Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


How to be a vegetable gardener in Cheyenne

veggies

My beginner’s garden included green beans, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and summer squash.

Also published May 15, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

How to be a vegetable gardener in Cheyenne

By Barb Gorges

Mail-order seed companies report that they are running out of seed—vegetable seeds primarily. Seems like we’re all wanting to take a step towards self-sufficiency this spring when there are so many other aspects of life beyond our control.

Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County, assured me Cheyenne’s garden centers, including the big box stores, have plenty of seeds. And the Laramie County Master Gardeners plan to have their annual plant sale, one way or another, May 31, including a virtual plant sale already in progress, https://www.lcmg.org/.

The UW Extension folks have a variety of videos and recordings about Wyoming gardening available at https://www.uwyo.edu/barnbackyard/live/recordings.html.

While my book on how to garden in Cheyenne won’t be ready for several months, the contents are currently available online at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/ as an archive of all my Wyoming Tribune Eagle garden columns since 2012. You can search for information about growing vegetables and it will be suited to Cheyenne and in more detail.

If you’ve gardened elsewhere in the country, there are three things you need to know about vegetable gardening in Cheyenne: use drip irrigation, prepare hail protection and never add lime to our alkaline soils.

If you’ve never gardened before, well, it’s mostly about choosing the right vegetables for our climate and season length, giving plants the right amount of water, and mulching.

2016-6a raised beds 2

Cheyenne gardener Barb Sahl uses several kinds of raised beds. Raised beds can also be made with wooden boards or cinder blocks.

Step 1 – Find a spot for a vegetable bed or containers.

It should be sunny for at least 6 hours a day, preferably morning, and relatively level and within reach of a hose or a drip irrigation system.

Keep the veggies close to your back door so that it is easy to saunter out every day to admire them and pull a couple little weeds.

If the site currently doesn’t even grow weeds well, it could be subsoil left behind by the builders. The soil can be amended and over time, become productive. But for success this season, think raised bed or containers (see my archives).

Also, if this is your first attempt at vegetable gardening, keep the size of the bed reasonable, maybe 4 feet wide (what you can reach across from either side) by 6 or 8 feet long.

Step 2 – Prepare the bed.

I have never used a rototiller. I prefer the (husband with) shovel method. Digging by hand will keep you from creating a bed bigger than you can manage, especially if this is your first garden.

If you have any compostable material, like last year’s tree leaves, lawn mowings not treated with pesticides, vegetable debris from the kitchen or any old plant materials that don’t include weed seeds or invasive roots, you can dig that in.

Dedicated gardeners will send soil samples out for analysis on exactly what the soil needs for growing vegetables. Think about doing that later this season.

Some gardeners work their soil until it’s as fine and chunk free as cocoa powder, but that isn’t necessary—in fact, it’s hard on the soil microbes that can help you. You might want to smooth a row a few inches wide for planting tiny seeds and make sure there aren’t any canyons that will swallow the cucumbers.

Gold Nugget tomatoes

Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes are an early (55 days to maturity), determinate variety. These were grown with seed from Pinetree Garden Seeds, a mail order company in Maine.

Step 3 – Shop for seeds.

If you know any successful gardeners in our area, see if they will gift you some seeds.

Otherwise, you need to read the seed packets carefully. Keep in mind our average last day of frost is around May 25 and our average first day of frost is mid-September. It’s a short season. You need to look for short season vegetables.

Each packet will tell you how many days from seed germination until maturity (harvest). Remember, some seeds take a week or more to germinate. Look for vegetable varieties that are in the range of 45 to 70 days. Next year you can try starting tomatoes indoors or growing them with some kind of season extender like a hoop house or row cover.

Meanwhile, look for tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and peppers ready to transplant.

Easy to grow from seed are the squashes, beans, kale, chard and leaf lettuces (not head lettuce).

Step 4 – Plant seeds and transplant plants.

Follow the seed packet directions on when and how to plant. Make sure your soil is moist already.

For transplanting, normally you plant the plant so it sits at the same height as it did in the pot. However, if it’s a tomato that looks a little leggy, you can bury a few inches of its stem.

Step 5 – Mulch.

We use old tree leaves and pesticide-free grass clippings at our house. Straw is good, but not hay or anything with seeds. An inch or two of mulch will keep down the weeds and keep the soil from drying out too fast.

Step 6 – Water.

Catherine said consistency is most important. Once the plants are established, you can let the top inch of soil dry out (test it with your finger) in between thorough waterings, but if you are not consistent with providing enough water, you will not get good yields.

If you seem to have impenetrable clay soils, try watering for a couple minutes, then water elsewhere and then come back 15 minutes later and see if the soil will absorb the rest of the water it needs.

Step 7 – Fertilize.

Seedlings don’t need fertilizer for a few weeks, but vegetables are soon hungry. Organic gardeners use compost—like your mulch as it decays, or “teas” made from soaking compost—read up first. Avoid all manure, Catherine recommended. It tends to be salty (bad for our soils), full of weed seeds and may harbor pathogens. Avoid chemical fertilizers with too much nitrogen too—nitrogen grows great leaves but little if any fruit. Do not use weed and feed products—they will kill your veggies.

Step 8 – Weed.

If you mulch and don’t overwater, you shouldn’t have much of a weed problem. Visit your veggies every day and pull them or use a dandelion digger (don’t hoe) on any little green interlopers. It’s much easier than waiting until the weeds grow roots to Earth’s core and shed seeds across the continent.

Step 8 – Protect.

Everything is out to get your veggies before you can harvest them: frost, wind, hail, antelope, rabbits, insects, diseases. There are preventative and non-chemical actions you can take. Check my archives.

Step 9 – Harvest.

I remember the first summer after I became a Master Gardener. I told my husband, our family’s vegetable grower, that I wanted to try to grow vegetables myself from start to finish. I did, and they had the most incredible flavor.

2019-01 sandra cox vegetable garden

Cheyenne gardener Sandra Cox used large amounts of compost when starting a garden at her new house and had fantastic results.


Seed-starting lights

2020-03 lights-seeedlings

Mark started tomato seedlings under a fluorescent shop light a week before this photo was taken. We have utility shelves set up in the unused bathtub in the hall bathroom. The rest of the year the shelves are filled with houseplants that do well with only light from the bathroom’s skylight.

Published Mar. 15, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Better lighting means stronger seedlings”

By Barb Gorges

When hours of daylight are quickly lengthening and seed packets are showing up at garden centers, you know it’s time for flower and vegetable seed starting. If you’ve never tried, it’s time to learn how.

You can go to my archived columns at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/ and search “seed starting.” You’ll learn how starting from seed saves you money and gives you options for tomatoes and other vegetables adapted to Cheyenne. Get tips on selecting seeds, potting soil and pots. Learn how to time planting, how deep to plant seeds, how and how much to water and how to avoid damping off. Then learn how to harden off seedlings before transplanting them.

This year I want to talk about light. The right light will give you nice, stocky green plants instead of spindly, sickly ones.

There’s a misconception that windowsills work great for starting vegetable seeds. After all, millions of houseplants can’t be wrong. But houseplant origins are typically the shady understory of tropical forests. Vegetables prefer full sun. Also, many windows are now treated to improve energy efficiency (lowering heat transference) by blocking parts of the spectrum. Greenhouses work better than windows because they give plants direct light from more directions for more hours per day.

Without a greenhouse—glass or hoop house—we’re talking supplemental lighting. On a recent trip to my nearest big box store I found all kinds of grow light bulbs that will fit in a lamp but are not adequate for more than a couple pots. The store also had ordinary 4-foot-long fluorescent shop lights which fit perfectly over two flats of seedlings and will produce decent growth, whether you find full-spectrum bulbs or special grow light bulbs.

But LED lights are taking over. At the same big box store, I found 4-foot LED shop lights. The bulbs are integrated with the fixture and come in a variety of brightnesses, 3,200 to 10,000 lumens, with a range of prices to match, $15 to $75.

There are also LED bulbs, both regular and grow lights, that will replace the bulbs in your T8 or T12 fluorescent fixtures, but they won’t be quite as energy efficient as the integrated ones.

You’ll notice LED bulbs can be about four times more expensive than normal fluorescents, but they cost less than half as much to run and are supposed to last longer.

Then there are the industrial LED grow lights that emphasize blue and red lighting—the important part of the spectrum for growing plants. They come with industrial prices as well. Choosing one gets quite technical. Check out the Colorado cannabis grow suppliers for advice.

However, the few weeks of light our tomato seedlings need hardly justifies industrial lighting.

Light set-up

Because you want to keep the light about a couple inches above the tops of the seedlings, you need to be able to adjust the distance as they grow. Too close and seedlings dry out. Too far and they get spindly. Hang the shop light using the chains that come with it, shortening as needed. Joe Lamp’l, host of PBS’s Growing a Greener World, suggests using ratchet pulleys instead.

Or, rather than move the light, you can stack boxes under the flats to bring them up to the light and remove the boxes to adjust the distance as the plants grow.

How do you hang the shop light? You can hang it from the ceiling over a table, especially somewhere like an unfinished basement room.

A set of adjustable utility shelves works well if there is a way you can attach your light fixtures to the underside of the shelves and adjust them. Keep in mind the distance between shelves must accommodate seedling height at six or eight weeks plus a couple inches of space and the light fixture thickness.

Mark and I put freestanding utility shelves in our unused bathtub. For the top shelf we put an expandable shower curtain rod over it and hang the shop light from it.

Plugging it in

Some shop lights can be strung together. Otherwise, if you have multiple lights, you are looking at a power strip, giving you a handy way to flip them off at once. Or, plug the power strip into a timer. Lamp’l’s latest home research shows 16 hours of light per day is about right—seedlings need to sleep too.

Additional tip

Mark and I use electric heat mats under the flats and clear plastic domes or plastic wrap over them to keep the moisture in. But at the first sign of seed germination, they should both be removed.


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Panayoti Kelaidis to inspire Wyoming gardeners to go native Feb. 29

“Going Native: International plant explorer Panayoti Kelaidis wants to inspire Wyoming gardeners”

Published Feb. 9, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com/features/outdoors/international-plant-explorer-panayoti-kelaidis-wants-to-inspire-wyoming-gardeners/article_213c7e0a-9bc6-5de5-9130-d5521285bd47.html.


Habitat Hero logo6th Annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero Workshop: “Rethinking Wyoming Landscaping – Native Plant Gardening 101”

Feb. 29, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., Laramie County Community College

$25 fee includes lunch. Register by Feb. 27 at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4463444, where the complete schedule can be read.

Questions: Mark Gorges, 307-287-4953, mgorges@juno.com.


By Barb Gorges, with Niki Kottmann

Panayoti Kelaidis stepped out to pour us a couple cups of Ceylonese tea. While I waited, I noticed his office at the Denver Botanic Gardens has floor-to-ceiling shelves full of plant books for parts of the world he’s travelled to.

Numerous plaques and certificates on one wall commemorate his contributions to horticulture over a lengthy career. His latest accolade is to being chosen as a judge at this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show.

The windowsill features a parade of small, unique succulents and cactuses, part of Kelaidis’s extensive personal plant collection at his Denver home. I toured the nearly half-acre garden on the Garden Bloggers Fling last summer.

Kelaidis, senior curator and director of outreach for the Denver Botanic Gardens, will be the keynote speaker at the sixth annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero workshop Feb. 29.

2019-12Panayoti_Kelaidis            As part of his job at the gardens, Kelaidis leads plant tours to foreign countries, most recently Tibet. A tour of the Sichuan, China, planned for June will depend on world health concerns. It’s helpful he reads Chinese, having once been a student of the language.

Kelaidis is also enthusiastic about Wyoming, where he visited two favorite aunts as a child. In the 1980s, he also travelled our state for his native seed business. He likes to take people on plant tours to the Cody area. As the president-elect of the North American Rock Garden Society, he’s considering a future convention in Cheyenne—we have natural rock gardens nearby to show off.

Kelaidis’s plant knowledge is extensive, especially grassland and alpine species. He co-authored the 2015 book “Steppes, The Plants and Ecology of the World’s Semi-arid Regions,” about the four major steppe regions in the world, including the Great Plains. He also writes a blog called Prairiebreak, http://prairiebreak.blogspot.com/, and he established the Rock Alpine Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

How does he describe himself? “Plant nerd” and a friend calls him a plant geek. I think he’s both. He’ll tell you he isn’t a garden designer, but I’d say he looks at an even bigger picture. And that is why he’s been invited to be the Habitat Hero workshop’s keynote speaker.

Kelaidis’s Feb. 29 talk, “Rethinking Wyoming Landscaping—Native Plant Gardening 101,” will echo Douglas Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home.” Both it and Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” mark sea changes in our relationship to nature. Carson’s book, published in 1962, showed the devastation caused by indiscriminate use of pesticides, while Tallamy’s 2007 book showed us our conventional landscaping and gardening practices are detrimental to native insects, birds, other wildlife, and consequently, people. We need to plant native plants to support native insects, including native bees and butterflies. They are the foundation of the healthy ecosystems we enjoy and require.

At first, Kelaidis thought Tallamy was a little too radical, saying all ornamental plants from elsewhere needed to be replaced with natives. For many generations, the goal of landscaping and ornamental gardening has been beauty, Kelaidis said. But now he recognizes the other goal must be “ecological services.”

“We really need to figure out how to create a garden that is part of the natural system, not an obstacle,” said Kelaidis. Can that be beautiful? Can we shift the paradigm completely?

Can we make beautiful gardens with native plants? What we mean by “native” varies. For some American gardeners, it means the species originated on our continent, even if 3000 miles away. Or “native” for Cheyenne could mean any Great Plains species, or even just those from the prairie outside town.

Xeriscaping, gardening with less water, began about 45 years ago in the Denver area, Kelaidis said. With a growing population that could quickly run out of water, smart people realized changing from landscape plants popular in parts of the country with high rainfall to plants that need less water would help. The Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities promotes this philosophy as well. Many of the more xeric plants are natives.

Kelaidis worked with the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University to help form Plant Select, https://plantselect.org/. The brand develops plants native to our high plains and intermountain region for the nursery trade. It makes it easy for gardeners to grow beautiful plants by planting those that love to grow here—and use less water. Although, Kelaidis said, there’s still room to grow the occasional prized non-native, water-hungry ornamental.

The water-wise and pollinator-friendly movements were combined a few years ago by Audubon Rockies’ Habitat Hero program. The five previous workshops in Cheyenne have been well-received. I think it’s because people enjoy doing something positive like gardening to support our environment.

After Kelaidis’s keynote address, “Rethinking Wyoming Landscaping – Learning from the Natives,” the workshop’s other presenters will walk attendees through the steps to take to make a Habitat Hero garden.

Talks will include how to protect and maintain natural prairie if you have some already, deciding on a location for a garden, removing unwanted plants whether turf or weeds, choosing plants, proper planting techniques, maintaining plants and gardens, and how to apply to be a certified Habitat Hero. The two hands-on components will be about how to install drip irrigation and how to use the winter sowing technique to grow native plants from seed (seeds, soil and containers included).

PK at Soapstone

Panayoti Kelaidis checks out plants at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area in northern Colorado.

 


Seed Library of Laramie County

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

Saving adaptations

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

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

Public library connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seed Library of Laramie County classes:

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

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

2019 Seed Library Kickoff

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

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


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Should garden literature be in the fantasy section?

2018-12 GardenlandShould garden literature be listed in the “fantasy” section of the bookstore?

This column was published Dec. 23, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and also posted at Wyoming Network News: https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/should-garden-literature-be-listed-in-the-fantasy-section-of-the-bookstore

By Barb Gorges

My book reviews have always been about books I like and recommend. Gardening books are some of my favorite winter reading and gift suggestions.

However, I was disappointed by “Gardenland,” by Jennifer Wren Atkinson. No color photos—only a dozen black and whites! It was described as a book about garden writing. Among other topics she discusses is how over the centuries it hasn’t always been about how-to, but how writers support our garden fantasies. We started dreaming about floriferous and bountiful gardens when industrial agriculture took away the romance of the family farm.

But this is an academic textbook, it turns out, written at 20th-grade level, compared to this column clocking in at 9th -grade level. We need a popular literature writer to interpret these very interesting ideas. The 17-page bibliography is a useful list of garden writers like my favorites, Michael Pollan and Eleanor Perenyi, and introduces many more.

2018-12 GardenlustFor those of us who want to be immersed in fantastical gardens, there is a new book, “GardenLust, a Botanical Tour of the World’s Best New Gardens,” by Christopher Woods. You can justify buying this 8.5 x 10.5-inch, 400 page, full-color, $40 extravaganza as it will give you inspiration for your own garden—if you have a million dollars to spend. At the very least it may count for your recommended daily dose of nature viewing.

You can preview the book at http://www.timberpress.com. I haven’t decided if I want to order it or if I can wait for it to appear at a used book store. Will what’s new today look boring by then because everyone copied it, like Karl Foerster grass and Russian sage today? Maybe it’s best consumed fresh or at least when there’s a good discount.

2018-12New Organic GrowerAtkinson thinks books about vegetable gardening are not in the realm of fantasy garden books. She would be mostly wrong when it comes to Eliot Coleman. He’s come out with a photo-filled 30th anniversary edition of his book, The New Organic Grower, A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.”  He’s a successful year-round market vegetable grower…in Maine. If he can do it there, we can do it here.

Coleman does it without a lot of expensive machinery. He’s learned how to appeal to customers and how to handle seasonal employees and he passes that information along to the reader, and the nuts and bolts of growing.

Barbara Damrosch, Coleman’s wife, contributed a section about how she grows and sells cut flowers at their farm store as well.

Even if you aren’t planning to go into business, this is an engaging introduction to organic growing from a farmer happy to share his knowledge. You can just imagine Coleman jubilantly giving you a garden tour of Four Seasons Farm. Successful organic growing might not be as much of a fantasy as you think.

Seed catalogs have long been known to be fantasy literature. Those Burpee babies hold giant tomatoes in their outstretched little hands. It’s an old fisherman’s trick that uses perspective to make the fish, or tomato, in the foreground look huge in comparison to the person in the background.

As I become a plant nerd, I can get excited about catalogs with absolutely no pictures. However, the catalog that gets my vote for most beautiful is Botanical Interests Seed Catalog, 2019 Season. Their seed packets feature original botanical art. It makes me want to cut out the pictures and frame them—both flowers and vegetables.

Botanical Interests is a family-owned company in Broomfield, Colorado. Its seeds can be found nationwide and in our local, independent garden centers. Both the website, https://www.botanicalinterests.com, and print catalog contain a wealth of information, as do their seed packets, printed inside and out.

For instance, in the catalog there is an article about the national movement for local cut flowers. In the last few decades, most cut flowers purchased at grocery stores and florists in the U.S. have been imported from South America, raising concerns about pesticide use and the carbon footprint of travel. Check out https://slowflowers.com/. It’s like the slow food movement.

Here in Wyoming we need fantasy garden literature for the five or six months when nothing blooms outdoors. Besides the catalogs and coffee table books, don’t forget to look for garden shows on Netflix. Several are British and make a nice getaway.


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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Amaryllis reblooming & propagation

2017-12amaryllis red Barb Gorges

Amaryllis is a popular flower at Christmas time, but without forcing, it prefers to bloom in spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Dec. 17, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Amaryllis beyond the holidays: reblooming and propagation.”

By Barb Gorges

In the pantheon of Christmas season flowering plants, I’ll take the elegant amaryllis and its big blossoms any day. Oh wait, I don’t have any more room on my windowsill.

What started as two amaryllis gifts 10 years ago has become numerous “daughters” and seedlings.

The amaryllis you see listed in catalogs and for sale at garden centers, florists and grocery stores during the holidays are intended to be disposable. But it really isn’t difficult to get them to bloom again, though there is a trick to get them to perform next Christmas. Growing them from seed you collect yourself takes only patience.

Beware

Beware of amaryllis bulbs encased in colorful wax decorated with glitter. They flower without any need for dirt or water because the bulbs are large and contain nutrients needed for blooming. Just set them on a saucer. But it seems to me cruel and unusual punishment to bind a bulb in wax and let it die after flowering.

Beware the decorative pot that may come with your bulb. It doesn’t have a drainage hole. No fuss, no muss. But if you want to keep your holiday amaryllis from year to year, replant it in a pot with a drainage hole. The proper pot size leaves about an inch between the side of the bulb and the side of the pot. Plant the bulb so that nearly half of it is above the soil.

Watering and fertilizing

Without a drainage hole, you are never sure if you have given a plant enough water or if there’s a big underground puddle rotting the roots. It’s best to water a potted plant a bit at a time until water emerges through the drainage hole and then dump the excess water.

Watering amaryllis once a week works in the winter climate of our Cheyenne house which has 20-40 percent humidity, is at 64 degrees Fahrenheit during the daytime and cooler at night. The peat-based potting soil holds water well enough, but I allow the top inch of soil to dry out. Little black fungus gnats mean I’m watering too much.

I fertilize my amaryllis maybe at 25 percent or less of what is recommended on houseplant fertilizer packages. My friend Jane Dorn has an enormous pot of enormous bulbs that bloom two to three times a year and she only fertilizes once a year.

Dormancy for forcing or wintering

If you want to force your amaryllis to bloom for Christmas next year, treat it as a houseplant over the summer. In early September, unearth it carefully, wash off the dirt, trim the roots to 1-2 inches long and trim the leaves 1-2 inches above the neck.

You Tube’s Amaryllis Man Charlie Johnston says to let the bulbs dry for three weeks before refrigerating them for 6 weeks. You can also do this if you don’t have room indoors in the winter for a lot of big floppy-leaved plants.

Take the bulbs out 5-6 weeks before you want them to bloom and repot them. Bulbs are in this condition when you buy them for holiday blooming.

Reblooming naturally

I don’t let my amaryllis go dormant. The first year I had one, I decided to keep watering it year-round and it bloomed again in spring following the next Christmas.

I put my amaryllis plants out for the summer on our covered patio. The roof is translucent plastic, shady by afternoon. It also protects plants from hail and hard rain. I put the plants back inside a sunny window in September and wait.

Looking at my records, flowering begins anytime between the end of February and early April and lasts for a month. My two varieties don’t bloom at the same time as each other.

2017-12amaryllis w daughters blooming--Barb Gorges

This pot of pink amaryllis has a mother bulb, two blooming daughter bulbs on either side, and a couple baby bulbs sending up their first leaves. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Mothers and daughters

If you keep your amaryllis from year to year, you may discover your bulb gets bigger and bigger and/or produces offsets, or daughters. You can leave these new bulbs attached and let them mature and bloom. You may have to accommodate them with a bigger pot at some point.

Or, you can carefully unearth the whole mass and break off the daughters and repot them separately, to give away or keep. The Amaryllis Man soaks his bulbs, leaves and roots in a fungicide for 10 minutes before planting, but I haven’t found that necessary.

See the Amaryllis Man for how to force daughter bulbs to develop by “chipping,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAoIelfGWdg.

2017-12amaryllis w stylus pollination-ready Barb Gorges

Each amaryllis flower has six anthers and a stylus. Pollination happens when the pollen on the anthers starts dusting everything and the tip of the stylus opens. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Seedlings

I found growing amaryllis from seed is surprisingly easy, although it can take four years to get blooms.

First, make sure the flowers get pollinated. I had one plant flower in the summer outside where some insects did the job. I’ve also had indoor plants pollinate themselves or I can help them.

Amaryllis flowers make an excellent demonstration of plant reproduction. There are 6 yellow pollen-tipped anthers. You’ll know when the pollen is ripe because it starts dusting everything. At that moment, the end of the single stylus should be open. You can dab pollen on the end of it.

2017-12amaryllisseeds-BarbGorgesIf you are successful, the ovary will begin to swell right behind the flower petals. A three-lobed pod will develop. Leave it on the flower stem. When it turns brown, it will split open and you can collect the seeds.

Each tiny seed is encased in a flat black wafer. You can give the wafers a couple weeks to cure. Their germination rate will be highest if you sprout them right after that.

2017-12amaryllis seedlings Barb Gorges

The wafer-like seeds of the amaryllis can be floated on water until they sprout in three or four weeks and can be transplanted into soil. Photo by Barb Gorges.

While you can start these seeds as you would flower or vegetable seeds, in a flat of a seed-starting medium like a perlite-peat mix kept moist, I found it more fun and easier (no constant checking soil moisture) to float the seeds on water. After three or four weeks, they sprout tiny leaves and roots with the tiniest bulge of the future bulb. Once they are big enough to grab, you can transplant them as you would any seedling.

But now comes the hard part, waiting for the seedlings to grow up. The Amaryllis Man says some will bloom as early as three years old, but usually it’s four.

Sigh.

That means I have two or three more years before I find out if the cross pollination of my red and pink varieties will yield anything interesting.

2017-12amaryllis seedlings planted Barb Gorges

The amaryllis seedlings on the left are about a year old. The seedlings on the right are newly transplanted after sprouting in water. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Where to buy

If you don’t have any amaryllis yet, it isn’t too late to find them at stores and in catalogs. If you plant a bulb in January, it will bloom at its natural blooming time in early spring.

You may find bulbs marked down at our local garden centers and grocery stores now. Catalogs like Jackson and Perkins or Breck’s offer more variety. And then there’s the Amaryllis Man’s website, http://stores.ebay.com/amaryllisman. If you don’t need your amaryllis in variations of Christmas red and white, he offers some that are orange.

Hmm.

I might have room on my windowsill for one of those if I find another home for my rubber tree….

2018-03-01AmaryllisSeedPodsbyBarbGorgesUpdate, March 1, 2018:

Typically, my amaryllis bloom in February or March. This year they started blooming in mid-January. Only one decided to hold out until the end of February. Just before the petals of one of the early bloomers started to wilt, I touched the anthers to the pistil and now the seed pods are swelling.