Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Garden gift & New Year’s resolution ideas

Published Dec. 8, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Gift and New Year’s resolution ideas for Cheyenne gardeners.”

By Barb Gorges

Here at the end of the year you may be looking for gardening gift ideas for you or someone else. And are you preparing to make New Year’s resolutions to learn more about gardening? Here are some ideas.

2019-12 Wardian case'scher_Kasten_wikipedia

Wardian case – type of terrarium (Wikipedia)

Gardener gifts

From Garden Design magazine:

How about terrariums? You can make them out of large glass jars or fill antique-looking leaded pane structures with small tropical houseplants. Read up on them at https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Terrarium.

Who knew Crocs come in many rubber-boot styles? But we shouldn’t be out digging in our gardens in the mud because it promotes soil compaction.

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Wave Hill chairs, Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center

Plans for the famous Wave Hill garden chairs are available from http://www.danbenarcik.com/ for $25-$35. Even I could build one, just straight cuts and screws.

Bib-style garden aprons exist, made of canvas and with bigger pockets than kitchen aprons. Keep tools handy and shirt fronts clean!

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Insect house, Gardener’s Supply

Insect house, beehive house, insect hotel, insect habitat—these are all names for assemblages of hollow sticks you can buy. Insects beneficial to your garden can hide their eggs in them.

Anything with flowers on it will probably appeal to the gardener on your gift list—especially a plant.

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Shawnee Pottery teapot, circa 1940s, on Etsy.

Books

There is a cornucopia of beautiful garden books. If you buy a how-to book for you or someone here, just remember to ignore advice to add lime to soil since Cheyenne, unlike many parts of the country, already has alkaline soils. Check out the Timber Press imprint at https://www.workman.com/.

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Nature into Art: The Gardens at Wave Hill by Thomas Christopher, Timber Press

Classes/talks/workshops

The 6th annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero Workshop is all day Feb. 29 at Laramie County Community College. Denver Botanic Gardens’ international plant explorer Panayoti Kelaidis’s topic is “Rethinking Wyoming Landscaping: Learning from the Natives.” His talk is followed by “Native Plant Gardening 101” taught by the Cheyenne Habitat Hero Committee members. Registration is $25 (including lunch) at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/.

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Panayoti Kelaidis, keynote speaker, Habitat Hero workshop, Feb. 29, 2020

Register for Master Gardener training taught by Laramie County Extension horticulturist Catherine Wissner. It begins Jan. 6 for 10 weeks, two evenings a week. See https://lccc.coursestorm.com/ (search “Master Gardener”). It’s held at Laramie County Community College. You’ll also find two one-session LCCC non-credit gardening classes taught by Catherine listed at that same website.

The Seed Library will have several events at Laramie County Library. Check details at https://lclsonline.org/events:

–Jan. 25, 2-3:30 p.m., “Pumpkin Growing 101” featuring Andy Corbin, Wyoming’s most recent giant pumpkin growing champ.

–Feb. 27, evening, “Winter Sowing Workshop” and “Give-Take Seed Swap.”

If you are a green industry professional, employed in landscaping, lawn or tree care, attend the free Cheyenne Green Industry Workshop Jan. 24. Register through the City of Cheyenne’s Urban Forestry Division: http://www.cheyennetrees.com/events.

Several organizations schedule lecture series or occasional talks in the spring. Check for updates:

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, https://www.botanic.org.

Laramie County Master Gardeners, http://www.lcmg.org/.

Laramie County Conservation District, https://www.lccdnet.org/.

Prairie Garden Club, https://www.prairiegardenclub.com/.

Garden tours

Last year I went on Road Scholar’s “Victoria and Vancouver: Glorious West Coast Gardens” (#2679) tour (I’ll be giving a public talk about it at Laramie County Master Gardeners’ meeting Jan. 16, 409 Pathfinder Bldg., LCCC, 7 p.m.). It runs several times every summer.

2019-08 Butchart Gardens - Sunken Garden, Barb Gorges

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, photo by Barb Gorges.

Another is “Topiaries, Pleasure Gardens and Botanical Gems in Philadelphia and Beyond” (#21967) which runs several times in spring and fall. You can look up the details at https://www.roadscholar.org/. Pop the course number in the search box.

You can also devise your own tour. Did you know that if you are a Cheyenne Botanic Gardens member, they have agreements with more than 300 U.S. gardens through the American Horticultural Society’s reciprocal admissions program, even though they don’t charge admission themselves?

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Cheyenne Botanic Gardens conservatory and gardens dedication ceremony, September 2019. The CBG is located at 710 S. Lions Park Drive. Photo by Barb Gorges.

That means CBG members visit free instead of paying $11 at the Gardens on Spring Creek in Ft. Collins which has recently added five acres of new gardens and a butterfly pavilion, or $12.50 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I spend my savings at the gift shops!

Master Gardener wish list

“What’s on your wish list?” I asked several Master Gardeners recently:

“Narrow spade,” said Kathryn Lex.  It would be handy for inserting new plants in her established garden. She can read up on spades at https://www.gardentoolcompany.com/pages/garden-spades-choosing-the-right-one.

“More seeds,” said Michelle Bohanan. She’s on the Seed Library committee.

“No frost after Mother’s Day,” said John Heller. I think he needs a greenhouse.

“Tomatoes ripe by July 4th,” said Catherine Wissner. Wait, she has a high tunnel already. Maybe she wants a traditional glass greenhouse.

“No hail,” they all said. Make that a glass greenhouse with chicken wire over it for protection.

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Hartley Botanic greenhouse.


Tough year for trees

2019-10 Lions Park--Barb Gorges

Cottonwoods need a lot of water, growing naturally along streams and lake shores. Sloans Lake in Lions Park, Cheyenne, Wyoming, photo by Barb Gorges.

2019’s top horticultural questions in Laramie County include trees and prairie

By Barb Gorges

The phone calls Catherine Wissner gets are a good snapshot of what is going on in Cheyenne yards. She is the University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County.

When gardeners or property owners notice something amiss with their crops, landscaping or houseplants that they can’t figure out, Catherine gets their calls and will often visit. I asked her what the most frequent topic was this summer.

Trees and fungus

“Trees,” she said. Mistreat a tomato plant and you don’t get tomatoes. Mistreat a tree and you lose a major financial investment when it either dies immediately, or lingers for years, looking stunted and unhealthy.

This year, we can blame the weather for a lot of tree problems, Catherine said. April through June we had nearly as much precipitation as our annual average, 12-15 inches. All that moisture aided the growth of fungus.

The most common was verticillium wilt. It’s in the soil and gets into trees, shrubs or other plants through the root system. Damaged roots are most susceptible. Sprays and injections don’t work on fungus.

The fungus moves from the roots through the tree’s vascular system (think sap instead of blood) and within a week of showing signs of stress, the tree is dead.

Some tree species or varieties are more resistant, Catherine said. You must do your homework when looking for a replacement tree. But don’t plant the new tree in the same place.

2019-10 oak--Barb Gorges

Due to a wetter than normal spring, fungus affected these oak leaves. It’s mostly a cosmetic problem, not life-threatening. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Another fungus affects oak leaves, leaving brown splotches. Just clean up the leaves when they fall off. Next year the trees may not be affected.

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Without intervention, this type of damage to the tips of pine branches will eventually kill the tree. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Pines can be attacked by a tip-boring insect—it bores into the tips of branches causing them to look lumpy. Because she values pollinator insects and birds, Catherine recommends pesticides as a last resort. In this case, without using a systemic pesticide like Safari, absorbed through the trunk or as a soil drench around the trunk, the tree will be lost.

Get Catherine’s advice before choosing a pesticide. Read the directions and avoid methods that could blow the toxins onto other vegetation and animals.

Trees and drought

July through most of September we had no rain to speak of. Trees depend a lot on the roots in the top 1 to 2 feet of soil—and out much further than the reach of their branches. Many of the trees planted in Cheyenne are not drought tolerant, including cottonwoods which in nature grow along streams.

This year, many people in my neighborhood seemed to be saving money by not watering their lawns during those droughty months. That’s fine if the grass only goes dormant. If it dies though, the noxious weeds will move in.

No lawn watering means trees that are not drought tolerant start losing leaves prematurely and become victims of stress and disease. Catherine pointed out that watering your mature spruce tree is cheaper than the $1500 it would cost to have it removed if it dies.

This fall, and warm winter days once a month, is the time to make it up to your trees. Water your whole lawn if you have mature trees.

Late fall and winter are also the best times for tree pruning.

 

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The shortgrass prairie outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, doesn’t need mowing. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Prairie problems

People moving to acreage and unfamiliar with the prairie are smart to contact Catherine for basic instruction.

The worst thing to do to the prairie is mow it. But do mow the patch of bluegrass lawn the kids play on and the firebreaks immediately around the house and along fence lines.

Unmown prairie benefits you and provides bird habitat–grassland birds nest on the ground. Grasses shade the ground and keep it cooler and they will trap snow, giving it a chance to melt and sink in. Cooler ground is less likely to burn.

Mowed prairies encourage warm-season grass species at the expense of cool-season species which keep the prairie cooler.

Don’t mow the thistles! It encourages rhizomes, underground stems, to spread and pop up more plants. Catherine said to spray the individual plants when they are blooming or after the first frost. Thistle is a tough, non-native invasive plant that requires tough measures.

Catherine makes yard calls for free or you can bring in a diseased twig (in a sealed plastic bag) to her. You can also email photos to her.

FREE TREE ADVICE

Laramie County Extension Office

Catherine Wissner, 307-633-4383, cwissner@uwyo.edu.

Trees and all other plants.

Cheyenne Urban Forestry Division

http://www.cheyennetrees.com

Tree species recommendations, planting and maintenance instruction, city tree ordinances, certified arborist list.

Laramie County Conservation District

Clark Young and Dale Beranek, 307-772-2600.

Trees, especially windbreaks.


Irresistible farmers market flowers

For hidden captions, hover cursor over photo.

Irresistible flowers offered at farmers market

Published Sept. 1, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Irresistible flowers at farmers’ market”

By Barb Gorges

My guilty pleasure at the Tuesday Farmers Market is not the baked goods. It’s the flowers. This year I caved and started bringing home bouquets.

This is the fifth year Vally Gollogly of Cheyenne has been offering cut flowers at the booth she shares with partner Rusty Brinkman (see https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/heirloom-veggies-for-taste-and-variety/). They are also the proprietors of Crow Creek Catering. Their vegetables look delicious, but the flowers look like candy. I think the grocery stores figured this out long ago.

Many of Vally’s arrangements are under $10 and fit in glass jars, a personal size. I try to remember to bring my own drink cup to transfer them, so I can put them in a car cupholder for the trip home.

This year, the gladioli in the arrangements stand out–so many vibrant blooms lined up on one stalk.

I don’t think of this elegant, exotic relative of the iris, its name Latin for “sword” (think “gladiator”) being something easy to grow in Cheyenne.

A tropical plant, most of the 250-plus gladiolus species are not expected to overwinter here. They require “lifting,” as the horticulturists say. When the leaves wither and before the first freeze, the gladiolus corms or bulbs, fat roots, need to be dug up and dried in the sun a couple days. Then you brush the dirt off and store them loosely indoors someplace that stays cool and dark and where any excess moisture evaporates rather than forms mold. Gollogly winters her bulbs in an old darkroom.

2019-09 Gladiolus 'Atom' grown by Vally Gollogly

Gladiolus ‘Atom’

I can’t resist gladioli at the market and Vally can’t resist buying gladioli bulbs to grow. Some of her selections this year are Acidanthera bicolor (fragrant, white with maroon center), Gladiolus ‘Windsong’ (pink with yellow centers), G. ‘Atom’ (bright orangey red with white edges), G. ‘Glamini Charlotte’ (buttery white) and G. ‘Green Star’ (lime-green).

Vally is experimenting with Gladiolus nanus this coming winter. It is among the smaller glads, 12-18 inches tall. It is rated as hardy in USDA Zone 4, or 5–Cheyenne’s winter-hardiness rating. I noticed High Country Gardens, specializing in plants for Rocky Mountain-area gardening, suggests they be well-mulched.

2019-09 Vally Gollogly in hoop house--Barb Gorges

Vally grows tender flowers in a high tunnel. 

Anyone in Cheyenne who is a serious market gardener grows the tender vegetables, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, in a hoop house, or high tunnel. Vally and Rusty have two. Much of one is devoted to gladioli, dahlias, Persian and regular zinnias and other cutting flowers. In the soft light the flowers, especially the dahlias, grow longer stems, great for flower arranging.

Juicy blooms, like juicy fruits and vegetables, require a lot of water. The high tunnels are on drip irrigation so no water is wasted by the wind.

Juicy blooms are appealing to pests. In summer the tunnel sides are rolled up to regulate the temperature inside. This year, big yellow grasshoppers have volunteered to trim the dahlia flowerheads perfectly. They take off only the petal tips, leaving a tight cone of color. It’s so perfect, you think it is supposed to look like that, good enough for a flower arrangement.

For hidden captions, hover cursor over photo.

Vally’s preferred time to cut flowers for market is the evening before. If a few leaves are left on the plant when you cut the gladiolus stalk, it helps it regenerate. Cutting either evening or early morning when they are unstressed means flowers will last longer—nearly a week for Vally’s arrangements. Her greenery and other flowers come from the volunteers along the edges of the vegetable patches–whatever catches her eye before market day.

Having a good eye is important in the presentation of fruits, vegetables and flowers at the market, or at the Laramie County Fair. Vally walked off with 42 blue ribbons (plus two Grand Champions and one Reserve Champion) this year, not only in floriculture and horticulture, but also in culinary, especially preserves and dried foods.

Vally’s enterprise echoes the slow flowers movement, https://slowflowers.com/, the idea that we should support local flower growers instead of buying flowers flown in from South America. The Front Range of Colorado was a hotbed of floriculture until the U.S. encouraged South Americans to get into the U.S. cut flower trade in the 1980s in lieu of growing opium poppies, so I’ve heard. Buying local flowers at the farmers market is a first step in reclaiming our regional heritage.

Vally remembers the lush greenness of a childhood in Ireland and how tough it was to adapt to desert gardening when the family moved to Santa Fe. In comparison, she finds Cheyenne to be a happy medium. Growing flowers makes her happy. Bringing her flowers home makes me happy.

2019-09 Vally Gollogly market display--Barb Gorges

Find Vally’s flower arrangements at the Tuesday Farmers Market, 3-6 p.m. at the mall, outside J.C. Penney, under the orange awning, now through Oct. 8, 2019.


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Rocky gardening

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The Shinn garden in Ft. Collins, Colorado, features several rock garden areas. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Rocky gardening featured in Rocky Mountain garden tour

By Barb Gorges

It’s always interesting to find out what is remarkable to visitors about your home or home garden.

In this case, the visitors were 83 garden bloggers/writers from 28 states, Washington, D.C., Canada and England. It was the 11th annual Garden Bloggers Fling, this year headquartered in Denver mid-June. I was the first blogger from Wyoming to ever participate, qualifying because my Wyoming Tribune Eagle garden columns are posted to www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com.

Cheyenne gardening is a little tougher than down in the “lowlands” of the Colorado Front Range, but we have more in common with those gardeners than anyone else. I saw lots of plants we grow here. Then I’d hear other visitors say it was either too hot back home, or too wet, for them to grow them. It made me appreciate my favorite prairie and mountain plants more.

In the weeks afterward, several of the bloggers wrote posts noting how rocky the gardens we saw were. It’s the fashion here.

One private garden we visited was planted around an installation of 600 tons of beautiful sandstone rocks stacked as low walls, waterfall, pond, grotto and retaining walls for a daylighted basement. It was an amazing property—and it can be yours for the listed price of $4 million.

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The Maxwell garden in Boulder, Colorado, uses rock to create walls, waterfall, pool and grotto. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Looking through my photos from 21 stops over three days, I noticed how many rock gardens we saw, or crevice gardens—a subgenera.

I saw my first crevice garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens several years ago. I saw it again on this tour, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the one at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens now in extravagant bloom by the front doors of the conservatory. This is only the second year and it should be getting even more spectacular.

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The crevice garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens was in full bloom at the end of June. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Many of the rocky gardens on the tour featured cactuses and succulents, low-growing mats of creeping plants and neon bright delosperma, or ice plants.

The cool thing about rock gardens is that when rain (or snow) hits them, the water runs off the rock and into the crevices where the plant roots are. The plants essentially get more water than if they were planted in a normal garden. Jake Mares, the CBG’s outside horticulturist, expects that our crevice garden, once fully established, will be able to make it solely on naturally occurring precipitation—no irrigation at all.

Rocks as part of landscaping have been around a long time. Sometimes they are even naturally occurring. Often today rocks are stranded in a sea of gravel or wood mulch which is quickly invaded by weeds—whether there is weed-barrier cloth underneath or not. It would be so easy to plant a ground cover that crowds out weeds instead, I think.

Pea gravel is popular around here as mulch because it doesn’t blow away. And it shares some water-concentrating properties that the rocks in a rock garden have. Certainly, weeds have adapted to gravel roads whenever there isn’t enough traffic to keep them down.

But there are problems with pea gravel. It sinks into the dirt eventually. Someone in the future is going to cuss when they dig to grow vegetables. But also, when it hails, your plant leaves are caught between a rock and the hard ice. A softer mulch, leaves or even wood, absorbs the hailstone impact, even if a leaf is in between. It also keeps the hail from bouncing high and hitting leaves twice.

Old leaves and other organic mulch decompose and feed the soil, gravel does not.

In addition to bringing in rocks, several Denver-area gardeners featured on the tour created hypertufa pots (see how to make your own with cement, peat moss and perlite, https://www.marthastewart.com/268962/hypertufa-pots). Many featured collections of cactus, agave and succulents. All are fine outside year-round with winter-hardy plants.

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The Kelaidis garden in Denver is one of several to feature hypertufa containers. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Speaking of concrete, one of the most amazing structures I saw in a tour garden was an enormous, permanent, concrete-topped table. As if in a baronial hall, it was set for 12 for a Father’s Day celebration later. It was decorated with pots of branches hung with candles in glass globes. Down the center of the table was a trough where more candles floated. With steel table legs, it never has to be put away for the winter and never needs refinishing.

Next summer the Garden Bloggers Fling is in Madison, Wisconsin. My mother’s side of the family had a dairy farm there for over 100 years and I grew up nearby. I’ll get to see if Wisconsinites rock garden as much as we do.

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Two of the Garden Bloggers Fling participants examine the rock garden in the Boulder, Colorado, front yard of Linda Boley. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

 


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Rabbits and gardens

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Cottontail Rabbit courtesy Wikipedia.

Help rabbits control their taste for gourmet greens

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 26, 2019, “Keep your garden safe from rabbits.”

By Barb Gorges

“Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries. But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!”

–The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

It must have been Peter Rabbit I caught snipping my green tulip buds the morning of May 1 as they lay helpless in a patch of melting snow. I saw him through a window and ran out in my bare feet to shoo him away. Then I walked the dog back and forth a few times—this being the unfenced front yard.

I picked up the six tulip buds, each left with a 4 to 6-inch stem, and put them in a vase inside. I’m happy to say they ripened and opened. The other buds, left unscathed, recovered from the snow and also bloomed.

The tulip vandal couldn’t have been my regular rabbit, one of Peter’s well-behaved sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy or Cotton-tail. There’s a rabbit sitting in the front yard almost every day and my garden beds have never been attacked before. Well, except the time I tried pansies in the whiskey barrel planter and the rabbits jumped in and ate them all. Since then I grow only hardy perennials in the front yard.

The backyard is where Peter Rabbit would find his favorite vegetables, but there are three rabbit deterrents: the raised beds (higher than the old whiskey barrel), the dog, and the concrete block wall. The gates have vertical bars in the lower half less than 2 inches apart. Our biggest garden problem is hail attacks and so our tomatoes grow under hardware cloth-covered frames.

But last summer, I was shocked when the 900 seedlings and assorted mature plants we planted in the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens (between the flagpole and parking lot) were nearly completely obliterated by rabbits.

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By the time the fence was erected around the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens mid-March, not more than two of the 900 perennials planted the previous season could be found. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Last fall we planted a couple hundred bulbs there and the rabbits didn’t dig very many up before we fenced it in March. It isn’t an elegant fence, but it is keeping the rabbits out and allowing plants to make a comeback. Perhaps when the plants mature and get tough stems, we can try going fenceless.

I realize it is ironic that we are establishing wildlife habitat and fencing out rabbits. There is plenty for rabbits to eat in the rest of Lions Park. They are food for other animals. They are prolific, but only live two years, providing they are the 15 percent making adulthood. The CBG rabbits feed the resident Cooper’s hawks.

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Rabbit-proof fencing allows other wildlife access and protects spring bulbs in mid-April. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Laramie County Master Gardener Kim Parker said her solution is dogs and fencing, “At our house, we have successfully used low, 18″ fencing to keep the bunnies out while my garden establishes, then we take it down and ‘let them eat cake.’

“Most of the year, I don’t think they eat hardly anything (at least not that I notice), although I notice that in the winter they nibble on some grass and grape hyacinth leaves. Weird. They also have spots in our buffalo grass lawn where they like to rest, but the dog keeps them from lingering long.

“So, dogs and fencing (I recommend), and perhaps using plants that they don’t want to eat, or that are vigorous enough that it doesn’t matter if they get eaten, grape hyacinth or fall asters for example.”

The Wyoming Master Gardener Handbook says there are rabbit repellants you can spread around or spray on your plants, but they are only effective until it rains. Be careful what you spray on vegetables you’ll eat. Ultrasonic devices are ineffective. Eliminating access to hiding spots, like nearby brushy areas (or that juniper hedge next to the Habitat Hero garden) is important.

Fencing is the only sure-fire cure. For cottontails, the handbook recommends 30 inches high and for jackrabbits (hares), 36 inches, preferably something like chicken wire with small openings. If rabbits gnaw on your trees and shrubs, wrap pieces of quarter-inch hardware cloth around trunks, 30-36 inches high.

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Seedlings planted last summer make a comeback in early June once the rabbits were fenced out. The fencing was put up three months before (see first garden photo). Photo by Barb Gorges.

At the CBG much of the fence is up against the sidewalk so rabbits can’t dig their way in. Otherwise, you need to allow for an extra 12 inches of fencing beyond the height you want: 6 inches at the bottom bent at a 90-degree angle to the outside of the garden and then bury that flange 6 inches deep.

Remember, if you decide to have a rabbit for dinner, you must follow the Wyoming Game and Fish Department hunting and trapping regulations.

 

2019-06 bronze rabbits

These larger-than-life bronze rabbits are by Dan Ostermiller, Cheyenne native and Loveland, Colorado sculptor. They and other bronze animals will be on display at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens through August 2019. By mid-May, the Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden, seen upper left, had begun to recover. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden ribbon cutting May 20

2019-05 BOPU HH demo garden early spring

Early spring in the BOPU Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden

You are invited to the ribbon-cutting May 20, 3 p.m., for the Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden at the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities headquarters, 2416 Snyder Ave. A few words from dignitaries and light refreshments.
The garden showcases Water Smart Landscapes that save water and are wildlife friendly. Bee Smart! Water Smart! The garden was created in part with a grant from the National Audubon Society awarded to the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society.                      Contact Dena, BOPU, degenhoff@cheyennebopu.org, 637-6415.


Transplanted NY gardener blooms in Cheyenne

 

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Sandra Cox’s vegetable garden did extremely well its first season. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Jan. 6, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Transplanted gardener helps local yard bloom.”

By Barb Gorges

There’s only one thing that beats Sandra Cox’s love of gardening: It’s love for her family.

In July 2017, she gave up gardening in the Hudson Valley of New York state to move to Cheyenne at the invitation of her son and his family. She left behind a newly planted orchard and everything she knew about gardening there to start over at her new home.

When Sandra arrived, no one had watered her new yard for some months, and our clay soil required a pick ax to plant the calla lilies she brought with her. But with care and mulch, by the end of the season, time to dig them back up, she was pleased to see a healthy population of earth worms.

Sandra’s garden in New York was in the same Zone 5 USDA growing zone (coldest temperature rating) as Cheyenne. But there are five major differences:

 

  1. Cheyenne has alkaline soils rather than acidic so adding lime or wood ash is a no-no.
  2. Cheyenne has a shorter growing season. Sandra’s learned she will have to start her peppers and eggplant indoors earlier and put them outside, with protection, earlier.
  3. Cheyenne has 12-15 inches of precipitation annually, one-third of New York’s. Watering is necessary much more often here. She’s thinking about installing an irrigation system.
  4. Cheyenne has hail. Although the tomato plants this summer made a comeback, the tomatoes themselves were scarred. Sandra’s planning to protect them with wire cages next year.
  5. Cheyenne has different soil—clay instead of sandy.

Although arriving mid-summer 2017, Sandra went to work establishing a vegetable garden. “I disturb the soil as little as possible to avoid disrupting the earthworms because they do all the work for you,” she explained.

Instead, she spread leaves over the abandoned lawn, laid down a layer of cardboard from the packing boxes from her move, then covered them with wood chips from the city compost facility. To keep the chips from blowing away, she laid wire fencing over them and pegged it down. She removed the fencing and planted directly into this mulch the next season.

Sandra researches the best varieties to plant in our climate. Her first fall, she planted grapes and an apple and a plum tree. Last spring, she planted pear, peach and sweet cherry trees. The cherries did very well.

In the north-facing front yard, Sandra’s planted shrubs for privacy and perennials for pollinators and pleasure. The city’s street tree planting program, Rooted in Cheyenne, came out and planted a burr oak and a linden. A huge spruce tree shades the house on hot summer afternoons.

One day last fall, she called and asked if we’d come harvest some kale and Swiss chard since she had too much. What an oasis of lush green! And her giant sunflowers were at least 12 feet high. A sunny yard helps, but much of her success can be attributed to her dedication to compost—she composts everything, and her chickens help break it down.

2019-01 sandra cox chicken

Sandra’s chickens are an important part of her gardening. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Sandra hasn’t used fertilizer yet—other than fish emulsion and well-aged chicken manure. She’s planning to do a soil test this next year to see if she has any deficiencies, but her plants didn’t seem to show any signs.

Pests are not a problem so far. Sandra thinks it is only a matter of time before the pests catch up with her. Already she’s concerned about the big spruce tree being attacked by the ips beetle. It has killed other spruces in her neighborhood, she thinks. The city forester recommended winter watering—good for all her newly planted trees and shrubs, but also good for older trees for which drought stress makes them more susceptible to pests.

Unlike New York which normally has constant winter snow cover, Cheyenne has snowless weeks plus days when the temperatures are above freezing—good days for watering trees.

Sandra remembers that growing up on the family farm was a constant delight, from taking care of the goats to eating apples while high up in the branches to joining her parents and five siblings in the field after dinner to weed, joke around and enjoy each other’s company. Her siblings still enjoy gardening and farming, as does her son, who has a degree in horticulture. Her granddaughters have caught the family enthusiasm as well.

“Bloom where you’re planted” is an old axiom that doesn’t just mean, “make the best of a situation.” For Sandra, it means with a little studying up, she can joyfully grow a garden anywhere, even here.

2019-01 sandra cox garden

Sandra’s sunflowers are more than a story high. Fencing protects new trees and other plantings from the chickens. Photo by Barb Gorges.