, entomologist Douglas Tallamy explains in his book, “Bringing Nature Home, How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.”

Our native herbivorous insects usually find the alien leaves to be inedible. And that is exactly why aliens are so popular with gardeners.

But, Tallamy writes, if you fill your yard with insect-edible native plants, there will be plenty of insects for birds to feed their young and your yard would be contributing to the health of the greater landscape—and indirectly, human health.

Don’t worry, in a healthy habitat, your plants won’t be leafless.

So a stand of native trees and shrubs supporting native insects could produce more birds than say, a stand of Russian olive trees, an invasive exotic in Wyoming that has crowded out native species in many places. In fact, land managers are now working to eradicate it.


Beebalm (Monarda). Hummingbirds are also attracted to these tubular-shaped flowers in the mint family. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Gardeners can also choose native plants that will provide nectar and pollen for butterflies and bees. That’s important, as both are suffering declining populations.

Our natives are better adapted to our location, plant biologist and author Susan Tweit told the 100 people who took part at the Habitat Hero workshop in Cheyenne in March, organized by Laramie County Master Gardeners and the Cheyenne-High Plains Audubon Society. Native plants are also more resistant to our weather extremes.

And in our area, they often require less water than aliens, and little or no fertilizer, she added.

Designing wildscapes

Tweit also discussed landscape design, another of her specialties.

Landscape design is about pleasing combinations of color, form and texture at each season. Wildscaping considers appearance along with providing habitat functions.

The mingling of layers, from trees to shrubs to ground cover, besides aesthetic appeal, provides shelter, or cover, and foraging areas for a variety of species that may each prefer different heights and micro-habitats.

Tweit cautioned that “going native” does not mean a weedy-looking patch. You can still choose formal, cottage style, meadow, or minimalist. Simply fill the space with natives.

How to transition

People moving into a newly-built house usually get to work with a blank canvas. But where do you put native plants in an established yard?

The trick is to keep your high maintenance, water-loving conventional aliens, if you still want them, in one area of your yard. Don’t mix these with native plants, as too much water can be deadly.


Blanketflower (Gaillardia). Photo by Barb Gorges.

You can gradually replace your alien trees and shrubs with natives. Replace alien annuals (like petunias) with native perennials. Widen your flower borders. And one year at a time, replace sections of your Kentucky bluegrass turf, which is another alien species.

Tweit said her method for converting lawn is to smother it with layers of newspaper held down with rocks.

She doesn’t recommend killing turf with black plastic. That method collects heat and cooks the grass, but it also kills important soil organisms. As a last resort, use Roundup, the least offensive herbicide. Follow directions.

At our house, when expanding flower beds, we cut clumps of turf with a sharp spade and either turn each piece upside down in place, or shake off the dirt and take the roots elsewhere to compost.

Think about naturalizing remaining lawn with small, spring-flowering bulbs, like species tulips. They provide pollen for bees when little else is blooming so early in the season. By the time the grass needs mowing, their vegetation will have died back.


Water is part of the complete wildlife habitat. If you don’t have a pond or flowing water on your property, you can use a recirculating water pump in imaginative ways.

Or a valuable low-tech solution Susan mentioned is water in an upside down garbage can lid embedded in the ground, with rock perches around and in it. You can include a product called a mosquito dunk, which releases a bacteria in the water that is toxic only to mosquito larvae.

You may also try a patch of wet sand to attract butterflies.

Black-eyed Susan

This Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) attracted a bee before its petals fully opened. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Native plant lists

Without being a field botanist, how will you know which plants are native to our area?

One resource is the book “Growing Native Plants of the Rocky Mountain Area,” co-authored by Jane and Robert Dorn of Lingle. Jane was also a presenter at the workshop. It features an illustrated selection of 500 plants, their favorite kinds of habitat and tips on growing them.

Hard copies are available through Cheaper, digital copies will be available soon through Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society,

Meanwhile, the chapter website has the Dorn’s list of 114 native species specifically recommended for our high plains.

Also at the website is a link to “Wyoming Wildscape, How to Design, Plant and Maintain Landscaping to Benefit People and Wildlife.”

It is a jointly sponsored publication of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Land Management, Audubon Rockies and Wyoming Partners in Flight.

This publication gets into the nitty-gritty of sustainable gardening practices and also has a plant list.

Finding natives

Native plants, by definition, are the plants that evolved in the local area. But local nurseries are only beginning to catch on to the value of natives.

It is cheaper to start your new wildscape from seed, of course, and there is a lot more variety available that way. Do not dig up native plants in the wild unless the site is about to be bulldozed, and only with permission.

The good news is, savvy nurseries and seed catalogs have more and more natives available. But be sure to read carefully as not every plant offered is suited to Zone 5, our USDA plant growing zone, though Zone 4 seems more appropriate.

Horticulturally improved varieties of native plants—selected for brighter colors, bigger flowers or longer bloom times—can be OK, Tallamy says. They are close enough to the original natives to function in the same way.

When shopping, avoid plants treated with neonicotinoids, types of systemic pesticides that poison bees when they collect pollen from treated plants. For more information, see the Xerces Society website,

How to become a Habitat Hero

Audubon Rockies wants to recognize everyone who strives to make their yard more wildlife friendly. Check to find out how to nominate your yard this summer.

A few native plants for the Cheyenne Area

Courtesy of Jane and Robert Dorn


Colorado Blue Spruce, Pinyon Pine, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Bigtooth Maple, Boxelder, Common Hackberry, Lanceleaf Cottonwood


Rocky Mountain Maple, Western Serviceberry, Western Chokecherry, Silver Sagebrush, Redosier Dogwood

Perennial and Annual Flowers

Western Columbine, Orange Butterflyweed, Winecups, Purple Beeplant (Cleome), Purple Coneflower, Common Blanketflower, Annual Sunflower, Prairie Blazingstar, Wild Bergamot (Monarda), Penstemon (many kinds), Black-eyed Susan


Indian Ricegrass, Big Bluestem, Buffalograss, Basin Wildrye, Bluebunch Wheatgrass, Switchgrass

Where to shop

Try local nurseries and garden centers and then look for native plants through these regional sources.,,, www.bathgardencenter,,,,

More info

Douglas Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home, How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” –

Susan Tweit –

Susan J. Tweit photo

In close proximity to Susan Tweit’s house, this bed of native plants is arranged more formally, with cobbles providing additional texture and mulch. Courtesy/Susan J. Tweit.



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