Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Habitat Hero demo gardens get started

2018-07 BOPU-Habitat Hero Demo Garden planting--Don Chesnut

About 50 volunteers planted the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities office June 2. Photo courtesy of Don Chesnut.

Published July 22, 2018 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Habitat Hero demonstration gardens get started.” Also published at https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/habitat-hero-demonstration-gardens.

By Barb Gorges

This spring, my eyes were bigger than my garden. I blame all those luscious Botanical Interests seed packet illustrations (www.BotanicalInterests.com).

March 1, a little later than usual for winter sowing (see https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/), I planted 25 cut-open milk jugs with perennial seeds and set them outside.

The seeds included:

Aquilegia (Columbine)

Asclepias (Milkweed)

Coreopsis (Tickseed)

Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)

Monarda (Bee Balm)

Penstemon (Beardtongue)

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan).

2018-07Rudbeckia hirta-Barb Gorges

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan). Photo by Barb Gorges.

There were sprouts in every gallon jug by the end of April. The Rudbeckia seedlings formed a carpet.

I planned to have the front yard ready to plant, but between wet weather and various commitments, that didn’t happen. The seedlings were also too small for the Master Gardener plant sale mid-May.

Then the Cheyenne Habitat Hero committee got a query from the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Would we be interested in having a Habitat Hero demonstration garden site between the rose garden and the parking lot? I soon realized my winter sowing overflow would be perfect there.

On the other hand, the Cheyenne Habitat Hero committee spent months over the winter planning a Habitat Hero demonstration garden with the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities. It will show how to save city residents and business owners money and water by planting a flower garden in place of a lawn. I wrote a successful grant proposal to National Audubon that funded nearly half of the $1,200 to buy plants, plus another for $3,500 for an interpretive sign.

The BOPU garden area, in front of their office, was measured and plans were drawn digitally by Kathy Shreve from Star Cake Plants. She chose an assortment of drought tolerant species that over time will grow into a solid mass of colorful mounds of flowers attracting birds, bees and butterflies. An order was placed for plants in 4.5 and 2.5-inch containers, plus a few shrubs.

The turf was removed mechanically. Volunteers broke up the hard clay with shovels and mixed in compost. A flagstone garden path was installed as well as an irrigation system that snapped into existing lawn sprinkler heads. About 50 people showed up June 2 and planted 428 plants in two and a half hours—and watered them all in by hand and mulched them with wood chips.

At the CBG site however, rather than decide how many plants are needed to fill the space, Kathy is helping me figure out how to use the 900 seedlings I started and any donations of other native-type plants. At least there is no lawn to remove and the soil is reasonable.

2018-07Monarda fistulosa-Barb Gorges

Monarda fistulosa (Bee Balm). Photo by Barb Gorges.

At home, my winter-sown seedlings go directly into the garden, but water wasn’t immediately available at the CBG site, so they are in the greenhouse waiting.

Seedlings can live indefinitely crowded together. The above-ground parts don’t grow much bigger, but the roots get longer and longer and are harder and harder to tease apart so I started “up-potting.” I claimed all the plastic containers from the BOPU planting and more from the CBG and bought six bags of potting soil at cost from Habitat Hero sponsor Gardening with Altitude, enough to fill 33 flats.

After 10 days the first 200 Rudbeckias Sandra Cox and I transplanted had grown 50 times larger than the ones that were still fighting it out in the four remaining milk jugs. I’d forgotten how my winter-sowing instructor, Michelle Bohanan, had carefully counted out 16 or 25 seeds for each jug rather than spill an unknown number. Later, in the Botanical Interest seed catalog, where it states how many seeds are in each packet, it said the Rudbeckia packet has over 2,000 for only $1.69. Maybe it was a typo. Maybe not.

2018-07Gaillardia-Barb Gorges

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower). Photo by Barb Gorges.

The repetitive nature of potting up seedling after seedling for hours made me wonder how much of propagation is mechanized at large companies. While washing pots I listened to a recorded book, “The Line Becomes a River” by Francisco Cantu, about the U.S.—Mexico border issue. It occurred to me this is the kind of tedious work immigrants gladly do just to be in our country.  These soil-based jobs many of our own citizens disdain, leaving the “green” industry shorthanded.

If all goes well with this latest Habitat Hero project, by late summer—or maybe next summer—you may see 450 Rudbeckia plants flowering brown and gold—maybe in time for the University of Wyoming football season. Also stop by BOPU, 2416 Snyder Ave., on a regular basis so you can see the growing transformation.

2018-07Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Habitat Hero garden-Barb Gorges

The Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens looks deceptively small from this viewpoint. It is a crescent about 100 feet long and 25 feet wide at its widest point. It took on average six people nine hours to plant 950 plants (including those donated by Kathy Shreve). Photo by Barb Gorges taken July 31, 2018.

BOPU Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden Plant List

Agastache aurantia “Sunlight” (Hyssop)

Agastache cana “Sonoran Sunset” (Hyssop)

Aster alpinus “Goliath” (Alpine Aster)

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae “New England Pink” (New England Aster)

Bergenia crassifolia “Winterglut” (Bergenia, Pigsqueak)

Buddleja sp. “Blue Chip” (Butterfly Bush)

Buddleja davidii “Miss Ruby” (Butterfly Bush)

Echinacea purpurea “Magnus Superior” (Coneflower)

Fragaria vesca “Alexandria” (Runnerless Strawberry)

Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Avena Grass)

Juniperus scopulorum “Blue Arrow” (Juniper)

Oenothera macrocarpa (Missouri Evening Primrose)

Panicum virgatum “Heavy Metal” (Switchgrass)

Papaver orientale “Salmon Oriental” (Poppy)

Penstemon x mexicali “Pike’s Peak Purple” (Penstemon)

Prunella lacinata (Lacy Self-Heal)

Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasqueflower)

Ribes rubrum “Red Lake” (Currant)

Sedum sieboldii “October Daphne” (Sedum)

Veronica pectinate (Wooly Creeping Speedwell)

2018-07Echinacea purpurea Cheyenne Spirit-Barb Gorges

Echinacea purpurea “Cheyenne Spirit” (Purple Coneflower) is a cultivated variety that blossoms in a variety of colors from orange and yellow to pink. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Apply to be a Habitat Hero

Habitat Hero logoThe Habitat Hero program recognizes people who have reduced the size of their water-loving lawns and planted native, water-smart plants that benefit birds, bees, butterflies (and bats) and other wildlife.

Audubon Rockies, the regional office of the National Audubon Society for Colorado and Wyoming, offers information about wildscaping and the application to become a Habitat Hero at   http://rockies.audubon.org/programs/habitat-hero-education.

The Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society and Laramie County Master Gardeners are already planning the 5th annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero workshop for spring 2019. To be notified about the details when they are available, sign up for the blog posts at https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/.


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Starting gardens: find sun, soil, water

2018-03-05PerennialGarden 1byBarbGorges

This perennial garden keeps expanding. The raised bed with the hail guard on top is where we grow the vegetables, the sunniest spot in front or back yard. Photo by Barb Gorges. 

By Barb Gorges

Is this the year you’ve decided you’ll spend more time on flowers and vegetables and make that boring expanse of lawn more colorful and edible? Here’s how to start.

Find the sun

Find where the sun shines on your yard and where the shadows are. This is the very first and most important step you must take. If you didn’t notice last year, you can estimate.

See where the shadows of currently leafless trees fall during the day. Find the sunny, south-facing side of your house.

For vegetables you want the sunniest location possible, at least 6 hours of full, summer sun. Do you have overgrown or dying trees and shrubs that need pruning or removal? However, a little shade by late afternoon keeps veggie leaves from temporarily wilting.

Keep vegetable gardens close to the house so it is easier to step out and pull the occasional weed and pick the ripe tomatoes.

Flowers aren’t as picky about sun because there are kinds suited to different light levels: sun, part sun, part shade and full shade. If you desire to grow a certain kind, google its light requirements.

Block the wind

In most residential neighborhoods there are enough obstacles, houses and landscaping, to blunt the wind. But if you are out on the prairie, you might want to put delicate plants in the lee of the barn or plant a windbreak first.

Get the dirt

Soil is anything a plant can stick a root into.

Good soil for vegetables (and other annuals) has lots of microorganisms that help feed the roots. Most vegetables are big feeders. They use lots of nutrients, so you’ll want to dig in compost the first year and then add layers of leaf/plant/kitchen compost mulch after that as needed. No need to dig again in future years.

If you use chemical fertilizer instead (unfortunately limiting good soil microbes), remember to follow the directions. Too much nitrogen gives you leaves and no fruit and too much of any fertilizer gives you sick or dead plants. And remember, Cheyenne has alkaline soils so do not add alkaline amendments like lime and wood ash.

Perennial plants rated for our zone 5 or colder (Zones 3 and 4), especially native plants, are really quite happy with whatever soil is available. If you are trying to grow flowers in the equivalent of pottery clay, gravel pit or sandbox, you might look for native species adapted to those kinds of soil. Or consider growing your plants in a raised bed or container you can fill with better soil.

Water carefully

Here in the West, water is a precious commodity so save money by not throwing it everywhere. If you have a sprinkler system, make sure it isn’t watering pavement.

The new era of home landscaping encourages us to replace our lawns with native perennials because they use less water. Native plants also provide food for birds, bees and butterflies, and habitat for beneficial insects. The Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities is installing a demonstration garden at its headquarters this spring.

But you will need to water a new perennial garden regularly until it gets established, and at other times, so figure out how far you want to lug the hose or stretch a drip irrigation system.

Once established, a native perennial garden not only takes less water than a lawn, but it doesn’t require the purchase of fertilizers, pesticides or gasoline for the mower. Your time can be spent admiring flowers instead of mowing. Although if you convert a large lawn to a meadow, you may want to mow it once a year.

Vegetables are water hogs. The fruits we harvest, especially tomatoes and cucumbers, are mostly water. Unless you like to contemplate life while watering by hand, check out drip irrigation. You can even put a timer on the system.

Sprinklers, on the other hand, waste a lot of water, especially when it evaporates in the heat and wind before it can get to the plants. If you abstain from watering between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., you’ll lose less to evaporation.

2018-03-05PerennialGarden 3byBarbGorges

It cost me $3000 to have the turf dug up for this garden…and the broken sewer pipe replaced. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Deleting lawn

While you can rent a rototiller to open up an area for planting, I prefer to use a sharp spade. I dig one clump of grass at a time, only about 8-10 inches deep, break and shake off as much soil as possible and put the remaining chunk in the compost bin—or fill in a hole in the remaining lawn.

It’s slow going, but I disturb fewer tree and shrub roots that underlay my entire yard. When I get tired of digging, that means I’ve reached the amount of new garden I have the energy to plant this year. I don’t want gardening to become a chore!

The plants and details

In the six years I’ve been interviewing local gardeners and writing monthly columns, I’ve accumulated a lot of information, from seed starting to native grass lawn alternatives to growing giant pumpkins and native perennials. Go to my website, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com, and on the right side of the page use the search function or scroll through the list of topics.

If you are using your phone, select “About” from the menu and find the search function and topics at the very bottom of the page.

2018-03-05Coneflower&beebyBarbGorges

I love this kind of garden visitor. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Landscaping: When pros are cheaper than DIY

2017-03 landscape design

The juxtaposition of a new sewer cleanout (not a gas line as the flagging indicates) and the gutter downspout extension becomes an obstacle for crossing the front yard. Photo by Barb Gorges. 

Published April 2, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

In landscaping design, a pro’s help can be cheaper than DIY

By Barb Gorges

December is not a month for digging a new garden bed—even if there is no snow—Cheyenne’s clay soils are frozen solid.

However, if you pay someone $3000 to dig a 7-foot-deep trench to fix an ailing sewer pipe, you may end up with a 4-by-10-foot mound of freshly tilled earth. The neighbors stopping by with Christmas treats all wanted to know who we buried in our front yard.

The juxtaposition of the new sewer cleanouts and our rain gutter downspouts presented obstacles for me as well as our mail and newspaper carriers, which got me to thinking about getting professional advice this spring.

When is it time to call a landscape architect? I asked David Ohde, of Ohde & Associates, who is licensed to practice in Wyoming and has been in business in Cheyenne since 1984.

Ohde said when you should call a landscape architect is for serious issues like drainage, steep slopes, erosion, stabilization and meeting regulations like Cheyenne’s Unified Development Code.

“We design outside spaces, not just plant trees and shrubs,” Ohde said.

Landscape architects deal with irrigation, grading, retaining walls, patios, outdoor kitchens as well as plant materials, however most of Ohde’s own business is commercial and institutional, rather than residential.

There is a limit to what licensed landscape architects in Wyoming can do. For instance, they can only design retaining walls up to 3 feet high without consulting a structural engineer.

Ohde knows when to call the experts for other situations as well. He said you can hire a landscape architect to do a verbal consultation at an hourly rate. You can also go further and contract for a design that specifies dimensions, plant species and other materials, complete with sketches and cost estimates.

You, the client, own the plans and can do the installation yourself or hire a contractor. You can hire the landscape architect to oversee the progress of the installation to make sure plans are being followed.

Perhaps the client wants to screen a view, or frame a view. Ohde can lay out the options, plant, trellis or wall, that are appropriate for the spot, based on whether it is in shade, sun or wind. If it’s a planting, does the client prefer something that grows slowly and needs little maintenance, or do they like yardwork?

Besides the nuts and bolts, landscape architects are creative. They interview their clients to find out what ideas they have already, how they might like to use their property, what their budget is, how much maintenance they want to do. They consider the architecture of the house and solve problems. Then they roll that all together into something functional and aesthetically pleasing.

(It is important to recognize whether a landscape architect has a trademark style, and if it matches your style. A minimalist designer fond of Asian aesthetics is going to be hard-pressed to make a would-be English-style cottage gardener happy.)

Be sure a landscape architect you hire is familiar with Cheyenne’s climate. Wyoming licensure is required for out-of-state landscape architects, but it is not necessary for working on single family residences (Note: an exemption is required).

If this sounds pricey for the average homeowner, you are right. (It is no wonder over half of the licensed landscape architects in Wyoming are in Jackson, in the county with the highest average income levels in the state.) However, without professional advice, Ohde points out that landscaping mistakes can be expensive, for instance, a patio installed without regard to drainage might cause flood damage.

The cost of hiring a landscape architect should be looked at, Ohde said, as “deriving benefit from professional service that has long-lasting benefits for the spaces we live with for years.”

If you don’t have a tricky landscape situation and you can’t afford Monet fine art-type prices and you’d still like some creative ideas, look for a garden designer.

Garden designers are not licensed in Wyoming. They range from the self-taught to the well-educated.

Sometimes they are independent and you can see a gallery of their work at their website. Often however, they work for a nursery or a landscape contractor.

Years ago, a local nursery sent out an employee to our house who measured our yard and drew up a plan for us at no cost. We bought the recommended trees and shrubs at that nursery.

For my current dilemma, a friend recommended Tyler Moore of Capital City Landscaping. He and his dad, Dan Moore, started the business in 2004. Tyler and his wife, Alicia, are now in charge of “creating your new piece of paradise.”

Tyler and his crew, like most landscape companies in town, can tackle just about anything, including the blank slate left by new construction. Tyler was in construction and carpentry earlier in his career and he likes building decks and pergolas (gazebos). He takes classes in the winter, learning about the latest trends in landscaping.

Tyler is also creative and pointed out that I could solve part of my obstacle problem if the downspout extensions were changed out for underground pipes that lead to a pop-up drain far from the house’s foundation.

What do his clients want? Often, low maintenance yards. But not always.

One eccentric, long-time client had Moore build multiple terraces with garden beds he filled with his plant collections. Later he added a faux mine shaft to feature an old ore car he found, and he had a windmill plumbed to provide water to wildlife, whether or not it was windy. (I was lucky enough to visit that wonderful garden, and gardener, a few years ago.)

Just as we don’t have to consult an architect or interior designer before remodeling the bathroom, we don’t have to consult a landscape architect or garden designer before planting a bush. However, if you want new ideas, a new perspective (and stay out of trouble on drainage and other serious issues), ask an expert.

Then the success of a project requires an expert who can imagine what the client doesn’t know about his profession and who makes the effort to explain things. And it takes a client who is open to ideas and bothers to check in frequently while the work is underway, avoiding expensive miscommunication. Over the years, I’ve learned the success of building and remodeling projects requires good communication.

Landscaping is the same.