Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Rogue sunflowers and pumpkins

“Late summer in the garden: rogue sunflowers and pumpkins take over,” was published Sept. 11, 2021, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

A Cinderella pumpkin (French heirloom “Rouge Vif D’Etampes”) was discovered growing perched on a hail guard propped against the back wall of the Gorges yard. It will turn red-orange when fully ripe. Sept. 14 photo by Barb Gorges.

            This summer, I’ve discovered that gardens need editing. The authors, Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, of the garden book I’m rereading, “Planting in a Post-Wild World,” talk about editing to improve how a garden “reads.”

            It means that if the Maximilian sunflower (a perennial) gets comfortable and starts spreading, out-competing its neighbors, do I want one whole garden bed to be full of 6 to 10-foot tall stalks only embellished in September with yellow flowers along their length? No, I don’t. I would like to still be able to “read” or see a few other kinds of plants in that garden bed. So, I started pulling the stalks. They grow off an underground rhizome and they are easy to yank out.

Maximilian seeds from different sources planted in different places in our yard have different spreading habits and bloom times. The hot, dry, side garden produced a few flowers by early August, in time for the fair. Another clump blooms in September but hasn’t spread at all. Perhaps it has tougher neighboring perennial competitors.

            Speaking of the fair, my list of potential floriculture entries was edited by half by leaf cutter bees. The scalloped edges of leaves they leave behind won’t win any ribbons or premiums. On the other hand, it shows my planting for pollinators is successful.

            The feathery blue flowers of perennial bachelor buttons looked spectacular in June. Over the last 30 years they have become a thick drift, suffocating perennials I’ve put in to provide color the rest of the summer. By August, they look exhausted, so I cut them back—they don’t stand up well as “winter interest.” Time to dig some out and give more space to the fall-blooming asters and a variety of black-eyed Susans that bloom much later than the showy ones that got a blue ribbon.

            Every year, gardening in Cheyenne is different. I think due to the 30 inches of snow in March, plants that need winter moisture did well. That maybe explains the peony that finally bloomed years after being planted and the grape vines finally growing more than two feet. But it doesn’t explain why only one of 25 irises bloomed. Charlette at C & T Iris Patch said to give them another year’s chance.

            Our red twig (red osier) dogwood grew more than usual. Many of the stems are green now so I pruned the oldest at ground level to encourage new red stems. And then I put the thinnest twigs in a bucket of water to see if they will sprout roots.

            But one of the euonymus bushes lining the front walk seems to be dying. The six-shrub hedge was probably planted when the house was built in 1962. Catherine Wissner, Laramie County Extension horticulturist, thinks it’s verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungal disease, and I should dig up the infected shrub and soil. However, the shrub next to it looks great—I’m sure its roots mingle with the sick shrub. Chokecherry sprouts are wasting no time in moving in. Perhaps we can keep them pruned to blend in.

            It’s a very good year for chokecherries. The shrubs the birds planted in the alley are full of fruit—too much for the robins to keep up with so Mark is getting to harvest some.

            This is about the sixth year Mark has grown Anna Maria’s Heart heirloom tomatoes and they are bigger and meatier than ever. Part of it might be this warmer summer. Part of it may be backyard genetics because every year Mark saves the seeds from the best tomatoes.

            On a lark, Mark planted a couple Cinderella pumpkin seeds I saved a few years ago. He started them inside and then transplanted them to what used to hold garbage cans and is now essentially a 3 x 4-foot, 3.5-foot-deep brick compost bin.

The pumpkins have grown 15-inch diameter leaves on yards of vines climbing right over the spruce trees in one direction and escaping into the alley in the other. At the end of July, we found a softball-sized flattish pumpkin (Cinderella’s carriage was a flattish pumpkin) that quickly grew over the next month. It will eventually turn red—if we have a long, warm fall (but with rain, please) so it can fully ripen.

            I hope all of you have had a successful growing season, at least in some aspect. Make notes to help you remember what to try next year. 

The Cinderella pumpkin, Aug. 17. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Book signing at Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

Heirlooms and Blooms Harvest Market at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

Sept. 11 (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) & 12 (noon – 4 p.m.):

–and I will be there to sign copies of “Cheyenne Garden Gossip.”

(See www.YuccaRoadPress.com for more places to purchase it and to read the preview.)

Here’s the official info:

2021 HEIRLOOMS AND BLOOMS HARVEST MARKET

Don’t wait for the chill of the Holiday season to start shopping for your loved ones or yourself! Join us for an expanded indoor/outdoor market at the most bountiful and beautiful time of year at the Gardens! This two-day event will have a variety of regionally made gifts from artists, artisans, and craftsmen selling everything from home decor, antiques, art and jewelry, to homemade jellies, baked goods, vintage and apparel, and so much more!

Make it an outing for the whole family and enjoy some delicious food from our food vendors, and activities for the kids! Admission is free, so come and enjoy the lush surroundings of the Gardens as you get ahead of your Fall decorating and Holiday shopping!


“Cheyenne Garden Gossip” book review

“Cheyenne Garden Gossip: Locals Share Secrets for High Plains Gardening Success,” by Barb Gorges.

WTE garden columns collected in new book: “Cheyenne Garden Gossip”

Published Aug. 7, 2021, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

            Would you be interested in a collection of my Wyoming Tribune Eagle gardening columns? The book, “Cheyenne Garden Gossip: Locals Share Secrets for High Plains Gardening Success,” is available, so far, at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Wyoming State Museum gift shops.

            You can see a preview at https://yuccaroadpress.com/books/.

            The book is a collaboration with more than 100 people—those I interviewed, plus people such as Chris Hoffmeister, the book designer; content reviewers Jessica Friis, Susan Carlson and Jane Dorn; and many Laramie County Master Gardeners. In the seven pages of acknowledgements, you might find  gardeners you know and what chapters they contributed to.

            The book’s advice aims to minimize expense, time, water and chemicals, and maximize the time you enjoy strolling in your garden. It includes 64 updated columns, a plant list, plant and garden photo galleries, a garden book list, lists of other resources and a key word index.

            Becoming a gardener changes your perspective. Mowing the lawn becomes a way to harvest green stuff for your compost. Raking leaves is gathering winter mulch to protect spring-blooming bulbs.

Giving up rototilling the vegetable patch every year means preserving soil microbes you need for a better harvest. Not mowing your patch of prairie out in the county more than every couple years means more bird song.

I can’t review my own book so instead, I’m giving you the foreword written by Shane Smith, the founder and director emeritus of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, who explains why we need our own gardening book around here. 

Foreword by Shane Smith

“This is a book that speaks to you directly, by not only the author, Barb Gorges, but many accomplished gardeners on the High Plains in Southeast Wyoming. To be a successful gardener here is no easy task. In fact, I believe it is the most challenging garden climate in the lower 48 states.

“Why is gardening here such a challenge? Let’s look at Cheyenne, which is indicative of much of the High Plains. It has the highest average number of hailstorms per year in the nation, between 8 and 11. Cheyenne is the fourth windiest city in the nation with a daily average wind speed of 13 miles per hour. This means for every calm day you must have a 26-miles-per-hour day to make that average work.

“Cheyenne also has unpredictable spring and fall frosts. This kills fruit blossoms in spring and can turn a garden brown even in early September.

“Plants grow at night. The warmer it is at night, the faster they grow. Be­cause of Cheyenne’s 6,000-foot elevation, it has cool summer nights, staying mostly in the 40s and 50s. Gardens grow much faster when most of the nights are in the upper 50s to mid-60s. This is why that 65-day tomato still takes 80 days to produce.

“Finally, Cheyenne often has many winter days with little or no snow cover. There are years when Cheyenne has fewer days with snow on the ground than other lower altitude Front Range towns. This lack of snow cover combined with the relentless wind desiccates plants. That is why you often must drag out the hose in winter to water your trees, shrubs and perennials to keep them alive and in maximum health. Whew! Gardeners on the High Plains deserve a medal for their harvests and beautiful flowers.

“Because of the challenging climate, Cheyenne and High Plains gardeners must do things differently. To have a successful garden in this climate you often need different scheduling and different varieties, and you must develop creative hail-protection strategies. On top of all that, it helps to become an accomplished weather watcher.

“In this book, Barb has put together a diverse and experienced group of expert gardeners, who first appeared in her regular writings for the Wy­oming Tribune Eagle in her excellent Cheyenne Garden Gossip column and blog. Barb also offers up her own great tips from her extensive garden­ing experiences.

“This book has a wide breadth of gardening and landscaping subjects. Besides the traditional flowers and vegetables, Barb discusses how to suc­cessfully grow habitat gardens, rain gardens, xeriscapes, ground covers, fruit trees, worm farms, hoop house gardens, straw bale gardens and more. Both newbies and experienced gardeners are sure to find enlightening information.

“While the High Plains are an exceptional challenge, this book will help you even the odds in your garden’s favor. Go get your hands dirty!

“Best Regardens!”

Shane Smith, Founder and Director Emeritus of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens


Laramie Co. Library garden tour

Have you seen the garden alongside the Laramie County Library parking lot? Find out more about it Thursday evening, August 12 at 6 p.m.

P.S. The Laramie County Conservation District plans to give away five copies of my new gardening book (https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2021/08/02/cheyenne-garden-gossip-review/)!


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“Cheyenne Garden Gossip” review

WTE garden columns collected in new book: ‘Cheyenne Garden Gossip'” was published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Aug. 7, 2021.

“Cheyenne Garden Gossip: Locals Share Secrets for High Plains Gardening Success,” by Barb Gorges, Yucca Road Press.

By Barb Gorges

            Would you be interested in a collection of my Wyoming Tribune Eagle gardening columns? The book, “Cheyenne Garden Gossip: Locals Share Secrets for High Plains Gardening Success,” is available, so far, at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Wyoming State Museum gift shops.

            You can see a preview at https://yuccaroadpress.com/books/. [For those of you outside Cheyenne, the book will eventually be available on Amazon. If you can’t wait, contact me at bgorges2 @ gmail.com.]

            The book is a collaboration with more than 100 people–those I interviewed, plus people such as Chris Hoffmeister, the book designer; content reviewers Jessica Friis, Susan Carlson and Jane Dorn; and many Laramie County Master Gardeners. In the seven pages of acknowledgements, you might find  gardeners you know and what chapters they contributed to.

            The book’s advice aims to minimize expense, time, water and chemicals, and maximize the time you enjoy strolling in your garden. It includes 64 updated columns, a plant list, plant and garden photo galleries, a garden book list, lists of other resources and a key word index.

            Becoming a gardener changes your perspective. Mowing the lawn becomes a way to harvest green stuff for your compost. Raking leaves is gathering winter mulch to protect spring-blooming bulbs.

Giving up rototilling the vegetable patch every year means preserving soil microbes you need for a better harvest. Not mowing your patch of prairie out in the county more than every couple years means more bird song.

I can’t review my own book so instead, I’m giving you the foreword written by Shane Smith, the founder and director emeritus of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, who explains why we need our own gardening book around here. 

My back garden in early August is full of fruiting shrubs, tomatoes (under the hail guard), coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, blanketflower, beebalm, bees and birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Foreword by Shane Smith

“This is a book that speaks to you directly, by not only the author, Barb Gorges, but many accomplished gardeners on the High Plains in Southeast Wyoming. To be a successful gardener here is no easy task. In fact, I believe it is the most challenging garden climate in the lower 48 states.

“Why is gardening here such a challenge? Let’s look at Cheyenne, which is indicative of much of the High Plains. It has the highest average number of hailstorms per year in the nation, between 8 and 11. Cheyenne is the fourth windiest city in the nation with a daily average wind speed of 13 miles per hour. This means for every calm day you must have a 26-miles-per-hour day to make that average work.

“Cheyenne also has unpredictable spring and fall frosts. This kills fruit blossoms in spring and can turn a garden brown even in early September.

“Plants grow at night. The warmer it is at night, the faster they grow. Be­cause of Cheyenne’s 6,000-foot elevation, it has cool summer nights, staying mostly in the 40s and 50s. Gardens grow much faster when most of the nights are in the upper 50s to mid-60s. This is why that 65-day tomato still takes 80 days to produce.

“Finally, Cheyenne often has many winter days with little or no snow cover. There are years when Cheyenne has fewer days with snow on the ground than other lower altitude Front Range towns. This lack of snow cover combined with the relentless wind desiccates plants. That is why you often must drag out the hose in winter to water your trees, shrubs and perennials to keep them alive and in maximum health. Whew! Gardeners on the High Plains deserve a medal for their harvests and beautiful flowers.

“Because of the challenging climate, Cheyenne and High Plains gardeners must do things differently. To have a successful garden in this climate you often need different scheduling and different varieties, and you must develop creative hail-protection strategies. On top of all that, it helps to become an accomplished weather watcher.

“In this book, Barb has put together a diverse and experienced group of expert gardeners, who first appeared in her regular writings for the Wy­oming Tribune Eagle in her excellent Cheyenne Garden Gossip column and blog. Barb also offers up her own great tips from her extensive garden­ing experiences.

“This book has a wide breadth of gardening and landscaping subjects. Besides the traditional flowers and vegetables, Barb discusses how to suc­cessfully grow habitat gardens, rain gardens, xeriscapes, ground covers, fruit trees, worm farms, hoop house gardens, straw bale gardens and more. Both newbies and experienced gardeners are sure to find enlightening information.

“While the High Plains are an exceptional challenge, this book will help you even the odds in your garden’s favor. Go get your hands dirty!

“Best Regardens!

Shane Smith

Founder and Director Emeritus of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens


Cheyenne Garden Gossip book preview

“Cheyenne Garden Gossip,” my new book, is now available at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens giftshop and will soon be available in other shops. Preview: https://yuccaroadpresscom.files.wordpress.com/2021/07/cheyennegardengossippreview-1.pdf.


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Habitat Hero Garden Walk July 11, 2021

The Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens is full of blooming columbines, penstemons and other prairie flowers in late June-early July. Photo by Barb Gorges.

July 11 Garden Walk theme is “Habitat Hero”:

Water-smart, bird-bee-butterfly-friendly gardening

By Barb Gorges

            The Laramie County Master Gardeners’ Garden Walk is back. The theme is “Habitat Hero” gardens. It’s scheduled for July 11, 1-4 p.m. It’s free, but donations are appreciated.

            Five gardens are on the walk, and all are certified Habitat Hero gardens. You can start at any garden and pick up the booklet that has the location and description of each. It might be easiest to start with the Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, next to the parking lot in front of the conservatory, 710 S. Lions Park Drive.

            This garden will be hosted by two people who have been supporting the Habitat Hero gardening movement for about eight years, my husband, Mark, and me.

            Habitat Hero is an Audubon Rockies program, https://rockies.audubon.org/habitat-hero. It was first conceived of by a woman who moved from Florida to Colorado. She soon realized she needed to relearn how to garden. Her love of birds and her recognition of the lack of water in the west helped her formulate the tenets of the program.

            The Habitat Hero certification process looks for water-wise gardening and landscaping practices that are bird and pollinator friendly and that emphasize native and native-type plants.

Bird and pollinator friendly practices include:

— Switching out bluegrass turf for native grasses or plants

— Foregoing chemical pesticides and fertilizers for other proven options

— Keeping cats indoors or at least in a screened patio or “catio”

— Finding plants that are native to Wyoming that will support native bees, or non-native ornamentals that haven’t been overbred and still produce nectar and pollen.

The Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities replaced turf at their headquarters with a water-smart, bird-friendly certified Habitat Hero garden. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            The five gardens are proof that a bird-friendly garden doesn’t need to look like a weed patch. The one by garden designer Kathy Shreve coordinates perennials into a season-long succession of blooms in the Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden at the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities office, 2416 Snyder Avenue.    

            Nursery plants were purchased and planted in 2018. Garden host Sarah Bargsten, the new BOPU water conservation specialist, is quickly learning to distinguish weeds from self-seeded seedlings so that eventually the spaces between the original plants will fill in.

            Three private gardens are all tended by people who love to collect plants, so while you will see borders and raised beds like a normal garden, there is a lot of variety.

Experiments growing Wyoming native plants and other plants that might find Cheyenne’s climate comfortable fill Michelle Bohanan’s flower beds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Master gardener Michelle Bohanan uses the database function on the National Gardening Association website, https://garden.org, to track 900 species or cultivars she’s planted to date, though many have not survived Cheyenne’s climate.

Michelle has a mix of natives, horticulturally “improved” native cultivars and non-natives from parts of the world with climate similar to ours. Her garden is more of a laboratory but the overall effect around her pre-1890s house is quite charming. Her husband, Dean, is in charge of the temperamental roses.

Jutta Arkan’s ranchette landscape includes a variety of pollinator-friendly plants in raised beds, a rock garden and wildflowers out on the prairie. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Master gardener Jutta Arkan has an eye for landscape design. She and her boyfriend, Gus Schliffke, both retired Air Force, moved to their ranchette in 2018, about two miles north of Little Bear Inn.

Immediately, they went to work on a multi-year plan that included adding a third raised bed made with 70-pound stones, a rock garden, a “she shed” with a potting shed attached, vegetable garden, other garden beds and wildflowers seeded into the native prairie.

You will notice that the turf adjacent to the house looks like a golf course. It’s Gus’s domain and is managed with conventional practices as an intense recreational space. But Gus fully supports Jutta’s flower mania, calling himself her “indentured servant.”

Jack Palma, a member of the Cheyenne Habitat Hero Committee, provides water for wildlife in the shady garden behind his circa pre-1890s house. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Jack Palma is a member of the Cheyenne Habitat Hero Committee and has long been interested in birds and gardening. He and his wife, Do, own a pre-1890s historic house a couple blocks north of the Capitol. Big old trees make for a secluded backyard that he has enhanced with plants that appeal to him yet survive in shade.

Since joining the Habitat Hero committee, Jack has started to incorporate more natives. New this spring is a gravel garden at the side of the house that is almost entirely western natives.

As for the Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden at the Botanic Gardens, it started in 2018 with the seedlings I’d planned to put in my own garden plus other donations. It reflects my attraction to the prairie plants I first learned to identify in the “Sticks and Weeds” class at the University of Wyoming. It has lots of penstemons, coneflowers, columbines, milkweeds, yarrows, blanket flowers—all self-seeding and easy to grow. We’re all looking forward to welcoming you to the 2021 LCMG Garden Walk!

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden

     


Crabapple spectacular

Flowering crabapples all over Cheyenne were spectacular this spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 12, 2021, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Crabapples offered spectacular show this spring in Cheyenne”

By Barb Gorges

            It was an exceptional spring for flowering crabapple trees all over town. Our wet weather provided moisture and no late frost killed the buds or flowers. The older trees are probably Dolgo (white) and Hopa (pink) varieties.

            If you are inspired to plant a crab, look for the newer varieties that are more disease-resistant and cold hardy to Zone 4. Some are purely ornamental and some produce fruit worth preserving as jam and jelly.

            Flowering shrubs have done well this spring, even lilacs, which are not reliable bloomers here.

            The first shrubs to bloom in our yard, very end of April, were the Nanking cherries. Honeybees were soon buzzing round them. They flower before they leaf out. Some years they lose their flowers in a poorly-timed snowstorm. This year it was the house finches pinching off flowers. They could be looking for nectar. They left enough blossoms that they’ll be assured of fruit by late summer.

Nanking cherry shrubs attracted honey bees in early May. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            Our American plum bloomed white next. A bird sitting in the tree overhead planted it years ago. Since there are few plants that thrive on the north side of a house, I left it to grow, even though I didn’t know what it was until it finally fruited about three or four years ago. The clusters of five-petalled flowers showed it was in the rose family, same as apples and cherries.

Golden currant blooms for a longer time than other blooming shrubs. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            Golden currants began to bloom as early as the Nanking cherries and continued much longer. They have tiny, bright yellow flowers. The birds planted one against the trunk of one of our old ash trees. You can’t get a shovel in the ground there. The other is a nursery variety, the name I didn’t record. It seems to flower more prolifically, but it also gets more sun and has less competition. Currants are edible, but we leave them for the birds. I noticed the birds have planted several more among the Nanking cherry hedge.

            Viburnum lantana is another shrub the birds have planted. There’s an extensive planting of it up on the corner. It gets thick white bunches of flowers and then red fruit that ripens into deep blue. Beloved by the birds, they plant more as they go. Just dug a two-year-old sprout out of the daisies for a friend with a bare backyard.

Viburnum lantana flowers eventually become dark blue berries. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            The last shrub to bloom in our yard is the chokecherry. Just the opposite of the Nanking cherry, it leafs out before it produces its long racemes of tiny white flowers, precursors to an abundance of fruit.

Mark likes to make jelly and syrup with it, with plenty of sugar. Because it flowers later, it’s less likely to be affected by late snows. If you, like me, want it to spread and fill in an area for more privacy, be sure to avoid some of the new hybrids like ‘Sucker Punch’ that are meant to be trees.

To keep a more primitive variety of chokecherry suckering as a thick hedge and to keep berries within reach, periodically remove the stems that want to become trees.

Chokecherry is one of Cheyenne’s hardiest shrubs/trees. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            Sally, our 15 ½-year-old Golden Retriever, and I have been walking around the neighborhood so slowly that there’s plenty of time to contemplate everyone’s front yard. I love the ones filled with flowers and thoughtful landscaping.

But it seems that each year more of the homes, built mostly in the 50s and 60s, are becoming rentals. I know for some of the houses it’s a case of the kids not ready to give up the family home after the parents are gone. But the problem is, most landlords, especially rental property businesses, and probably tenants as well, want low maintenance yards. They think those have to be turf only and are unlikely to plant more trees and shrubs. That could mean fewer crabapples blooming in 50 to 60 years.

Melting turf

I was on a yard call mid-May with Laramie County Extension horticulturist Catherine Wissner and Master Gardener interns to look at several issues. One was big dead areas all over the lawn despite the homeowner’s persistent watering last summer. As Catherine put it, the turf “melted” and left gray residue.

It’s a fungal infection. The best option if you want to keep growing turf in such an area is to consult your local garden center for the best anti-fungal product to treat it. However, this homeowner was planning to replace much of her turf with a mountain meadow-style landscape.

I love late spring/early summer. So green with possibilities.

Flowering crabapple detail: having 5-petal flowers is a characteristic of plants in the rose family. Photo by Barb Gorges.


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Spring gardening pleasures

May 4: Tiny hail shower engulfs species tulips. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 7, 2021, “Finding new growth is a spring gardening pleasure”

By Barb Gorges

We had to buy new grow lights because we had so many tomato seedlings this spring. If you arrive at the Laramie County Master Gardener Plant Sale early enough, you can buy one.

Mark saved seed from our Anna Maria’s Heart heirloom tomatoes and our friends’ ‘Sunrise’ cherry tomatoes. He doesn’t test for seed germination, just seeds thickly. This year, he has 96 tomatoes growing on shelves in the bathtub and in the basement.

April 29: Mark Gorges uses fluorescent and LED (bottom shelf) lights to augment a skylight over the bathtub of this small bathroom to grow tomatoes for the Laramie County Master Gardener plant sale. Photo by Barb Gorges.

We bought two new shop light-type grow lights. These have red and blue LEDs. I was surprised to see that within a year of my last visit to Menard’s lighting department, there is not a fluorescent bulb to be found. You either buy a new fixture with integrated LEDs, or LEDs in a tube that can be made to work with some types of old fluorescent fixtures.

            I thought the 30-inch snowstorm mid-March (technically still winter) made my bulbs late to bloom. Then I realized I needed to remove a layer of leaf litter from over the crocuses. Later, when I glimpsed what I thought was a piece of windblown trash, it was really the big white “Giant Dutch” crocuses finally open.

April 10: “Giant Dutch” crocus. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Last spring my gardening was curtailed when I leaned over to pick a piece of trash out of the garden and wrenched my back. This year I’m trying not to do too much at one time. Then it snows or rains or blows too hard and limits me anyway.

            I was out again the last week in April pulling more leaves, finding many of my perennials sprouting greenery. Our front yard is a wind-swept expanse on which I’ve established mini windbreaks by planting a couple 18-inch-high junipers and by not cutting back my perennials in the fall. It works great for catching leaves and snow and protecting over-wintering pollinator insects.

I leave a lot of leaves as mulch to save moisture and to compost in place, but not so many that self-seeding plants can’t get some light. Later in the summer I add leaves back to suppress weeds.

            I also spent several hours in April cutting back last year’s perennial stems, chopping them into 3 to 6-inch segments and leaving them to become mulch/compost.

Some gardeners would have you leave old stems up longer or let them decompose without help, but in a publicly visible place like my front yard, or the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Habitat Hero garden, where a crew of volunteers made cutting back go fast, it’s better to do it in April. Plus, it makes it easier to see the small, early bulbs blooming: crocus, squill, grape hyacinth and iris reticulata.

            Mark and I bought a new whiskey half-barrel planter, with the “Jack Daniels” stencil barely visible. Our old barrel lasted more than 30 years and two others the same age persist in more protected locations.

            Five years ago, in one of the few sunny spots in the backyard, I planted daylilies and iris I received free. Unfortunately, it is right where anyone needing access to our electrical connections needs to stand. I think it is time to move those plants and try a hardy groundcover planted between flagstones, maybe the “Stepables,” www.stepables.com. The trickiest part will be to find some to buy.

May 5: Perennial seeds planted in milk jugs in February (milk jug tops scrunched into the bottoms) sprout. Photo by Barb Gorges.

            In February I planted 24 milk jugs with perennial flower seeds and left them out in a cold, snowy corner of the backyard (see “winter sowing” at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com). I moved them all to a sunnier location mid-April and all but five have seedlings already [the last five sprouted by May 8]. The question is, where do I plant them in June?

            I’ve been studying the front yard all winter from my office window. There’s still some lawn I can dig up to expand a bed and yet leave a wide margin of lawn along the sidewalk for shoveled snow, dogs on loose leashes and energetic children. I’ll continue to leave little turf trails for the mail carriers’ shortcuts.

            If you are tree planting this spring, be sure to remove all the burlap, twine and wire. Gently spread those roots out and get the transition from roots to trunk right at ground level. See Steve Scott’s excellent how-to at www.cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com, “How to plant a tree in Cheyenne, Wyoming.”

            It’s a grand time to be in the garden, discovering all the new flowers and green growth, with the accompaniment of birdsong.

May 1: Honeybee visits Nanking cherry bushes in our backyard. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Garden lecture season lessons

“Nature’s Best Hope,” chaparral gardens, Plant Select, regenerative gardening and farming

Lauren Springer taught a class in chaparral gardening which features shrubby plants like rabbitbrush that need no irrigation once established. Photo by Barb Gorges.

“Gardeners learn lecture season lessons” was published April 10, 2021, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

            In gardening, there’s the growing season followed by the harvest season. And then there’s the lecture season, starting in January and extending into April.

            With many events going virtual this year, there was a lot to pick from.

            More than 300 people signed up for the virtual Cheyenne Habitat Hero Committee annual workshop in January. Many were from out of state, and even from Canada.

The workshop featured Douglas Tallamy, author of “Nature’s Best Hope.” He explained how planting at least 80% native plants in our gardens supports native insects, birds, other wildlife and people.

Jim Tolstrup, from the High Plains Environmental Center in Loveland, Colorado, talked about what native plants he grows and sells at the center’s annual plant sale.

Michelle Bohanan, Laramie County Master Gardener, explained how easy it is to start native seeds and the techniques she uses. The links to videos of all three talks are at https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/habitat-hero/.

            Fort Collins Nursery always offers a nice lineup of  classes on winter Saturdays. I noticed Lauren Springer was offering one virtually on chaparral gardening.

            Springer, who has gardened in several Colorado Front Range communities over the last 30 years, specializes in what she calls “The Undaunted Garden,” also the name of a book she wrote and a garden she designed for The Gardens on Spring Creek in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

            Her idea has been to create lush arrays using plants hardy for our climate, from wherever in the world they might be found. In the eight or so years since the first time I attended one of her lectures, she has begun to emphasize native plants accommodating pollinators and saving water.

            This year, it’s chaparral—shrubby plants that do well in dry climates like ours. They need water the first year or two to get established and need only natural precipitation after that. They also need little maintenance. Some examples include Wyoming natives: threadleaf sage, fringed sage, rabbitbrush, leadplant, blanketflower, sulphur flower and prickly poppy.

            Springer declared that now at the age of 61, after years of landscape gardening, her knees are shot and she’d rather spend more time hiking and less time gardening. Most homeowners are of a similar mind so maybe this low-maintenance garden fad will catch on.

            The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens invited Ross Shrigley, executive director of Plant Select, to speak virtually. Plant Select is a cooperative endeavor of Colorado State University and the Denver Botanic Gardens. It develops plants suited to the Rocky Mountain region and gets them in the stores and catalogs. Some come from what’s now the High Plains Arboretum west of Cheyenne.

            The first part of Shrigley’s talk was a look at successful Front Range gardens and a few disasters. One disaster was a large pine tree that blew over, exposing that it had been planted without removing the burlap and wire cage around the roots and only one root escaped.

            Shrigley highlighted a number of plants to watch for as they come on the market. Not all are native to our region, but those would fit in Tallamy’s 20% non-native category. The non-native honeybees will enjoy them.

            Then I signed up for the four-day “Soil Regen Summit 2021” put on by the Soil Foodweb School, https://www.soilfoodweb.com/. Much of it was geared to farmers and market gardeners from around the world.

            Elaine Ingham, who earned her PhD in the 1970s from Colorado State University and taught at Oregon State, is the director of the school. Her keynote talk explained how healthy soil works. It requires a massive number of microorganisms. They fill roles such as converter of plant materials on the soil surface and converter of minerals in the soil to make useable food for plants and other microorganisms.

            A functioning soil does not require chemical additives. To achieve this, farmers disturb the soil very little and keep it covered, either with mulch or a cover crop. Functioning soil also produces more nutritious crops.

            Market farmer Jean-Martin Fortier of Quebec, Canada, https://www.themarketgardener.com/, explained how he works with regenerative farming guidelines successfully.

            The idea of not pulverizing the soil every year before planting is becoming mainstream. You can read about it on the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service website, https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/. Look for the Soil Biology Primer.

            Ingham made one startling declaration. If all farmers adopted regenerative agricultural practices, enough carbon would be sequestered to solve the climate crisis within six years.

            Farmers are beginning to see a way out of the petroleum-based fertilizer and pesticide cycle that has held them hostage for more than 70 years. There is more to regenerative agriculture than I can explain here so I hope you will investigate it for yourself.