Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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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.


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What I’ve learned as a Master Gardener

2018-08Garden tour-Barb Gorges

Outside Ft. Collins, Colorado, one woman, over 20 years, has created a garden refuge. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

 

Published Aug. 12, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/garden-gossip-what-ive-learned-as-a-master-gardener.

By Barb Gorges

This is my seventh season as a Laramie County Master Gardener (and Wyoming Tribune Eagle garden columnist). I know more now than when I finished the training because there’s always someone to talk to who knows more than me about any aspect of gardening.

I’ve interviewed many people, including other Master Gardeners, for previous columns which are archived at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Always evaluate gardening information. Where does that gardener garden? Is it a garden with a similar climate or microclimate, soil and growing season to mine? Will the treatment harm my soil?

There’s a difference between sticking stuff in dirt and growing plants with more mindfulness—and record-keeping.

You can grow many things in Cheyenne, but not all things. Just keep experimenting with the short-season veggies and consider building a greenhouse or high tunnel.

Cheyenne’s blooming season is longer than you think. In my garden some spring bulbs bloom in March. Some years the frost doesn’t finish the asters until the end of October.

Garden beauty is subjective but good garden design is practical:  put short plants in the front of beds, veggies by the kitchen door and don’t plant trees under power lines.

Every growing season is different. Not every year has powdery mildew, black spot or blossom end rot.

Know when to give up. Or try the plant in a different location. Or try a different variety.

Gardeners are generous. They share plant thinnings and seeds because they can’t bear to compost them.

Propagation from root divisions, cuttings and seeds is rewarding, especially when you share.

Never add lime, an alkaline substance, to Cheyenne’s already alkaline soils.

Gardeners like a challenge, even as extreme as planting acid-loving blueberries in buckets full of specially mixed acidic soil.

Soil is every gardener’s most valuable asset. Preserve its structure and microbiome by tilling and hoeing as little as possible and let mulch keep the weeds down.

Composting your discarded plant material in your own bin or pile saves you money on fertilizer and the cost of having the sanitation department haul it away.

Getting watering and mulching right is more important to plants than fertilizer.

Good pruning benefits trees and shrubs by making them look good and grow better.

Right plant in the right place—not all trees are growing in the right place.

Hail is a fact of life here. Protect tomatoes with hardware cloth screen overhead and grow skinny-leaved and skinny-petalled flowers.

Replacing your lawn with gravel is not less work in the future. It gets weedy. And gravel doesn’t shade the ground, which makes your yard hotter. You are better off with a low-growing ground cover.

Chemical pesticides are rarely necessary in the residential garden. You can pick off pests and remove diseased plant parts by hand.

Stressed plants (too much or too little water, too much fertilizer, too much or too little sun) attract disease and pests.

The sooner you pull a weed or cut it off at ground level, the less work it is later.

Always take care of weeds before they set seed.

Tending a garden is stress-reducing. Many of the gardeners I’ve interviewed have high stress jobs: lawyer, judge, law enforcement, social worker, doctor.

Gardening is good exercise. Even if you aren’t vigorously digging a new bed, just walking around pulling the occasional weed and deadheading the roses is better for you than sitting.

Gardeners see more bees, butterflies and birds—just more of nature.

Visiting botanic gardens when you travel makes for beautiful memories.

Reading to prepare for and dreaming about next year’s garden will get you through a long winter.

Want to start gardening or garden more intentionally and with more knowledge? Become a Laramie County Master Gardener. It’s not too early to find out about the next class. Call Catherine Wissner, Laramie County Extension horticulturist, 307-633-4383.

2018-08 Asters Snowy Range 7-18 Barb Gorges

Asters bloom and attract a bee in a natural rock garden July 18, 2018, in the Snowy Range in southeastern Wyoming at an elevation of 9,000 to 10,000 feet. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Garden gifts: books, magazines, classes

2016-12-garden-mags-barb-gorgesPublished Dec. 4, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Holiday gifts for the gardener on your list.”

By Barb Gorges

I asked members of the Laramie County Master Gardeners for their top picks for gardening magazines and books to give you ideas for gifts for the gardeners you know.

Gardening conditions in Cheyenne are somewhat unique so advice from these publications must be taken with a bit of local knowledge:

1) We have alkaline soils so ignore advice to add lime and wood ash;

2) We are officially in USDA plant hardiness zone 5 but microclimates can be harsher or milder;

3) Our average annual precipitation is 15 inches. Even if you run your well dry, you can’t reproduce a wetter, more humid location, which some plants require, like somewhere else in Zone 5—say southern Iowa.

MAGAZINES

Most of the magazines recommended are available at local bookstores. Discounted multi-year subscriptions and back issues are available online.

We are lucky that Colorado’s gardening climate is close to Cheyenne’s, making our local choice The Colorado Gardener (www.ColoradoGardener.com, free at outlets, including the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, and online, or $18/5 issues/year delivered). It is a full-color, tabloid-style, 16-page newsmagazine. In addition to articles and a calendar of Front Range garden-related events, even the advertising is informative.

Another option is Rocky Mountain Gardening (www.RockyMountainGardening.com, $24/4 issues/year). Previously known as “Zone 4,” it covers Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. It was recommended by Catherine Wissner, horticulturist at the Laramie County Cooperative Extension office, and several other respondents. Topics in a recent issue included hellstrip gardening (the hot, dry strip along the curb) and frost blankets (written by a Smoot, Wyoming, gardener). Wyoming is well-represented in the news section.

Judy Kowrach was one of two people who endorsed Garden Gate (www.GardenGateMagazine.com, $20/6 issues/year). With no ads, it is full of tips, plant profiles and design ideas. Despite its Iowa origins, much of the information is applicable to Cheyenne. Even without a subscription, you can sign up online for its free eNotes.

Kim Parker and several others listed Fine Gardening (www.FineGardening.com, $29.95/6 issues/year). It does a splendid job of inciting people to commit acts of gardening. I like their warnings on which featured plants are officially classified as invasive in which state and their scientific plant name pronunciation guide. And their deep website full of free garden and plant information.

2016-12-garden-design            I couldn’t come up with an issue of Garden Design (www.GardenDesign.com, $45/4 issues/year), but looking at a preview copy online, it also is sumptuously photographed. Its price reflects the 148 ad-free pages per issue. And its website is also full of free information, even for non-subscribers.

Finally, Rodale’s Organic Life (www.RodalesOrganicLife.com, $15/6 issues/year) is the latest incarnation of Rodale’s Organic Gardening and Farming. In 1978, that publication printed my interview of a man who built a better bluebird house. These days, think of it as the organic version of Better Homes and Gardens—mostly lifestyle, little gardening.

BOOKS

2016-12-garden-primer-rodales-ultimate-encyclopedia            My primary garden book, recommended to me several years ago by Shane Smith, director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, is The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch (2008, Workman Publishing, 820 pages). Written by a gardener from the cold climate of Maine, it covers every aspect of organic home gardening in well-organized chapters, but with an index for quick consultation.

Another option is Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (2009, www.rodaleinc.com, 720 pages). Earlier editions have been on my shelf for years. It’s a tad more technical, but both this and The Garden Primer are good how-to guides and problem solvers.

2016-12-peterson-kaufman-insect-guides            Tava Collins recommended National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders (1980, Alfred A. Knopf, $20) for help identifying garden friends and foes. Similar guides are available in the Kaufman and Peterson field guide series.

Collins also recommended three books written by Colorado gardeners: Rocky Mountain Gardener’s Handbook, John Cretti (2012, Cool Springs Press); Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide, John Cretti (2015, Cool Springs Press); and Cutting Edge Gardening in the Intermountain West, Marcia Tatroe (2007, Big Earth Publishing).

For special gardening techniques that will work in our area, these next two were recommended.

Marie Madison cited The Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits and Edible Flowers by Maggie Stuckey and Rose Marie Nicholas McGee (2002, Workman Publishing).

Susan Carlson, who I interviewed a few months ago about straw bale gardening, apprised me of a new edition of her favorite book: Straw Bale Gardens Complete: All-New Information on Urban & Small Spaces, Organics, Saving Water – Make Your Own Bales With or Without Straw by Joel Karsten (2015, Cool Springs Press, $24.99).

If your giftee’s interest is in growing native plants that attract pollinators or in identifying plants on the prairie, try these. Keep in mind the definition of “weeds” depends on the situation.

2016-12-weeds-of-the-west-rangeland-plants            Carlson listed Rangeland Plants: Wyoming Tough by Smith et. al. (2015, publication B-1265) It is a free download at www.wyoextension.org/publications or $8 at the Laramie County Extension office, 307-633-4383.

Richard Steele found Weeds of the West (Western Society of Weed Science, 2012, $34 at www.wsweedscience.org) to be particularly useful while manning the “Ask a Master Gardener” table at the farmers market this fall.

Collins mentioned the classic Meet the Natives: A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, Trees and Shrubs: Bridging the Gap between Trail and Garden by M. Walter Pesman. It was revised by Denver Botanic Gardens staff in 2012 and republished by Big Earth Publishing.

2016-12-undaunted-garden            The author of one of my favorites, The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty (2010, Fulcrum Publishing), Lauren Springer Ogden, is a firm believer in “the right plant in the right place” and is the originator of “hellstrip” gardening. Her photography is inspiring. She speaks often at garden events on the Front Range.

Her book would be a good accompaniment to the next two books, helping you to pick appropriate local plants to interpret their lessons. These books are about planet-friendly landscape gardening.

Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West (2015, Timber Press). This may be intended to introduce landscape designers to more natural, sustainable plantings. But you can apply the advice to your own yard, such as using groundcover plants instead of shredded bark mulch everywhere.

2016-12-garden-revolution-planting-in-a-post-wild            The other is Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher (2016, Timber Press). Proponents of the “right plant in the right place” too, the authors have designed this book to help you understand their premise: that with knowledge of your eco region and local habitat, you can plant a garden that will evolve over time with a minimal amount of assistance, i.e. chemicals and labor.

LECTURES AND CLASSES

One option: Give your favorite gardener tuition for the 10-week Master Gardener class beginning in January. For more information, call 307-633-4383.

Or give them tickets to the spring gardening lecture series Laramie County Master Gardeners is offering in conjunction with the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Call 307-637-6458.