Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Growing lavender in Cheyenne

2018-10 Cathy Rogers-lavender by Barb Gorges

Cathy Rogers inspects her lavender crop. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Also published at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/lavender-is-a-perfect-plant-for-cheyenne

Lavender is a perfect plant for Cheyenne

By Barb Gorges

Lavender is an herb held in high esteem across the ages, even back 2,500 years when it was used in mummifying pharaohs in Egypt, according to Google.

Lavender, a member of the mint family, is edible. As a dried wreath or spray, its soft gray-green leaves and stems of lavender, pink, blue or white flowers are classic. As an essential oil or dried herb, it has medicinal uses. It is often used in perfumes and other products because its scent has a reputation for calming the mind. Even photos of great fields of it in Provence, France, or garden borders in England give one a sense of peace.

All those attributes may have been what Laramie County Master Gardener Cathy Rogers was looking for when she went to her first lavender festival several years ago.

“I became interested in lavender because it has always been my favorite fragrance,” she said. It led her to want to fill her pasture on Cheyenne’s north side with mounds of lavender shrubs. She brought home several varieties to try.

Growing conditions here are perfect for many kinds of lavender: dry weather, lots of sunshine and well-drained, low fertility, alkaline soil. The alkalinity enhances the fragrance.

Deer don’t like lavender, but bees do—two more reasons to consider growing it.

Although many of the 450-plus named cultivars of lavender are rated Zone 5, Cheyenne’s growing zone, mulching after the first freeze will protect them from being killed by our region’s tendency for multiple freeze-thaw cycles each winter.

On a hot day in August, Cathy took me out to her garden to inspect the kinds of lavender she chose from festival vendors as most suited to Cheyenne:

Impress Purple

Gros Blue

Folgate

Buena Vista

Edelweiss (Grosso white)

Grosso

2018-10 Cathy Rogers prepares cutting--by Barb Gorges

Cathy Rogers snips a soft, non-woody growing tip to start a new lavender shrub. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Lavender will seed itself, though it won’t grow true to its parent. It can be propagated from cuttings, which is what Cathy did to establish the long row in the pasture.

She prefers to make hers from the softwood—the flexible, non-woody branch ends. She cuts them about 5 inches long and strips the leaves off the lower half. Then she dips the ends of the stems in rooting hormone and inserts them in seed-starting medium, usually a light potting soil made up of ingredients like peat, vermiculite, perlite—not plain old garden soil. You can try rooting the stem in water too. Cathy had 80 percent success with her seed-starting soil method.

It takes about three years for the new plants to mature. Cathy waited a year before planting her cuttings out in the field where she had suppressed the pasture vegetation with weed-barrier cloth. Proper spacing is important—lavender shrubs can be as large as 30 inches wide as well as 30 inches high.

Lavender requires little care most years, once it’s established. Cathy had only irrigated the row once as of mid-August. But plants require annual pruning when mature. Removing one-third of the shrub, usually in spring right after last frost, will give you more flowers. But sometimes branches are harvested during the growing season.

When and what is harvested depends on what product is the goal. For decorative craft purposes, snip branches when the flowers are barely open. Potpourri and sachets use only the flower buds, again, barely open.

For use in food, often paired with lemon flavors in desserts or roasted with chicken or vegetables, check the recipe. Some call for dried or fresh flowers, others for the leaves. A little goes a long way—maybe two teaspoons of dried buds for an 8 x 12-inch pan of lemon bars.

There’s also lavender infusions, lavender sugar, lavender syrup, lavender jam, lavender vinegar and lavender lemonade.

Distilling essential oils requires a big copper distiller like a moonshine still. It can use whole branches, leaves and all. Essential oils get used in cleaning and beauty products.

Cathy’s best sources of information have been the workshops and vendors at the Lavender Association of Western Colorado festival. The next one is June 29, 2019, in Palisade, Colorado, outside Grand Junction. The association’s website, https://coloradolavender.org, has detailed information on growing lavender in a climate similar to ours.

“I use The Lavender Lover’s Handbook, The 100 Most Beautiful and Fragrant Varieties for Growing, Crafting, and Cooking, by Sarah Berringer Baden, as my primary reference, at least until I can get to Provence, France, or Sequim, Washington,” Cathy said. Both are centers of the lavender industry.

This fall is the perfect time to plan and prepare a spot to plant lavender next spring.

2018-10 Cathy Roger's lavender by Barb Gorges

Most of Cathy Rogers’ lavender plants are lavender colored. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

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Language of Flowers for Valentine’s Day

2018-02 Language of Flowers by Barb Gorges (2)

In the Language of Flowers, this arrangement of flower seed packets means Delight (Gaillardia and Columbine), Faithfulness (Echinacea–coneflower), Interest (Rudbeckia–Black-eyed Susan), Virtue (Mint–Bee Balm), Always cheerful (Coreopsis–Tickseed), and Petition–Please give me your answer (Penstemon). The potted fern translates as Sincerity. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Also published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Feb. 4, 2018, and at Wyoming Network News.

Language of Flowers provides many options for Valentine sentiments

By Barb Gorges

With the florists’ largest holiday approaching, I thought we should look at getting floral messages right.

The most well-known floral message is red roses for love. But red roses also make an environmentally unfriendly statement. An article at inhabitat.com, https://inhabitat.com/100-million-roses-for-valentines-day-emit-9000-metric-tons-of-co2/, last year explained that the red rose-growing industry uses a lot of water, energy and an enormous amount of pesticides, and then more energy to get the roses from South America, where most are grown, to the U.S.

Here’s an idea: a bouquet of colorful seed packets—and the promise to help prepare a garden bed or container later when gardening season arrives. You can find seeds at:

High Country Gardens, https://www.highcountrygardens.com/wildflower-seeds;

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, http://www.johnnyseeds.com/perennial-seeds-plants; and

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

There are hundreds of kinds of flowers that have sentiments attached to them, especially by the Victorians, famous for “The Language of Flowers.” They were very fond of sending each other floral messages and apparently every home had a floral dictionary on the shelf next to the Bible.

Here are my favorite native perennials for Cheyenne and what the Language of Flowers has to say about them. Keep in mind there is often more than a single meaning for each. And yes, they do sound like the sentiments printed on candy hearts, often addressing the early stages of romance.

Columbine – Delight – I enjoy being in your company

Coneflower – Faithfulness – Fear not, I am true

Coreopsis – Always cheerful

Gaillardia – Delight – Being with you gives me great joy

Liatris (Gayfeather) – Joy – Your attention warms my heart

Mint (choose Monarda, beebalm) – Virtue

Penstemon – Petition – Please give me your answer

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan) – Interest – I would like to talk with you more

Yarrow – Everlasting love

Mid-February is the perfect time to plant those seeds using the winter sowing technique. Plant them in semi-covered containers left outdoors. See my previous column about it at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/.

Many of the most romantic sentiments may require a trip to the nursery if you can’t find seeds. Here in Cheyenne you may have to make do with an IOU accompanied by pictures from catalogs until planting season in late May.

The following definitions are from the floral dictionary included in the novel, The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

Alyssum – Worth beyond beauty

Cactus (Opuntia) – Ardent love

Cosmos – Joy in love and life

Daylily – Coquetry

Dogwood – Love undiminished by adversity

Goldenrod – Careful encouragement

Lilac – First emotions of love

Morning glory – Coquetry

Nasturtium – Impetuous love

Pansy – Think of me

Peppermint – Warmth of feeling

Phlox – Our souls are united

Pink (Dianthus) – Pure love

Speedwell (Veronica) – Fidelity

Sweet William – Gallantry

If you want to plan for romance next spring, plant some bulbs next fall:

Crocus – Youthful gladness

Daffodil – New beginnings

Hyacinth, blue – Dedication – I shall devote my life to you

Hyacinth, white – Beauty

Jonquil – Desire

Tulip, red – Declaration of love

Vegetables, fruits and herbs can have good messages too, so you may want to include some of those seed packets:

Allium (onion) – Prosperity

Cabbage – Profit

Corn – Riches

Grapevine – Abundance

Oregano – Joy

Parsley – Festivity

Strawberry – Perfection

Wheat – Prosperity

Not all floral definitions express happy thoughts. Thistle, for example, means “Misanthropy” in one dictionary. Not surprisingly, bindweed and burdock translate as “Persistence” – most of us work hard trying to eradicate them.

But if you don’t like one definition, look for another. Peony means “Anger” in one book and “Contrition – Forgive my thoughtlessness” in another. In a third collection, peony stands for “Happy life, happy marriage.” Maybe the last two definitions are related after all.

The houseplant option recommends itself over cut roses that droop within a week, if you want something that will remind your true love of you for awhile (providing they have the palest of green thumbs):

Ivy – Fidelity

Orchid – Luxury – I shall make your life a sweet one

Maybe roses are still your best bet. Think about planting a bush that will last a long time. Rose growers in Cheyenne look to High Country Roses, http://www.highcountryroses.com/, in Colorado for hardy varieties. Each color has a meaning:

Burgundy – Unconscious beauty

Orange – Fascination

Pale peach – Modesty

Pink – Grace

Purple – Enchantment

Red – Love

White – A heart unacquainted with love

Yellow – Infidelity

Yikes! I like the old yellow climbing roses. Guess I better find a different dictionary.

Obviously, the recipient of your floral expression might be oblivious to or not speak the same floral language you do. Be sure to provide the definition you intend your flowers to speak.


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Modern botanic gardens: How does the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compare?

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Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith addresses a crowd of more than 100 people at the opening of the Grand Conservatory in August 2017. To the left is Cheyenne, Wyoming, mayor, Marian Orr, in blue. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Modern botanic gardens: How does the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compare?*** Click any of the smaller photos to see them full size.***

Also published at Wyoming Network News

By Barb Gorges

I’ve become a connoisseur of botanic gardens the last five years. Everywhere we travel I’ve found at least one. How does the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compare, now that it has acquired a conservatory? What makes a modern botanic garden?

The roots of botanic gardens come from ancient royalty, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and medieval monastery gardens for study and propagation of medicinal plants. The roots of major botanic gardens today are similar, often former estates of the wealthy or associated with universities, but also built, like ours, with community support.

The American Public Gardens Association, of which the CBG is a member, requires members are:

–Open to the public at least part-time

–Have aesthetic display, educational display and/or site research

–Maintain plant records

–Have one professional staff member, paid or unpaid

–Provide visitors ways to identify plants via labels, maps, etc.

The association’s definition doesn’t say it, but refreshing the public’s soul is an important outcome.

The six gardens I visited last fall fit the definition in very different ways, but have much in common with each other and our local botanic gardens.

Longwood Gardens water garden, fountain display and conservatory. Photos by Barb Gorges.

Longwood Gardens, https://longwoodgardens.org, outside Philadelphia, was Pierre du Pont’s personal garden started in 1907 with a 600-foot flower bed. Today it has 1,083 acres, including the 4-acre conservatory of plant exhibits, 1,300 employees and volunteers, and 1.5 million visitors annually. Longwood has all the additional components of a modern botanic garden: special events including concerts and classes; volunteer, internship and membership programs; and plant research and conservation work.

Modern gardens also have sustainability programs. Longwood has a 10-acre solar field and composting and integrated pest management programs although the Flower Walk beds were bordered by little white signs: “Danger, Pesticides! Keep Out.” It might be expected of a garden founded by a past president of the duPont chemical company.

2018-01-15 b Buffalo Botanic Gardens 1

The walk to the front entrance of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens is lined with flowers from the Proven Winners trials. Photo by Barb Gorges.

On a much smaller scale, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, https://www.buffalogardens.com/, is set in a city park, as is our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Inside the graceful glass domes of its Victorian-era conservatory, the theme is recreating habitats from around the world which share the degree of longitude passing through Buffalo, New York.

The garden was opened in 1900 by horticulturally-minded citizens, including Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York City’s Central Park. Its magazine advertises educational, volunteer and membership opportunities.

2018-01-15 c Cornell Botanic Gardens 2

The herb garden at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is divided into 17 sections including teas, dyes, food, medicinal, spiritual, and even literary references. The walls are made from local rock. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The Cornell Botanic Gardens, www.cornellbotanicgardens.com, part of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, comes from academic roots, but it also qualifies as aesthetically pleasing. It too has members, volunteers and a calendar of cultural and educational events.

Educational components include:

–The bioswale garden absorbing and purifying water from the parking lot.

–The visitor center’s green roof covered in succulents (the CBG also has a green roof).

–The Climate Change Garden comparing growth on otherwise identical hot and cool plots.

–And like our botanic gardens, a website full of information.

Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens rose garden (left) and butterfly habitat and pavilion (right). Photos by Barb Gorges.

However, in Ontario, Canada, the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, https://www.niagaraparks.com/visit/nature-garden/botanical-gardens-2, is more of a tourist attraction. It has the aesthetics and plant labels, but I found no membership or volunteer information. It is home to the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture, where students sign up for a 36-month regimen of labor and coursework.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve includes woodland, meadow and wetland habitat, attracting birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

A better example of a modern botanic garden was Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve https://bhwp.org/, near New Hope, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1934 at the junction of woods, meadows and wetlands, it offers a nursery full of native plants for sale and advertises membership, volunteer and educational programs.

Churchville Nature Center has a wildlife garden demonstrating how to landscape for wildlife: shrubs, trees, flowers and water features. Wild turkeys dropped by. Photo by Barb Gorges.

My favorite garden this trip was the wildlife garden at the Churchville Nature Center, https://www.churchvillenaturecenter.org, outside Philadelphia. Even though the center is municipally-owned like the CBG, there are, like our botanic gardens, membership, volunteer and educational opportunities.

2018-01-15 g Cheyenne Botanic Gardens 1

Inside the Cheyenne Botanic Garden’s new Grand Conservatory tropical plants flourish. The building also includes offices, two classrooms, an orangery and gift shop. The original greenhouse is being remodeled and will continue to provide bedding plants for the city.  Photo by Barb Gorges.

Our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compares well with all these gardens: we have an informative website for local gardeners, https://www.botanic.org/, and educational programming including a strong children’s program. The CBG has free admission, even now with the brand-new conservatory, because its city parks-funded budget is augmented by strong membership and volunteer programs.

One unique aspect of the CBG’s mission I didn’t see at any of the gardens I visited is the commitment to service and therapy: “Provides meaningful opportunities for seniors, handicapped and youth-at-risk volunteers who are essential in growing the Gardens.”

With the new conservatory building that opened last summer, the CBG can do even more to fulfill its mission. And you can help. I’ll let you in on two secrets.

One is that if you become a member, there is a reciprocity agreement that allows you to visit many other gardens for free, including the Denver Botanic Gardens. Of course, I spend my savings in the gift shops.

The second secret is that being a garden volunteer is fun. It is something you can’t easily enjoy at faraway gardens, but you can right here at home.


Fair flowers educate

2017-09 Floriculture Dept by Barb Gorges

The Floriculture Department at the Laramie County Fair includes perennials, annuals, herbs, potted plants and flower arrangements. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Sept. 17, 2017 “Fair gives lesson about best oflowers to grow locally.”

By Barb Gorges

I wasn’t thinking of our county fair being a learning opportunity until I overheard one woman visiting the floriculture department say to another, “You should try that in your garden.”

I realized then that the open class entries (all the entries that are not 4-H or FFA) could tell me a lot about what Laramie County gardeners grow, and grow well, at least at the beginning of August.

Checking the fair results at http://www.laramiecountyfair.com, in horticulture (fruits and vegetables), there were only 81 entries, indicating a growing season with a slow, cold start. However, for floriculture [starting on page 148], there were many more entries: perennial flowers (146), annual flowers (84), culinary herbs (64). The other categories, flower arrangements, dish gardens and potted plants, had a total of 55.

Why wouldn’t you plant perennials, the most popular category, in the first place? They take so little work once established. And once you’ve planted a perennial, why wouldn’t you snip three identical flowers the first week in August, place them in a clear glass jar, carry them to the fair and hope for a blue ribbon and $6 premium?

I’ve entered numerous quilts in fairs over the last 35 years (one to two hundred hours or more of work for a chance at the same $6 premium) and understand quilt judging, but I wasn’t sure what floriculture judges were looking for.

The fair book will tell you a little bit, but the 2017 edition is no longer available and the 2018 edition won’t be on the website until next spring. You can contact the Floriculture Superintendent, Chris Wright, through the fair office, 307-633-4670, if you have questions now.

Unlike other competitive endeavors, fair judges give out as many blue ribbons in any class as they feel are warranted. The entries are judged by how well they represent the class. For instance, all seven pansy entries received blue ribbons. However, all the Monarda (beebalm) entries received red ribbons and only $4 premiums.

I chatted with one of the two floriculture judges afterwards. Chris Hilgert, Wyoming Master Gardener coordinator and Extension horticulture specialist, explained he thought all the beebalm was a little past its prime.

Beebalm flower heads are made up of tiny florets that bloom in groups, one concentric ring at a time. Mine had already been in bloom five weeks. But pansies have no florets, just five petals per flower. Mine have been putting out fresh flowers nearly every day since they started blooming in April.

Hilgert has been judging several fairs a year for the last 14 years. He looks for entries that are healthy—no sign of disease or pests. You can pinch off bad leaves, but you can’t remove very many bad flower petals without ruining a bloom.

The containers don’t matter, Hilgert said, though he prefers that they be a size matching the stem length. He’d rather not fish flowers out of the water when they fall into too tall vases. Our fair’s rules call for clear glass or plastic containers and it doesn’t matter to Hilgert whether they are vases or just jars and bottles.

2017-09 Rudbeckia entry by Barb Gorges

Rudbeckia entry in a jelly jar gets a blue ribbon. Photo by Barb Gorges.

When a class description asks for three stems, or three blooms, the three need to be as uniform as possible: same size flowers, same length stem, and flowers at the same stage of bloom. This year I had a bumper crop of Rudbeckia (gloriosa daisy or black-eyed susan), but in over 100 blooms, only three were identical, and luckily, were fresh enough to last the whole week of the fair.

Avoiding wilting, another of Hilgert’s benchmarks, was easy this year—it was a cool, rainy day when we brought our entries to the Exhibition Hall. However, during hot weather, the fair’s rules stating that all open class entries must be turned in between noon and 8 p.m., but not judged until the next morning, doesn’t work well for the tender plants. And it is another day before the public can view them. Volunteers keep the containers of flowers and the potted plants watered during fair week.

There is a simple strategy for entering floriculture at our fair. Before the entry deadline at the end of June, put in online for every class for which you have something planted. There is no entry fee. No one can predict what will look best the beginning of August when the flowers need to be picked. While seven people had great Shasta daisy entries this year, mine were already finished blooming. Of the 35 classes I put in for, I only brought 14 entries. I didn’t even have hail damage this year. It was just a matter of bloom timing.

There is a competitive aspect to the Floriculture department—those other awards that give you bragging rights: Superior, Best of Show, Reserve Champion and Champion. Those are the purple ribbons, some with fancy rosettes, that transcend the classes.

This year gardeners were rewarded with them for an exceptional hybrid tea rose, a sunflower, a salpiglossis, two mints, three potted plants and a fairy garden. A truly wonderful flowering tuberous begonia, entered by one of my neighbors, Jean Profaizer, was the champion.

Whether you ever intend to enter the fair and make some “seed money,” it is worth reading the Floriculture results to see what can bloom in Cheyenne in late summer. I counted over 20 kinds of culinary herbs (although these don’t need to be in bloom), 16 kinds of annuals and 30 kinds of perennials. The most popular, if you put all four classes of it together (white, yellow, pink and other), was yarrow, with 25 entries. It happens to be an easy perennial to grow, too.

2017-09 Echinacea entry by Barb Gorges

Echinacea is another popular fair entry because it is in bloom in early August. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Other late summer standbys are Echinacea (coneflower), Gaillardia (blanket flower), daylily, lilies, various roses, violets, and as previously mentioned, Rudbeckia.

Among the annuals are geranium, cosmos, bachelor buttons, snapdragon, sunflower, marigold, petunia and pansy (though my pansies sometimes come back, acting like short-lived perennials).

When you walk through the display of flowers at our fair, each vase or jarful with its entry tag that you see gives you more familiarity with local possibilities. If you are lucky, the gardener has added the variety name—it’s supposed to give them extra competition points.

With all that information, now is the perfect time to assess your garden, make plans and gather or order what you need for next season. Any end of the season sales on perennials at nurseries? How about seeds, both flower and vegetable? Although they are never seen at the fair, don’t forget spring-blooming bulbs. And think about planting flowering trees and shrubs.

The downside? You may have to dig a new bed to accommodate all your future flower plans. But the bees, birds, butterflies and bats thank you.


The Mint Family

Photos courtesy of Jane and Robert Dorn. Hover over image for name of plant.

Skullcap, Scutellaria brittonii, 8 inches tall, native perennial found in rocky and gravelly places.

Coyote mint or mountain beebalm, Monardella odoratissima, 12 inches tall, prefers moist places in full sun.

Horsemint or purple beebalm, Monarda fistulosa, and cultivars, 2 feet tall, easily found in area nurseries. Transplants easily.

Giant (or anise) Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum (also called hummingbird mint),  3 feet tall, blooms July through September. Found for sale at nurseries.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Feb. 19, 2017

Introducing the mint family: from here, there and everywhere

By Barb Gorges

I was thinking a good winter pastime would be to research the mint family, Lamiaceae of which there are 7,500 species. I found tales of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Some mints were invited over to the New World because they were thought to be good garden plants, capable of providing medicinal uses, if not culinary flavor.

But some of them escaped the picket fences, becoming weeds that hang out on the dusty edges of civilization. Some poisoned livestock. Others just didn’t fit in the preferred landscape and have been periodically eradicated, especially the ones that insist on infiltrating the monoculture of lawn.

New World natives, while never originally confined to the cultivated garden, were valued for their medicinal know-how, but over time some recipes have been lost. They have been admired for their beauty and ability to thrive, each in its favorite wild place, providing sustenance to the local wildlife population. Only recently have we invited them into our cities and towns. But often we expect them to be made over into a showier version of themselves.

No matter where mints are from, they almost always share square stems and opposite leaves and they smell nice when you brush against them or crush their leaves.

Well-established garden mints

Immigrating people often take along their favorite plants from home. A surprising number of our favorite cooking herbs we grow in Cheyenne are mints that have travelled:

–Basil, Ocimum basilicum, traces its roots to India but is important to many cultures from Mexico to southeast Asia;

–Spearmint, Mentha spicata, Europe and Asia;

–Peppermint, Mentha x peperita, Europe and Middle East;

–Oregano, Origanum vulgare, Eurasia;

–Sweet marjoram, Origanum majorana, Middle East;

–Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, Mediterranean;

–Garden sage, Salvia officinalis, Mediterranean;

–Common thyme, Thymus vulgaris, Europe;

–Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, Mediterranean;

–Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, Europe, Iran, Central Asia.

Garden mint turned weed

Horehound, Marrubium vulgare, is considered a medicinal herb, but has escaped cultivation. Originally from Europe, North Africa and Asia, it is now listed in the handbook, “Weeds of the West,” because it has invaded our native grasslands, including here in southeast Wyoming. Wherever there is a disturbance in the natural landscape, look for it. It’s considered a weed because it is unpalatable to livestock.

Robert Dorn, in his book, “Vascular Plants of Wyoming,” lists other weedy mints in our county:

–Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea, Eurasia, common in lawns, attracts bees, has been used in beer and cheese making, but is toxic to cattle and horses;

–Dead nettle, Laminum amplexicaule, Eurasia and North Africa, problem in croplands and newly seeded lawns though one variety is considered good landscape ground cover;

–Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca, Eurasia, an herbal remedy, introduced for bees, now invasive;

–Lanceleaf sage, Salvia reflexa, Eurasian ornamental, listed in “Weeds of the West” because it is poisonous to livestock when chopped into or mixed with other feed.

Exotic and native mints excel

But here’s a good mint that has become a naturalized in Laramie County and elsewhere in North America: catnip, Nepeta cataria. It is native to Eurasia and Africa. A hybrid, Nepeta x fassennii, known as garden catmint “Walker’s Low,” became the perennial plant of the year in 2007.

For every difficult mint, there are more mints that contribute positively to society. Here at the north end of the Front Range, and elsewhere in the drylands of the west, we are looking for plants for our gardens that don’t need much water. Some of those are natives and others from similar landscapes on the other side of the world.

Take Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia, straight from the steppes of central Asia. It’s become extremely popular around here, plant it and forget it, but I don’t think anyone has taken advantage of its Old World reputation as a medicinal, or put the flowers in salad or crushed them for dye.

Water-frugal homeowners are replacing lawn with various creeping thymes, Thymus spp., and all of them hail from Europe, North Africa or Asia.

Horticulturists are always working on improvements and a catalogue like High Country Gardens shows examples. You’ll notice cultivars (cultivated varieties) with cute names. The improvements can be better cold tolerance, better drought tolerance, longer blooming and or bigger, brighter blooms. Some species are native to Turkey, like a type of lamb’s ear, Stachys lavandulifolius, or another from Arizona, another lamb’s ear, Stachys coccineus.

Wyoming natives

What I am more interested in meeting these days are the Wyoming natives, the plants that know how to get along with the native wildlife, including birds, bats, bees, butterflies, and other insects.

Looking again at Robert Dorn’s book, among the mints found in southeast Wyoming I saw:

–Dragonhead, Dracocephalum parviflorum;

–Drummond’s false pennyroyal, Hedeoma drummondii (used as a minty flavoring in Mexico);

–False dragonhead, Physostegia parviflora (related to obedient plant);

–Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris (a common lawn “weed” and Holarctic native—native to northern areas around the globe);

— Canada germander, Teucrium canadense.

Cultivated natives

These plants don’t show up in Dorn’s book he coauthored with his wife, Jane: “Growing Native Plants of the Rocky Mountain Area.” It could mean they aren’t showy enough or perhaps too difficult to grow. *

However, Dorn and Dorn mention these other Rocky Mountain mint cousins for our gardens:

–Giant (or anise) hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, also called hummingbird mint;

–Horsemint or purple beebalm, Monarda fistulosa;

–Coyote mint or mountain beebalm, Monardella odoratissima;

–Skullcap, Scutellaria brittonii.

Problem family members

Some gardeners have banned all mints from their gardens because they have heard they spread uncontrollably. That is true in my experience with the mentha species.

My chocolate mint, Mentha × piperita ‘Chocolate Mint,’ was well-behaved for 10-15 years until the summer I pruned back the big rosebush nearby and gave it more sun. It went ballistic. By fall I was ripping it out with my bare hands. Standard advice has been to keep crazy mints in pots so they can’t spread.

My lemon balm goes to seed before I notice and seedlings pop up the next year, but it never complains when I dig it up to share and make room for other plants.

Live and let live

The old-time culinary mints share my same raised bed and keep each other in check. Even the Russian sage hasn’t gotten out of hand as it would in a more open spot.

Maybe it’s time to try some of those new native cultivars and spice things up—and see what the bees think.

Note:

To see photos of these plants, search https://plants.usda.gov or Wikipedia, using the scientific names.

*To see Jane Dorn’s list of 25 native plants recommended for Cheyenne gardeners, and to purchase the digital version of “Growing Native Plants of the Rocky Mountain Area,” visit https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/habitat-hero/.


Vertical gardening

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Altitude Chophouse installed a Bright Agrotech Farm Wall to grow herbs for its restaurant and bar in Laramie, Wyoming, last summer. Photo courtesy Bright Agrotech.

Vertical gardening is growing into the wave of the future

By Barb Gorges

As we slip into the dark half of the year, we don’t have to say goodbye to growing our own fresh herbs, lettuces and other greens. There is an option for those of us without a greenhouse, hoop house or cold frame, even if we have limited natural light or limited space.

Think vertical. Think “Farm Wall.”

No more stooping over short little plants. No more weeds. No more intensive watering schedule.

Bright Agrotech, www.brightagrotech.com, a Laramie-based start-up, has been perfecting this system that maximizes production for every square foot. It works for farmers as well as hobbyists—indoors or out. The company now employs 30 people, many coming straight from the University of Wyoming.

As magical as this system sounds, it really works. Growers on every continent except Antarctica are using it. In 2015, the U.S. pavilion at the world’s fair in Milan, Italy, installed a demonstration Bright Agrotech ZipGrow Farm the size of a vertical football field, like a giant billboard full of leafy vegetables.

Locally, the system is being used at Cheyenne Central High School. There, agriculture teacher Ty Berry has his classroom’s system set up on a cart so he can take it places, including the state and county fairs last summer.

Elsewhere, Altitude Chophouse in Laramie grew edibles on an outside wall during the summer using this system.

How it works

The Farm Wall starts with towers. They will remind you of rain gutters upended, but they are made of food-grade white plastic which wraps around part of the open side, leaving a slot the length (or the height) of the tower for plants to sprout from. Towers come in 3 or 5-foot heights.

Bright Agrotech refers to these components as ZipGrow Towers. That’s because the growing medium can be “zipped” in and out of the towers.

The plants grow in a matrix made of curly fibers from recycled water bottles. They have a brown, protective silicone coating. Otherwise light would cause algae infestations in the originally clear material.

So how do you get the plant into the matrix material? Simple. It comes in two halves. You “zip” it out the end of the tower, spread the two halves just enough to place seedlings in between at regular intervals and “zip” it back into the tower. The plants spill out the lengthwise slot.

As you can imagine, the plastic matrix isn’t going to hold water well, so strips of wicking material are added with the plants.

The next step is to place the towers between the upper and lower horizontal gutters. The lower gutter is on the floor. The upper gutter can be slid onto a bracket on a wall (indoors or out).

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An emitter keeps the tower below it watered. Photo by Barb Gorges.

What makes the Farm Wall water-smart is that it is a hydroponic system. Water constantly circulates. About once a week the water reservoir needs to be topped off. It looks like and is lined up with the other towers but has no growing slot. Water is poured into the top. At the bottom is a spigot that allows only a certain amount of water to sit in the lower gutter. A small submersible pump there sends the water up through a hose and across the top, inside the upper gutter. There’s an emitter above each tower, keeping it watered.

Without soil to provide essential nutrients, you must add them to the water yourself. What you add depends on what you are growing, which is where Bright Agrotech can give you advice. There are several commercial fertilizer mixes available, or maybe you’d like to try aquaponics, in which the water circulates through a tank of fish and picks up nutrients from the fish poop.

While on my tour in Laramie one unexpected thing I learned from my guide, marketing team member Amy Storey, is that the more growing cycles a unit of matrix material has been through, the better it gets. All the old roots and all the potting soil left behind by the seedlings enables good microorganisms to get established and start helping with their usual job, making it easier for plants to absorb nutrients.

One plus of the Farm Wall system: no pesticides are necessary, as long as good horticultural practices are maintained. And there are no weeds since you aren’t tilling the garden and causing weed seeds to sprout.

Considerations

There are several considerations with this system. The 5-foot high, four-tower package is $599 (free shipping). The two-tower, 3-foot high version is $369. There is also an 8-tower option. Beyond that size, you need to look at the commercial farm version.

You also need an electrical outlet for the water pump. While the commercial farming version needs to be hooked up to plumbing, the Farm Wall doesn’t. But you may want to install it where a few splashes of water won’t be a problem.

An electrical conductivity meter will help you know how you are doing with fertilization, though you might make do with nutrient package directions and your own observations.

You’ll need someplace warm to start seedlings under lights.

Speaking of lights, you’ll need some florescent grow lights set up vertically in front of the Farm Wall if it isn’t set up outside or in a greenhouse.

Obviously, root crops are not going to do well in such limited root space. So far, the most successful crops have been flowers, herbs, lettuces and other smallish greens.

At the University of Wyoming Extension, horticulturist Chris Hilgert experimented with strawberries, but hasn’t been successful—yet.

The possibilities

For growing small vegetables commercially, vertical farming is certainly more efficient than one layer of 6 to 12-inch high plants, especially in a greenhouse. Also, in an urban area, the cost of lighting and water pumping may be less than transporting produce from elsewhere.

In Jackson, where the town is isolated and the growing season very short, Vertical Harvest, www.verticalharvestjackson.com, grows for local restaurants, grocery stores and its own store in a 3-story glassed-in area on the side of a parking garage. On a tenth of an acre they grow the equivalent of 5 acres of conventionally farmed land through the winter.

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Ty Berry has this Farm Wall in his classroom at Cheyenne Central High School planted with herbs and flowers. It was about to be replanted with beans. Photo by Barb Gorges.

This semester Berry’s students are planting beans in their classroom Farm Wall. It was paid for by an educational grant he wrote. Bright Agrotech also provided curriculum ideas to maximize the educational possibilities.

I remember 25 years ago when Cheyenne parent-teacher organizations raised the funds to pay for computer labs for their schools. Now computers are part of the school district’s budget and every student seems to have what amounts to one in their back pocket.

Perhaps someday it will be completely normal for a wall of every school building to produce healthy food for school lunches. Unless kids are already packing Farm Wall salads from home.

Note: Laramie, at 7200 feet elevation, is in a hostile environment for growing vegetables, which may have been the inspiration for Bright Agrotech founder Nate Storey, a native of Cheyenne with a PhD from the University of Wyoming. But his version of vertical gardening is catching on worldwide.

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The Farm Wall installed by Altitude Chophouse becomes part of the landscaping in downtown Laramie, Wyoming. Photo courtesy Bright Agrotech.


Herbs: scent, flavor, flower and fun

Herbs in strawberry jar

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

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

Text and photos by Barb Gorges

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Remember me to one who lives there

She once was a true love of mine.

–traditional English ballad verse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thyme sign

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

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

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

The four “essential” herbs

Parsley

Parsley flowering.

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

Sage

Sage

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

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

Thyme

Thyme

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

More mints

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

Oregano

Oregano

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

The other Italian

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

Edible flowers—just the petals

Chives

Chives

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

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

Lavender

Lavender

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

Calendula

Calendula

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

Beebalm

Beebalm

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

Other herbs to try

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

Ways to preserve harvested herbs

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

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

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

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

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

Recipes with herbs

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

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