Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Garden art

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Chihuly Garden and Glass in downtown Seattle displays glass art with a garden backdrop. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 16, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Try gardening with art.” 

By Barb Gorges

My husband Mark planted tomatoes June 1. But first he put up a hail guard. It’s a wooden frame covered in hardware cloth (wire screen) the same dimensions as the raised bed. It perches on top of 4-foot wooden posts planted in each corner https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/hail-busters-keep-icy-vandals-away/.

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This hail guard was built to fit the raised bed. How might it be transformed into garden art? Photo by Barb Gorges.

Now that it and other hail guards are up around our yard every summer, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t make them more decorative. Perhaps paint them or carve the posts.

I’ve been musing on the subject of garden art since our trip to Seattle over Memorial Day weekend.

I visited Chihuly Garden and Glass in downtown Seattle, next to the Space Needle. It was a little disappointing after having seen the Chihuly display at the Denver Botanic Gardens a few years ago—the Seattle garden is small.

All that brilliantly-colored glass sculpture—I wonder is it hail-proof? If you go, avoid midday—the sunlight glares on the glass. Don’t look for extravagant flowers—the garden is primarily a setting for the glass, like velvet for a diamond.

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At Chihuly Garden and Glass, glass flames shoot out from a hill covered in black foliage. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There was a burned-black, grasslike, ground cover used to set off the brilliant fire of an explosion of orange and yellow glass flames. It is most likely Ophiopogon planiscapus, from Japan, known as “Black Mondo Grass” and probably the Nigrescens variety. It’s from the lily family and is evergreen (or everblack) in Zone 6 and warmer. Here in Zone 5 it would be an annual requiring a lot of water and acidic soil—neither of which we have.

Another garden we visited had a Wyoming connection. My sister and I were at a hardware store near Sea-Tac Airport, picking out a pot for a plant for Mark’s and my son and daughter-in-law when the garden department manager started a conversation with us.

He asked if we knew about the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden only two miles away. He even got us a brochure. He’s on the board. Of course, we had to go. If you should ever have two hours to kill before returning your rental car at the Sea-Tac Airport, look it up at 13735 24th Ave. South, SeaTac, Washington.

It got its start in 1996 when a well-known, prize-winning local gardener’s garden was relocated there instead of being lost when the airport built another runway. We found Elda Behm’s Paradise Garden full of rhododendrons and azaleas just a bit past peak.

Another part of the garden is the Seike Japanese Garden, relocated in 2006. The Seike family, Japanese immigrants, began farming locally in 1929. During World War II, the family was sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp near Powell, Wyoming, and their farm was managed by a German-American family. After the war the Seikes were lucky enough to get their land back and open a nursery.

The garden was designed by Shintaro Okado, a garden designer from Hiroshima, and built in 1961. It was made in memory of one of the three Seike sons who fought in the war for the U.S. and was killed in France.

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The Seike Japanese Garden was relocated in 2006 to the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden near the Sea-Tac airport (Seattle). Photo by Barb Gorges. 

Japanese gardens are meant to be intellectual and spiritual. In addition to a pleasing juxtaposition of water, hill, swale and path, each element, including bridges, stone lanterns, gate, represents something.

Each tree and shrub specimen stands out along a small stream and pond crossed by a curved bridge. Benches are positioned for perfectly balanced views.

I found the Japanese garden minimalism more appealing than the fanciful glass garden, even though normally my tastes run to floral abundance.

Abundance is what best describes gardens at McMenamins Anderson School in Bothell, Washington. It’s an old junior high school campus turned into a boutique hotel and restaurants. The garden manager, Riz Reyes, is an up and coming horticulturist who knows how to pack the plants in, even in the parking lot islands, making the cars appear to be just more garden art.

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Even the parking lot at McMenamins Anderson School, a boutique hotel in Bothell, Washington, is thickly planted. The hoops in the background are from wine barrels. The gardens are designed by Riz Reyes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The Portland, Oregon-based McMenamins chain of pubs and hotels famous for repurposing old buildings is known for its somewhat primitive, locally inspired artistic style. It took me a minute to realize the spherical garden sculptures were made from metal hoops used to hold wine barrels together.

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Larger-than-life bronze rabbits by Dan Ostermiller are on display this summer at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Photo by Barb Gorges.

In our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens this summer, discover the bronze animal sculptures by Dan Ostermiller, Cheyenne native and Loveland, Colorado, sculptor. The giant rabbits are my favorite.

Is your garden art a bit of whimsy for visitors to discover—statue or found object? Or a carved tree trunk, special boulder or bronze bear? Make sure it’s either replaceable or repairable if it isn’t hail-proof.

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Transplanted NY gardener blooms in Cheyenne

 

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Sandra Cox’s vegetable garden did extremely well its first season. Photo by Barb Gorges

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:

 

  1. Cheyenne has alkaline soils rather than acidic so adding lime or wood ash is a no-no.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Sandra’s chickens are an important part of her gardening. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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.

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Sandra’s sunflowers are more than a story high. Fencing protects new trees and other plantings from the chickens. Photo by Barb Gorges.