Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Habitat Hero Garden Walk July 11, 2021

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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, 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,, 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


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