Published Jan. 6, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Transplanted gardener helps local yard bloom.”
By Barb Gorges
There’s only one thing that beats Sandra Cox’s love of gardening: It’s love for her family.
In July 2017, she gave up gardening in the Hudson Valley of New York state to move to Cheyenne at the invitation of her son and his family. She left behind a newly planted orchard and everything she knew about gardening there to start over at her new home.
When Sandra arrived, no one had watered her new yard for some months, and our clay soil required a pick ax to plant the calla lilies she brought with her. But with care and mulch, by the end of the season, time to dig them back up, she was pleased to see a healthy population of earth worms.
Sandra’s garden in New York was in the same Zone 5 USDA growing zone (coldest temperature rating) as Cheyenne. But there are five major differences:
- Cheyenne has alkaline soils rather than acidic so adding lime or wood ash is a no-no.
- Cheyenne has a shorter growing season. Sandra’s learned she will have to start her peppers and eggplant indoors earlier and put them outside, with protection, earlier.
- Cheyenne has 12-15 inches of precipitation annually, one-third of New York’s. Watering is necessary much more often here. She’s thinking about installing an irrigation system.
- Cheyenne has hail. Although the tomato plants this summer made a comeback, the tomatoes themselves were scarred. Sandra’s planning to protect them with wire cages next year.
- Cheyenne has different soil—clay instead of sandy.
Although arriving mid-summer 2017, Sandra went to work establishing a vegetable garden. “I disturb the soil as little as possible to avoid disrupting the earthworms because they do all the work for you,” she explained.
Instead, she spread leaves over the abandoned lawn, laid down a layer of cardboard from the packing boxes from her move, then covered them with wood chips from the city compost facility. To keep the chips from blowing away, she laid wire fencing over them and pegged it down. She removed the fencing and planted directly into this mulch the next season.
Sandra researches the best varieties to plant in our climate. Her first fall, she planted grapes and an apple and a plum tree. Last spring, she planted pear, peach and sweet cherry trees. The cherries did very well.
In the north-facing front yard, Sandra’s planted shrubs for privacy and perennials for pollinators and pleasure. The city’s street tree planting program, Rooted in Cheyenne, came out and planted a burr oak and a linden. A huge spruce tree shades the house on hot summer afternoons.
One day last fall, she called and asked if we’d come harvest some kale and Swiss chard since she had too much. What an oasis of lush green! And her giant sunflowers were at least 12 feet high. A sunny yard helps, but much of her success can be attributed to her dedication to compost—she composts everything, and her chickens help break it down.
Sandra hasn’t used fertilizer yet—other than fish emulsion and well-aged chicken manure. She’s planning to do a soil test this next year to see if she has any deficiencies, but her plants didn’t seem to show any signs.
Pests are not a problem so far. Sandra thinks it is only a matter of time before the pests catch up with her. Already she’s concerned about the big spruce tree being attacked by the ips beetle. It has killed other spruces in her neighborhood, she thinks. The city forester recommended winter watering—good for all her newly planted trees and shrubs, but also good for older trees for which drought stress makes them more susceptible to pests.
Unlike New York which normally has constant winter snow cover, Cheyenne has snowless weeks plus days when the temperatures are above freezing—good days for watering trees.
Sandra remembers that growing up on the family farm was a constant delight, from taking care of the goats to eating apples while high up in the branches to joining her parents and five siblings in the field after dinner to weed, joke around and enjoy each other’s company. Her siblings still enjoy gardening and farming, as does her son, who has a degree in horticulture. Her granddaughters have caught the family enthusiasm as well.
“Bloom where you’re planted” is an old axiom that doesn’t just mean, “make the best of a situation.” For Sandra, it means with a little studying up, she can joyfully grow a garden anywhere, even here.