Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Garden Class Roundup


Laramie County Master Gardeners and the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens put on the “Gardening with Altitude” lecture series.

Published Jan. 5, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Grow your gardening skills this winter. There are many classes in the region to get you ready for the growing season ahead.”

By Barb Gorges

Gardeners are crazy for information and inspiration. Summer may be the time for garden tours, but winter is the time for garden lectures and classes.

Laramie County Master Gardeners and the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens are bringing back their popular series of acclaimed garden speakers—and you would be wise not to wait to buy tickets.

On the other hand, you can sign up for the Master Gardeners training program right up until the first day of class, which is Jan. 13.

Laramie County Community College has been offering a wealth of gardening classes the last three years, but they are hidden in the non-credit “Outreach and Workforce Development” schedules mailed to all addresses in Laramie County.

If you want to head south for a little winter break, check out classes at Fort Collins Nursery in Colorado.

In any case, well before it’s time to start digging in the dirt, you can fortify your mind with new garden ideas and strategies.

Gardening with Altitude 2014

Sponsored by Laramie County Master Gardeners and the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, tickets are $15 each or $50 for all four dates. They may be purchased (cash or check) at the Gardens’ greenhouse in Lions Park.

Call Darcee Snider at 637-6458 or visit (keyword: “Gardening with Altitude”).

The lectures are held Saturdays, 1- 2:30 p.m., in the Cottonwood Room of the Laramie County Library, 2200 Pioneer Ave. Tickets may be available at the door.

— “Edible Gardening in Tough Climates: Using Season Extension Tools, Microclimates and Strategic Variety Choices,” Willi Galloway, Jan. 25. Galloway, an award-winning radio commentator and writer, and native of Wyoming, is the author of “Grow, Cook, Eat.” She currently gardens in Portland, Ore. She’ll explain how to warm up the soil earlier in spring, how to extend the harvest season in fall and what are the best tasting and most productive vegetable varieties for the Cheyenne region.

— “Unique and Functional Landscapes: Creating and Maintaining a Flourishing Outdoor Space,” with Loretta Mannix, Feb. 15. Mannix, of Loveland, Colo., with degrees in fine art and landscape horticulture, and years of experience in many areas of horticulture and landscape design, will show new ways of making your landscape unique, including plants that are underused but can be successful here.

— “Tuning Up the Wyoming Garden: What’s New in Plants and Growing Techniques,” Tom Heald, Mar. 15. Heald and his wife own the Wyoming Plant Company in Casper, with the goal of providing the kinds of plants he found Wyoming gardeners needed when he was a university extension agent. He will talk about how to reflect the high elevation prairie and sagebrush steppe and their extraordinary color and durability, and will also present new ideas in growing plants horizontally and vertically in our challenging climate.

— “Seed, Soil, Sun, Water: All You Need to Grow Food in the West,” with Penn and Cord Parmenter, Apr. 26. The Parmenters have been gardening above 8,000 feet in south-central Colorado since 1992 using sustainable, bio-intensive methods that “rock out food 365 days a year.” Learn to garden like our grandparents, focusing on what already works, how to work with what you have, and be inspired by nature’s ability to feed us.

Laramie County Master Gardener Training

Anyone can become a Master Gardener—no prior experience required. Sign up for the 10-week course that begins Jan. 13. Classes are Monday and Wednesday evenings, 6-9 p.m. Completion of the course and 40 hours of volunteer internship by next fall is required for Master Gardener certification.

The course, held in Cheyenne, is taught by Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service horticulturist, along with other local experts.

The $100 fee includes the 500-page manual, “Sustainable Horticulture for Wyoming.” Sign up at the extension office in the old Laramie County Courthouse, 310 W. 19th St., Suite 100. For more information call 633-4383 or visit

LCCC Gardening Classes

Instructor Jeff Dyer said, “You can garden here despite the challenging environment.”

Laramie County Community College’s Life Enrichment classes in gardening are held on campus. Almost all classes are one session and most are offered twice.

For complete class descriptions, visit For specifics, call Dyer at 421-1176 or email him at

To register, call 778-1236 or 778-1134. Register no later than two days before the class is scheduled, and four days before the Botanical Arrangement class.

Fort Collins Nursery Classes, Ft. Collins, Colo.

This garden center, at 2121 E. Mulberry St., brings in a variety of well-known Front Range gardeners. And for the most part, what they teach is applicable to Cheyenne’s environment.

All classes are held on Saturdays. See complete class descriptions, and more classes, at Register online or call 970-482-1984 or 866-384-7516.

–“50 Shades of Green: Gardening for Sensuality” with Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden. Jan. 18, 10 a.m.-noon or 1-3 p.m., $22. What makes a garden sensual? Play of light and darkness, sound, motion, serenity, fragrance, creation of mystery. The Colorado couple are authors of several garden books.

–“My Favorite Pollinators and How to Attract Them,” with Beth Conrey. Jan. 25, 10 a.m.-noon, $18. Without pollinating insects, most plants won’t produce fruit and seeds. Discover the full spectrum of pollinators. Conrey is president of the Colorado State Beekeepers Association.

–“Even More Secrets from My Grandmother’s Garden,” with Don Eversoll. Jan. 25, 1-3 p.m., $18. How to make super soil, new tricks for growing “killer” tomatoes with heirlooms and other secrets from Coloradoan Eversoll’s new book, “Secrets from My Grandma’s Garden.”

–“Organic Gardener’s Companion: Cool & Warm Season Vegetables,” with Jane Shellenberger. Feb. 1,10 a.m.

-noon, $18. Shellenberger is publisher and editor of the Colorado Gardener seasonal newspaper and author of “Organic Gardener’s Companion: Growing Vegetables in the West.”

— “Raised Bed Gardening 101,” with Bryant Mason. Feb. 1, 1-3 p.m., $18.  The founder of The Urban Farm Company of Colorado covers the basics. “Raised Bed 201” will be held Feb. 15 at 10 a.m.

–“Design Tips for Western-inspired Gardens with Plant Select®,” with Pat Hayward. Feb. 8, 10 a.m.-noon, $18. Plant Select® is a plant introduction program from Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University focusing on unique, adaptable and resilient plants for western gardens.

— “Incorporating Native Plants into Your Landscape,” with Joanie Schneider. Feb. 15, 1-3 p.m., $18. Contrary to their reputation as dusty prickly plants, the native flora around the Rocky Mountain Front Range is truly exquisite, with a great diversity of colors and textures.

Fairy Gardens

Fairy Garden 1

Fairy Garden photographed at Fort Collins Nursery, Ft. Collins, Colorado

Published Jan. 23. 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “How to grow your own fairy garden: These tiny gardens help the imagination take sprout.”

 By Barb Gorges

Whimsy must be Susie Heller’s middle name. Her story-and-a-half-high front hall is painted with life-sized aspen trees, with three dimensional birds and animals in their branches.

Nearby, the top of a half-wall is a dry well full of house plants that serve as a playground for fairy figurines.

A ceramic bird or frog in a pot with a ficus or philodendron is not unusual for indoor gardeners, but imagine a container, anything from a clay pot to a two-foot-square shallow box, planted to invite a four or five-inch-tall fairy to visit. Think of a miniature garden at dollhouse scale, one inch equals a foot.

Little did I know how popular a pastime fairy gardening has become, both indoors and out, for children and adults. Many garden centers carry specially grown small plants and miniature garden furniture, implements and structures, as well as fairies. Some will even put together a garden for you.

The day I visited, Susie, a Laramie County Master Gardener, had a demonstration for me to show how easy it is to plant your own fairy garden. On her kitchen table was an old suitcase with the lid propped at 90 degrees to become a backdrop.

Fairy garden 2

Fairy Garden in a pot, photographed at FOrt COllins Nursery, Ft. Collins, Colorado


Typically, one would make sure the container has sufficient drainage holes, but being of a degradable material, Susie has chosen to line the suitcase with heavy, clear plastic—the kind that is sold near the upholstery fabrics at Jo Ann’s and Hobby Lobby. She’s folded it over the edges of the suitcase and clothes-pinned it temporarily in place. Later, after the garden has settled for awhile, she’ll trim the plastic and secure the edges with glue.


Whether a container has drainage or is terrarium-style like Susie’s, they all need a 1-inch layer of pea gravel where excess water can go. On top of that, use a thin layer of crushed charcoal to filter excess water and keep things fresh.

Next, Susie uses a layer of paper towel, the super strong kind, to make a barrier so that the potting soil will stay out of the gravel and charcoal. If you have some other permeable textile, such as a bit of weed barrier cloth left over from a landscape project, it would work also.

Finally, we get to the potting soil. Susie uses a commercial blend, but adds worm castings and diatomaceous earth, which has sharp edges that damage soft-bodied garden predators, but it also holds water well.


There are many miniature plants that can evoke a full size garden. Check out the fairy gardens at the greenhouse at the Paul Smith Children’s Village at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Last year Ft. Collins Nursery started carrying miniature plants specifically for fairy gardening, one of the employees said. They are offering classes this winter, described at

Small bonsai trees would be perfect, but so would a small asparagus fern which could shed some feathery, fairy-like shade. Look for small-leaved flowering herbs for shrubs. Blanket the bare potting soil with groundcovers such as mosses and baby’s tears, or use mulch. A variety of heights and textures are what you look for.

The plants should all have the same water and light requirements, but a plant can be separately potted and buried so that it can receive more, or less, water than its surroundings. You can erect a fanciful structure that shades a shade-lover.


Now comes the fun, finding something to become the perfect garden bench, or bending a wire hanger into an arbor to support a vine.

While all kinds of accoutrements just for fairy gardens, even seasonal decorations, are available online and in garden centers or at hobby stores supplying dollhouse décor, Susie enjoys prowling local thrift stores, looking for things fairy-sized, like the small blue bowl that became a pond for this project. “This demands using your imagination,” Susie said. Check your junk drawer for inspiration.

Two things to keep in mind with accessories: they need to be water repellent, and they need a base to keep from sinking into the potting soil. Susie uses plastic cut from milk jugs and food container lids to put under furniture, then hides it with groundcover. For this project she will glue glass pebbles to plastic cut as a curving path across the garden.

To preserve wood, she brushes on melted paraffin (or even crayons for a little color) and bakes the item in the oven on very low heat, 175 degrees, until it penetrates.

For this particular garden, Susie is installing dried, yellow reindeer moss, one of the colors sold at hobby stores, as a temporary ground cover. It reminds me of rabbitbrush that blooms here on the prairie in the fall. It will help keep the soil moist while the ground cover gets established.

Lights and Water

Susie has decorated other fairy gardens with battery-operated LED lights and a tiny pump that adds a moving water feature. For the upright wall of her current suitcase project, she will install chicken wire and stuff it with sphagnum moss and shallow-rooted succulents to create a green wall. Or maybe she’ll paint a landscape backdrop.

Upkeep of a fairy garden requires no heavy laboring, just frequent watering, since the shallow containers can dry out fast; pruning to keep plants in scale; and fertilizing, perhaps monthly. The gardens also require at least six hours of sunlight or artificial daylight.

Susie finds making the gardens more fun than their upkeep so she frequently makes gifts of her creations. She will be sharing her experience by teaching a class at the county fair this summer.

Let’s not forget what makes these “fairy” gardens and not, say, “dinosaur” gardens, though those may appeal to other children (of any age) when they are planted with Jurassic-looking succulents like jade plants.

Leaving room for fairies

“You need to leave room in your garden for fairies,” said Susie. Not the old folkloric kind that kidnap children, but the flower fairies made popular by Englishwoman Cicely Mary Barker through her poems and illustrations originally published between 1923 and 1960. Her sister ran a kindergarten in their home, providing child models Barker would dressed in butterfly-winged costumes. She passed on many of her drawings to the delighted parents.

 Today Barker’s legacy continues online at and her fairies, and their kin, are found everywhere people believe in their happy magic.

Some Fairy Garden Plants:

Trees (including any species promoted for bonsai)

Abutilon (flowering maple)

Asparagus fern

Butterfly palm

Coffee plant

Creeping fig

Euphorbia “Hip Hop”

Ficus Benamina

Ming aralia

Pencil cactus

Persian Queen geranium


Small-leaved herbs

False heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)

Ground cover


Baby tears

Creeping thyme


Iron vine

Bridal veil vine

Asparagus vine

Angel vine


Monkshood vine