Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Great garden books old & new

2020-01Roses,Herbs,Edible Flowers“Great garden books to read in January” was published Jan. 12, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

By Barb Gorges

January is the traditional time gardeners read seed catalogs. There’s nothing to do outside but maybe prune a few dormant shrubs and trees. It’s also my favorite time to read garden books, old and new.

New “Home Grown Gardening” series

Last year, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt started sending me volumes from their new series, “Home Grown Gardening” and I’m finally getting around to reading them. So far, the series has four installments. They are mostly derived from books published around 1999, several from the Taylor’s Weekend Guide series.

All the books feature detailed introductions and pages and pages of lush new photos, on average one plant per page.

2020-01Container&FragrantGardens“Container and Fragrant Gardens” is derived from two previous works by Peter Loewer, a prolific garden author in North Carolina.

The plants in the container section are all listed as perennials, including small trees, though in our area, those in Zones 6 and up would be considered annuals. The fragrant part of the book includes annuals and perennials. They could be grown in containers, too.

“Best Perennials for Sun and Shade” is another combination of two books featuring two pages per plant—a nearly larger than life photo on one and growing information on the second. What I like is the little box for each plant that sums up growing zone, bloom time, light requirement, height and “interest”—leaf and flower description—in case you hadn’t noticed the full-page photo opposite.

2020-01Perennials for Sun&Shade“Best Roses, Herbs, and Edible Flowers” could conceivably have some of the same plants as the previous books. In addition to pages of luscious closeups, there is a chapter on harvesting and preserving herbs.

2020-01Birds&Butterflies“Attracting Birds and Butterflies” is a derivation of author Barbara Ellis’s previous work. It is supplemented with excerpts from books published by Bird Watcher’s Digest.

In addition to plant profiles, there’s a page apiece for each butterfly and bird species that appreciates flower nectar. What I like is the critter profiles include a range map so you can concentrate on attracting the species you might see where you garden. However, the western birds profiled don’t include the seed eaters that also visit Cheyenne gardens.

For growing information for perennials—roses, herbs, flowers, shrubs, you would be better off consulting local information—don’t add lime to our soil as recommended in one of the books! And if you are growing our native perennials, don’t try to turn your soil into deep loam as suggested—our hardy prairie flowers don’t think much of luxury.

2020-01Garden Gossip bookOld “Garden Gossip”

My favorite winter garden reading is much older garden books. I find them at used bookstores and the local Delta Kappa Gamma annual book sale.

In Houston I found “Garden Gossip, Chronicles of Sycamore Valley” by Dorothy Biddle, editor of Garden Digest, and Dorothea Blom. It was published in 1936 with a price of $1. It was signed by the author as “Dorothy Biddle Johnson” in June of that year.

Informally, this column I write is known as “Garden Gossip” and the online archive is, so I couldn’t resist bringing the book home—for $20.

A small book, it has only a few plates of black and white photos inserted, but every chapter heading has a detailed ink sketch. And the chapters seem to be gossip, for instance “Color, Drama and Tomatoes, Mrs. L’s Garden.”

But the cover’s inside flap writeup suggests the people and gardens profiled may be serving an educational purpose, “Through the successes and mistakes of Sycamore Valley gardeners the reader receives a wealth of suggestions, many of which he will apply in his own garden.”

The mythical Sycamore Valley is probably based on Dorothy Biddle’s hometown of Pleasantville, New York, so I take the 85-year-old gardening advice with advisement. But the generalities still work.

For instance, Mr. and Mrs. B manage to make a lovely garden on a very limited budget. Dorothy writes, “Gardeners crave a little money to bury in the soil, but what happened in their garden happened almost entirely from labor and thought blended.” Now there’s a statement that can stand the test of time.

Dorothy Biddle was also Mrs. Walter Adams Johnson. Her co-author, Dorothea Blom, was her daughter. Dorothy founded the Blue Ribbon Flower Holder Company (one of her other books was “How to Arrange Flowers”) and when I checked a couple years ago, her granddaughter still owned the business. Dorothy died in 1974 at age 87, garnering an obituary in the New York Times,


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. Due 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.

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,, 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,;

Johnny’s Selected Seeds,; and

Botanical Interests, of Colorado,

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

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,, 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.

You can promise a rose garden in Cheyenne

John Davis roses

“John Davis” is one of the Explorer series of hardy Canadian roses that Rhea Halstead grows that does not require covering for the winter, even in Cheyenne. Photo by Rhea Halstead.

Published May 18, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “You can promise a rose garden in Cheyenne”

By Barb Gorges

Gary Halstead probably didn’t promise his wife a rose garden.

With the Cheyenne weather as it is, most would bet on that becoming a broken promise.

But 10 years ago, when Rhea Halstead and her husband were finished with their list of major home improvements, she looked out at the backyard and was inspired to recreate a scene from Country Home magazine: a small, vintage travel trailer smothered in roses, with a little bistro table and chairs for two out front. The serene vision appealed to Rhea, who has a career that often brings her face to face with the dark side of humanity.

Ten years later, I am charmed by the oasis the Halsteads have grown, protected by hedges and trees. The tiny vintage travel trailer is there, embedded in roses, and should be covered in blooms within a month. Rhea found another, slightly larger trailer at a garage sale for $50 and fixed it up–antiques are her other passion. She calls it the Honeymoon Cottage, though, apparently her daughter didn’t take her up on the offer to stay there on her honeymoon.

Over to one side is a tiny cottage that’s really the potting shed. Another small building is the summer kitchen—the Halsteads love to entertain outdoors. And there’s the gazebo and a greenhouse. Circuitous gravel paths are sparked by a scattering of colored glass pebbles.

Rhea’s 150 rose bushes are tucked into protected corners or in small beds in which white picket and other kinds of fencing provide backdrops. And everywhere there are bits of vintage memorabilia to discover.

Rhea was not a gardener when she decided to plant her first rosebush. Instead, she researched and learned from members of the Prairie Rose Society, a local club. Today, she gives informative talks on growing roses for the Rose Club.

How does Rhea grow roses?

Rose garden

Rhea has created an oasis for her collection of 150 roses and vintage memorabilia. Photo by Rhea Halstead.

Right location

Roses need 6-8 hours of sun, preferably morning sun, because heat fades blooms.

Right variety

Most of Rhea’s roses grow on their own roots—they are not fussy varieties that require grafting onto sturdier root stock—and they tend to be repeat bloomers. Many are hardy enough they don’t need winter protection.

Spring planting

March and April are when Rhea consults her wish list and researches where to find new varieties she wants to try.

If you do plant a grafted variety, “grown on a union,” bury that union 2-3 inches deep, Rhea said. For the latest, best planting instructions, search online for “how to plant a rose bush.” This site,, has great directions.


Rhea waters as needed, which can be as often as every other day when it’s hot. She has considered drip irrigation but has chosen to walk her garden with the hose.

“That’s the whole Zen thing,” she said, and it helps her de-stress, she said. It only takes 30 minutes and it allows her to spend time with the roses and see how they are doing.

Summer maintenance

Before the roses leaf out, Rhea treats any with signs of magnesium depletion by spreading a half cup of Epsom salts per plant.

She tried using all the natural fertilizers, but the dogs ate them. Now when she checks mid-summer for the need to fertilize, she uses conventional products.

Each year she replenishes her wood chip mulch, which feeds the roses as it decomposes as well as represses weeds. And for weeds that do show up, “We get on our hands and knees and pick,” Rhea said.

She aims for rose varieties that aren’t as susceptible to pests and diseases, and if she needs to, she uses Neem oil and sometimes Bayer products.

Chlorosis can be another problem. Our alkaline soil can tie up iron and leaves will grow gangly and yellow. Roses like slightly acidic soil and so applying iron sulfate as directed can help. Consult the Laramie County Extension office for a definite diagnosis.

Deadheading, removal of flowers that are finished blooming, encourages the repeat blooming varieties to keep flowering.

Fall preparation

In September, Rhea quits deadheading to make it easier for the roses to go into dormancy. She reduces watering to once a week.

rose covering

With it’s bottom removed, this pot is placed over the rose bush and filled with leaves and a little dirt to act as winter insulation. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Winter covering

In November, about 60 percent of Rhea’s bushes get covered, and always the ones in their first year in her garden. Covering is about trying to keep the rosebush cold so it stays dormant, she said. If she has a variety that doesn’t die back, like the floribundas, it doesn’t need a cover.

But hybrid teas and some others, and new bushes do need a cover. So Rhea buries the base of the bush in about 6 inches of top soil, from either her garden or a garden center. Using an old plastic pot from a nursery, with the bottom removed, she places the cylinder over the plant and fills it with a mix of dry, brown leaves and a little more dirt. The open top allows water to leach in, but the leaves allow enough air to prevent mildew.

Spring uncovering

Rhea removes the covers between April 15 and 30. At the time of my visit April 26, she had removed the covers, but not the mounds of soil, which were fine protection for the coming spring snowstorms. [Rhea said she did re-cover the bushes before the 11 inches of snow we had May 11 and 12.]

Eventually, she waters out the protective soil, cuts canes back to the last green growth, blows the leaves out, picks the weeds and puts in new wood chip mulch.

Propagation is possible

Rhea has perfected the art of propagating roses from cuttings. It requires warm, stable temperatures and 95 percent humidity. Over the years she has improved her success rate from 10 to 90 percent.

The Rose Club’s latest project is propagating cuttings from the old roses in the Cheyenne cemetery, single bloomers (blooming once a year), probably centifolia, floribunda and cabbage rose types. Since they were planted decades ago and have survived without time-consuming cultivation practices, they should be perfect for the modern homeowner.

If you missed them at the annual Laramie County Master Gardeners’ plant sale May 17, check with Rhea to see if any are still available.

Mary rose

“Mary” is a variety of David Austin rose that Rhea recommends. Photo by Rhea Halstead.

Rhea’s advice on choosing roses for Cheyenne

Canadian roses, which are varieties developed by Agriculture Canada for harsh prairie conditions, are a better bet here in this climate. Some varieties to consider: the Explorer series roses, John Davis, William Baffin and Alexander Mackenzie. Also, Morden Blush, Hope for Humanity and Winnipeg Park are solid roses.

Knockout roses seem to do well here. These are varieties developed in Wisconsin and introduced in 2000.

The David Austin roses were developed in England beginning in the 1960s and cross old garden varieties roses with modern. These are very winter hardy: Winchester Cathedral, Mary, Crown Princess Margareta and Strawberry Hill.

If you have to go with a modern rose, floribundas are hardier than the hybrid teas. A few that survive well here and are quite beautiful are Europeana and Strike It Rich. They will require winter cover.

The floribundas can be found at most nurseries and box stores. Canadians can also be found at local nurseries or online.

The older Explorer roses will likely have to be bought online. David Austins can be found in Colorado nurseries or online.

The Flower Bin in Longmont gets a massive amount of roses every Mother’s Day and you can find many new and old varieties there.

High Country Roses in Denver carries many older varieties of roses that do well in this climate.

Roses rated for Zone 5 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness map will mostly do OK here. Though Cheyenne is rated zone 5, roses rated for zones 4 and below do better here.

The Rose Club

The Rose Club meets in Cheyenne monthly, June through September. To attend, call Rhea, 637-3114.