Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Garden design perplexities

2019-08 Butchart Gardens - Sunken Garden, Barb Gorges

Garden design styles perplex local gardener

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Aug. 18, 2019, “Garden design styles perplex local gardener”

By Barb Gorges

I’ve been mulling over garden design this summer.

Vegetable gardens are straightforward. You want to maximize sun and soil fertility, minimize wind, have water convenient and not hike too far from the kitchen to harvest. You grow the vegetable types you and your family will eat using the varieties that grow best in Cheyenne. Maybe you plant in rows or squares or raised beds.

Flower gardens have similar parameters for success: match the plants’ needs for sun, shade, wind protection, soil type, water, and if perennial, USDA horticultural zone—how cold it gets in winter. Cheyenne is rated 5b but most of us look for plants rated hardy at colder temperatures, zones 3 or 4, unless we have a sheltered spot.

Once you account for plant needs, the rest is art: color, texture, form, contrast, blending. And if you are working with perennials, you are also working with what each kind of plant looks like at different seasons.

The first week in July, my Philadelphia aunt and I took a Road Scholar garden tour to Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. We toured 10 gardens, all but one public. We saw a lot of design approaches.

The expansive Nitobe Memorial Garden at the University of British Columbia is classic Japanese harmony. There are few spots of flower color. It’s mostly shades of shrubs, trees and ground covers.

2019-08 University of British Columbia - Nitobe Memorial Garden, Barb Gorges

Nitobe Memorial Garden, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the recreation of a historic scholar’s garden, is a courtyard located in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The elements—rock, water, path, gate, window, plant–are placed even more precisely to aid meditation and intellectual work.

2019-08 Dr Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden, Barb Gorges

Detail of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The other gardens had multiple themed areas within. Almost all had rose gardens and the start of our tour was right at rose peak: six-foot-tall shrubs with delicious blooms as big as my hand, or small roses packed into panicles like grapes. I haven’t seen roses grow like that in Cheyenne, which I fondly refer to as the “Annual Rose Capital” because it can be hard to get some kinds to winter over.

2019-08 Stanley Park rose garden, Barb Gorges

Rose garden at Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Several rose gardens we saw were arranged symmetrically inside wrought iron fence enclosures to keep the deer out. Does anyone ever grow roses in anything but a formal setting?

Butchart Gardens, outside Victoria, has been famous for more than 100 years for its colorful beds disguising a played-out limestone quarry. Starting with spring bulb displays, then annuals, the beds may get replanted four or five times a year. Annuals usually have a bigger percentage of flower to greenery compared to perennials and work better for making blocks of color. The geometry of the Italian garden reminded me of patchwork and the sunken garden’s curved designs, applique.

2019-08 Butchart Gardens - Italian garden, Barb Gorges

Italian Garden at Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Barb Gorges.

It rained lightly our whole afternoon at Butchart. But clear umbrellas were provided to all visitors. The rain meant many fewer people on the paths. Flower colors glowed in the indirect light and roses with water droplets were very photogenic.

2019-08 Butchart Gardens - rose garden, Barb Gorges

Rose Garden at Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Barb Gorges.

While touring the University of British Columbia’s gardens, I chuckled to see cactus and succulents growing under glass canopies to protect them from too much rain.

2019-08 University of British Columbia - cactus garden, Barb Gorges

The cactus garden at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Photo by Barb Gorges.

We toured only a small part of the VanDusen Gardens in Vancouver, filled with luxurious beds of more unusual perennials.

2019-08 VanDusen Botanical Garden - yellow bed, Barb Gorges

The yellow bed at VanDusen Gardens, Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Barb Gorges. 

The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific outside Victoria is staffed mostly by volunteers like our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, but part of its mission is to train horticulturists and home gardeners.

2019-08 Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, Barb Gorges

The Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Barb Gorges.

I’ve been reading an English garden critic’s essay collection this summer, Tim Richardson’s “You Should Have Been Here Last Week, Sharp Cuttings from a Garden Writer.”

Richardson tours many historic English gardens designed by famous gardeners. Thanks to the internet, I can look up both gardens and gardeners. He fusses over too fussy Victorian gardens, too blowsy English cottage garden borders and worries about the New Perennial Movement taking over.

The New Perennial Movement started more than 20 years ago with Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. He is somewhat responsible for landscapers now planting ornamental grasses and clump-forming perennials instead of shrubs all the time. And at least, compared to annuals that turn to mush when frozen, perennials can look good all winter.

If Richardson lived in Cheyenne, he would be grateful for every plant that decided to grow.

My own garden is a hodge-podge of easy-to-grow perennial prairie flowers and old-fashioned favorites like iris and lilies. It’s a scrap quilt, where every patch of plants brings back memories.

2019-08 Lily Maxwell garden, Barb Gorges

Lily Maxwell’s backyard garden, Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

2019-08 Beacon Hill Park, Barb Gorges

Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Barb Gorges.

2019-08 Government House grounds, Barb Gorges

Government House grounds, Victoria, British Columbia, feature the native Garry Oaks. Do to a rain shadow caused by the mountains, Victoria at 23 inches has  much lower annual precipitation than Butchart Gardens only 35 minutes away. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Rocky gardening

2019-07 Shinn garden, Barb Gorges

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.

2019-07 Maxwell garden, Barb Gorges

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.

2019-07 Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Barb Gorges

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.

2019-07 Kelaidis garden, Barb Gorges

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.

2019-07 Boley garden, Barb Gorges

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

 

 


Garden art

2019-06-2 Chihuly 1

Chihuly Garden and Glass in downtown Seattle displays glass art with a garden backdrop. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 16, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Try gardening with art.” 

By Barb Gorges

My husband Mark planted tomatoes June 1. But first he put up a hail guard. It’s a wooden frame covered in hardware cloth (wire screen) the same dimensions as the raised bed. It perches on top of 4-foot wooden posts planted in each corner https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/hail-busters-keep-icy-vandals-away/.

2019-06-2 hail guard

This hail guard was built to fit the raised bed. How might it be transformed into garden art? Photo by Barb Gorges.

Now that it and other hail guards are up around our yard every summer, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t make them more decorative. Perhaps paint them or carve the posts.

I’ve been musing on the subject of garden art since our trip to Seattle over Memorial Day weekend.

I visited Chihuly Garden and Glass in downtown Seattle, next to the Space Needle. It was a little disappointing after having seen the Chihuly display at the Denver Botanic Gardens a few years ago—the Seattle garden is small.

All that brilliantly-colored glass sculpture—I wonder is it hail-proof? If you go, avoid midday—the sunlight glares on the glass. Don’t look for extravagant flowers—the garden is primarily a setting for the glass, like velvet for a diamond.

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At Chihuly Garden and Glass, glass flames shoot out from a hill covered in black foliage. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There was a burned-black, grasslike, ground cover used to set off the brilliant fire of an explosion of orange and yellow glass flames. It is most likely Ophiopogon planiscapus, from Japan, known as “Black Mondo Grass” and probably the Nigrescens variety. It’s from the lily family and is evergreen (or everblack) in Zone 6 and warmer. Here in Zone 5 it would be an annual requiring a lot of water and acidic soil—neither of which we have.

Another garden we visited had a Wyoming connection. My sister and I were at a hardware store near Sea-Tac Airport, picking out a pot for a plant for Mark’s and my son and daughter-in-law when the garden department manager started a conversation with us.

He asked if we knew about the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden only two miles away. He even got us a brochure. He’s on the board. Of course, we had to go. If you should ever have two hours to kill before returning your rental car at the Sea-Tac Airport, look it up at 13735 24th Ave. South, SeaTac, Washington.

It got its start in 1996 when a well-known, prize-winning local gardener’s garden was relocated there instead of being lost when the airport built another runway. We found Elda Behm’s Paradise Garden full of rhododendrons and azaleas just a bit past peak.

Another part of the garden is the Seike Japanese Garden, relocated in 2006. The Seike family, Japanese immigrants, began farming locally in 1929. During World War II, the family was sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp near Powell, Wyoming, and their farm was managed by a German-American family. After the war the Seikes were lucky enough to get their land back and open a nursery.

The garden was designed by Shintaro Okado, a garden designer from Hiroshima, and built in 1961. It was made in memory of one of the three Seike sons who fought in the war for the U.S. and was killed in France.

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The Seike Japanese Garden was relocated in 2006 to the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden near the Sea-Tac airport (Seattle). Photo by Barb Gorges. 

Japanese gardens are meant to be intellectual and spiritual. In addition to a pleasing juxtaposition of water, hill, swale and path, each element, including bridges, stone lanterns, gate, represents something.

Each tree and shrub specimen stands out along a small stream and pond crossed by a curved bridge. Benches are positioned for perfectly balanced views.

I found the Japanese garden minimalism more appealing than the fanciful glass garden, even though normally my tastes run to floral abundance.

Abundance is what best describes gardens at McMenamins Anderson School in Bothell, Washington. It’s an old junior high school campus turned into a boutique hotel and restaurants. The garden manager, Riz Reyes, is an up and coming horticulturist who knows how to pack the plants in, even in the parking lot islands, making the cars appear to be just more garden art.

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Even the parking lot at McMenamins Anderson School, a boutique hotel in Bothell, Washington, is thickly planted. The hoops in the background are from wine barrels. The gardens are designed by Riz Reyes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The Portland, Oregon-based McMenamins chain of pubs and hotels famous for repurposing old buildings is known for its somewhat primitive, locally inspired artistic style. It took me a minute to realize the spherical garden sculptures were made from metal hoops used to hold wine barrels together.

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Larger-than-life bronze rabbits by Dan Ostermiller are on display this summer at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Photo by Barb Gorges.

In our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens this summer, discover the bronze animal sculptures by Dan Ostermiller, Cheyenne native and Loveland, Colorado, sculptor. The giant rabbits are my favorite.

Is your garden art a bit of whimsy for visitors to discover—statue or found object? Or a carved tree trunk, special boulder or bronze bear? Make sure it’s either replaceable or repairable if it isn’t hail-proof.


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Rabbits and gardens

2019-06-Eastern_Cottontail--wikipedia

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.

2019-06rabbit fencing Habitat Hero garden

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.

2019-06 duck

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.

2019-06 garden greenup

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.


Seed Library of Laramie County

2019-03 Seed Library Lar Co Barb GorgesSeed Library of Laramie County offers gardening classes

Published Mar. 24, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Sowing seeds of knowledge: Seed Library of Laramie County offers gardening classes.”

By Barb Gorges

            “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Cicero

“Seed” + “Library”—one of the first times these words were put together in the modern era was in California in the early 2000s for the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL). It is a place where people can swap seeds, as has been done historically, before the Burpee age.

A seed is rather like a book. You open it by adding water, soil and sunshine and soon you have the whole story. But for most of us, the concept of the library is the public library and one is expected to return the book. How do you return a seed? Save the seeds from what you grew and return them, if possible, though seed libraries won’t fine you if you don’t.

There is an art to saving seed. You need to know when to harvest it, sometime after it has reached maturity and before the pod shatters and scatters it. You also must be careful that wind or bees haven’t cross-pollinated your seed, making a hybrid.

Saving adaptations

One of the original goals of setting up a seed library was to protect the genetics of seeds that are not from commercial sources. The seeds that are handed down from generation to generation in one place become more and more adapted to those local growing conditions. Some of those may start out as commercially purchased seeds and little by little, become adapted (note: this works best with open-pollinated varieties, not hybrids).

Seeds become culturally important heirlooms, like varieties of beans grown in the Southwest.

Public library connection

There are several hundred seed libraries (http://seedlibraries.weebly.com) across the U.S. and in other countries, mostly located within public libraries. Many libraries find it difficult to get seed returned. Because so many of us have depended on commercial agriculture rather than our own gardens for food, the libraries have found we first need to re-learn how to grow vegetables—and flowers. Flowers are important for attracting insects to pollinate the vegetables.

Public libraries are all about spreading knowledge and so seed libraries have an educational component, like the classes offered by the Seed Library of Laramie County this spring.

The Seed Library of Laramie County got its start at the Laramie County Library in 2017. Librarian Elizabeth Thorsen recruited the Laramie County Master Gardeners and they looked at seed library models like the one in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and Richmond Grows in Richmond, Virginia.

2019-03a Seed Library Lar Co Barb GorgesThe two local organizations have sponsored the cost, Master Gardeners’ part is from its annual plant sale. Costs include keeping up with the demand for seed, printing packets and educational materials, and purchasing what resembles a card catalog for organizing the seed packets. Donations of additional seeds and funds are appreciated.

Michelle Bohanan and Maggie McKenzie are two of the Master Gardeners working with library staff to put on this spring’s two free events:  Vegetable Gardens for Beginners Mar. 30 and the 2019 Seed Library Kickoff April 20.

Michelle, who has an extensive home seed library and takes part in the Seed Savers Exchange, https://www.seedsavers.org/, and other seed swaps, said one of the joys is watching children pick out their own seeds.

The seed library is located on the third floor and is open during library hours, Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; and Sunday 1 – 5 p.m.  Ask the librarian at the Ask Here desk for help.

Seed Library of Laramie County classes:

Vegetable Gardens for Beginners
Saturday, March 30, 3 – 4:30 p.m., Storytime Room, Laramie County Library, 2200 Pioneer Ave. Free. Adults and teens.

Which plants should be started indoors? How much space does a cucumber need? What should be added to the soil? Get answers to these and other questions about vegetable gardens from local gardening experts.

2019 Seed Library Kickoff

Saturday, April 20. Laramie County Library, time and room to be determined. All ages. Free. Contact Kellie, kjohnson@lclsonline.org.

Get seeds for your garden and tips for simple, affordable gardening! We’ve chosen a huge variety of flowers, herbs, and vegetables suitable for beginning gardeners in our climate. Seeds and advice are free; no library card needed. Each person is limited to 12 packets of seeds.


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Monarchs and Milkweeds

2019-02 Monarch - dead

Explore the mysteries of monarchs and milkweeds in your backyard

Published Feb. 17, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Monarch butterflies are hard to find in Wyoming. This is partly because we have few people looking for them and because of the terrible decline in monarch numbers. I found a dead one last year. I hope this will be the year I see my first live one in my garden.

That one will be descended from a monarch that’s currently wintering in Mexico (not from the group west of the Rockies wintering in California).  It’s the only North American butterfly that must migrate because it can’t survive cold winters like other butterflies.

In spring the generation that wintered in Mexico produces the next generation while on its way north and that one begets another, and so on. After a few months, it may be the fourth generation we finally see here. There are several more generations produced over the summer and the final one makes it all the way back to Mexico in the fall.

Monarchs have been clobbered on both ends of their route. Mexico has established the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the relatively small area they cluster. Here in North America, besides building on and paving over habitat, the problem has been planting herbicide-resistant crops and spraying them with herbicide to kill weeds—which also kills milkweed.

While monarchs feed on nectar from a variety of flowers, they only lay eggs, tiny white dots, on milkweed—it’s the only plant their caterpillars will eat. The good news is that there are about 100 species of milkweed found all along their migration routes. There are 13 species in Wyoming—and four right here in Laramie County.

If you want to join the effort to garden for monarchs, you want to grow our local native flowers. Of course, monarchs are not the only nectar-lovers that will enjoy them.

Two species, Asclepias viridiflora, green milkweed, and A. pumila, plains milkweed, are not seen commercially as seeds or plants. But the other two are quite popular.

2019-02 Asclepias speciosa

Asclepias speciosa, Showy Milkweed, photo by Barb Gorges

Asclepias speciosa, showy milkweed, a perennial, has large round balls of pink florets on stems 2 to 4 feet tall. Its vigorous rhizomes help it spread. I got a few plants from my neighbor who was digging them out of her lawn. But on the other hand, their taproots are sensitive and not all my transplants survived.

I’ve also collected seed from showy milkweed in the unmowed corner of the field where I walk the dog. Seeds are easy to grow if you leave them in the refrigerator for two months to cold stratify or use the winter sowing technique no later than March 1 (https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/).

Plant showy milkweed in full sun for maximum number of flowers. Water it regularly the first summer to get it started. Around the county I see it alongside roads where it gets extra water from runoff when it rains. It is not going to bloom much in a very dry location.

The other local milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, I haven’t grown myself yet. Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan assures me that despite its name, it doesn’t need a swamp. Like showy milkweed, it does best with a little more water than just rain to maximize blooms and nectar production. It grows 2-3 feet high, usually with pink flowers, though Michelle has a white variety.

Considering milkweed has been treated as a weed and grows unaided in weedy places, I wouldn’t worry much about fertilizers or compost.

If your showy milkweed gets ugly late in the season, don’t cut it back until there’s nothing left for caterpillars to eat. And even then, the dried plants are useful for catching snow—free winter watering. I cut them back in spring.

All the websites devoted to monarchs say avoid buying plants treated with systemic pesticides. The long-lasting neonicotinoids get in the nectar and poisons the butterfly—and other pollinators. Avoid these herbicide ingredients: Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid, Nitenpyram, Thiacloprid and Thiamethoxam.

Butterflies are also looking for shelter from wind, for sun-warmed rocks and pavement to bask on and for places to puddle on damp sand to get a drink.

The great thing about growing a garden for monarchs is that it also works for bees and birds. But let’s not stop at the garden gate. How about encouraging native flowers along our roads, in corners of fields, in our parks? I’m excited to hear that Nettie Eakes, the head horticulturist at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, has plans for more perennials in city beds. Many natives, we hope.


MONARCH WEBSITES

Area milkweed seed sources with growing tips:

Beauty Beyond Belief Wildflower Seed, Boulder, Colorado, https://www.bbbseed.com/

Botanical Interests, Broomfield, Colorado, https://www.botanicalinterests.com/

Western Native Seed, Coaldale, Colorado, http://www.westernnativeseed.com/

Wind River Seed, Manderson, Wyoming, seemed to be out of stock, http://www.windriverseed.com

 

Monarch information

University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute, Monarchs and Milkweeds, https://www.wyobiodiversity.org

Monarch Joint Venture (government agencies, non-profits, academics), https://monarchjointventure.org