Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Habitat Hero demo gardens get started

2018-07 BOPU-Habitat Hero Demo Garden planting--Don Chesnut

About 50 volunteers planted the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities office June 2. Photo courtesy of Don Chesnut.

Published July 22, 2018 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Habitat Hero demonstration gardens get started.” Also published at

By Barb Gorges

This spring, my eyes were bigger than my garden. I blame all those luscious Botanical Interests seed packet illustrations (

March 1, a little later than usual for winter sowing (see, I planted 25 cut-open milk jugs with perennial seeds and set them outside.

The seeds included:

Aquilegia (Columbine)

Asclepias (Milkweed)

Coreopsis (Tickseed)

Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)

Monarda (Bee Balm)

Penstemon (Beardtongue)

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan).

2018-07Rudbeckia hirta-Barb Gorges

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan). Photo by Barb Gorges.

There were sprouts in every gallon jug by the end of April. The Rudbeckia seedlings formed a carpet.

I planned to have the front yard ready to plant, but between wet weather and various commitments, that didn’t happen. The seedlings were also too small for the Master Gardener plant sale mid-May.

Then the Cheyenne Habitat Hero committee got a query from the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Would we be interested in having a Habitat Hero demonstration garden site between the rose garden and the parking lot? I soon realized my winter sowing overflow would be perfect there.

On the other hand, the Cheyenne Habitat Hero committee spent months over the winter planning a Habitat Hero demonstration garden with the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities. It will show how to save city residents and business owners money and water by planting a flower garden in place of a lawn. I wrote a successful grant proposal to National Audubon that funded nearly half of the $1,200 to buy plants, plus another for $3,500 for an interpretive sign.

The BOPU garden area, in front of their office, was measured and plans were drawn digitally by Kathy Shreve from Star Cake Plants. She chose an assortment of drought tolerant species that over time will grow into a solid mass of colorful mounds of flowers attracting birds, bees and butterflies. An order was placed for plants in 4.5 and 2.5-inch containers, plus a few shrubs.

The turf was removed mechanically. Volunteers broke up the hard clay with shovels and mixed in compost. A flagstone garden path was installed as well as an irrigation system that snapped into existing lawn sprinkler heads. About 50 people showed up June 2 and planted 428 plants in two and a half hours—and watered them all in by hand and mulched them with wood chips.

At the CBG site however, rather than decide how many plants are needed to fill the space, Kathy is helping me figure out how to use the 900 seedlings I started and any donations of other native-type plants. At least there is no lawn to remove and the soil is reasonable.

2018-07Monarda fistulosa-Barb Gorges

Monarda fistulosa (Bee Balm). Photo by Barb Gorges.

At home, my winter-sown seedlings go directly into the garden, but water wasn’t immediately available at the CBG site, so they are in the greenhouse waiting.

Seedlings can live indefinitely crowded together. The above-ground parts don’t grow much bigger, but the roots get longer and longer and are harder and harder to tease apart so I started “up-potting.” I claimed all the plastic containers from the BOPU planting and more from the CBG and bought six bags of potting soil at cost from Habitat Hero sponsor Gardening with Altitude, enough to fill 33 flats.

After 10 days the first 200 Rudbeckias Sandra Cox and I transplanted had grown 50 times larger than the ones that were still fighting it out in the four remaining milk jugs. I’d forgotten how my winter-sowing instructor, Michelle Bohanan, had carefully counted out 16 or 25 seeds for each jug rather than spill an unknown number. Later, in the Botanical Interest seed catalog, where it states how many seeds are in each packet, it said the Rudbeckia packet has over 2,000 for only $1.69. Maybe it was a typo. Maybe not.

2018-07Gaillardia-Barb Gorges

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower). Photo by Barb Gorges.

The repetitive nature of potting up seedling after seedling for hours made me wonder how much of propagation is mechanized at large companies. While washing pots I listened to a recorded book, “The Line Becomes a River” by Francisco Cantu, about the U.S.—Mexico border issue. It occurred to me this is the kind of tedious work immigrants gladly do just to be in our country.  These soil-based jobs many of our own citizens disdain, leaving the “green” industry shorthanded.

If all goes well with this latest Habitat Hero project, by late summer—or maybe next summer—you may see 450 Rudbeckia plants flowering brown and gold—maybe in time for the University of Wyoming football season. Also stop by BOPU, 2416 Snyder Ave., on a regular basis so you can see the growing transformation.

2018-07Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Habitat Hero garden-Barb Gorges

The Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens looks deceptively small from this viewpoint. It is a crescent about 100 feet long and 25 feet wide at its widest point. It took on average six people nine hours to plant 950 plants (including those donated by Kathy Shreve). Photo by Barb Gorges taken July 31, 2018.

BOPU Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden Plant List

Agastache aurantia “Sunlight” (Hyssop)

Agastache cana “Sonoran Sunset” (Hyssop)

Aster alpinus “Goliath” (Alpine Aster)

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae “New England Pink” (New England Aster)

Bergenia crassifolia “Winterglut” (Bergenia, Pigsqueak)

Buddleja sp. “Blue Chip” (Butterfly Bush)

Buddleja davidii “Miss Ruby” (Butterfly Bush)

Echinacea purpurea “Magnus Superior” (Coneflower)

Fragaria vesca “Alexandria” (Runnerless Strawberry)

Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Avena Grass)

Juniperus scopulorum “Blue Arrow” (Juniper)

Oenothera macrocarpa (Missouri Evening Primrose)

Panicum virgatum “Heavy Metal” (Switchgrass)

Papaver orientale “Salmon Oriental” (Poppy)

Penstemon x mexicali “Pike’s Peak Purple” (Penstemon)

Prunella lacinata (Lacy Self-Heal)

Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasqueflower)

Ribes rubrum “Red Lake” (Currant)

Sedum sieboldii “October Daphne” (Sedum)

Veronica pectinate (Wooly Creeping Speedwell)

2018-07Echinacea purpurea Cheyenne Spirit-Barb Gorges

Echinacea purpurea “Cheyenne Spirit” (Purple Coneflower) is a cultivated variety that blossoms in a variety of colors from orange and yellow to pink. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Spring Bulbs



Published Aug. 18, 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bulb ideas—Colors. Bloom times. Location. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to spring-flowering bulbs. These suggestions may help.”

By Barb Gorges

Remember your first sighting of blooming flowers last March?

Maybe it was crocuses pushing through snow. Or later, you spied your first daffodil, and then there was a flurry of tulips.

No matter how many more snowstorms we had, bulbs were the colorful optimists.

Did you say to yourself, “I want some in my yard”?

If so, August is the time to make your plans for spring-blooming bulbs. The catalogs have been coming in the mail since July, though the bulbs will be mailed at the appropriate time for planting, usually mid-October, before the ground freezes.

I’ve been succumbing to those full-color catalogs and store displays for more than 30 years, and I have learned a few things, but I also checked in with Laramie County master gardener Kathy Shreve and learned more.

Kathy is in charge of the Laramie County Master Gardeners’ bulb sale.



After struggling with Cheyenne’s gardening challenges, it’s a relief to know that we are actually well-suited to growing spring bulbs, many originating in Iran, Iraq and Mongolia, which have a similarly dry climate, Kathy said. Just about all the spring bloomers, with the exception of jonquils—more suited to warmer climates—do well here.

Planting location

Before you fill your shopping basket, think about where you want bulbs. I never seem to do this and end up freezing while digging out more lawn to accommodate my new collection.

All of the bulbs do well in sunny locations, including those areas that won’t be shaded until the trees leaf out late spring.

Shady areas might do best with daffodils, snowdrops and squill, Kathy said.

If space is limited, consider planting different sized bulbs on top of each other. Since the big tulips and daffodils need to be planted the deepest, place them at the bottom of an appropriate-sized hole.

I usually dig one hole wide enough for a group of a dozen or more bulbs properly spaced—I prefer clumps to lines. Fill in with dirt until you reach the right depth for the next biggest bulb, perhaps a smaller tulip or hyacinth, and top off with a layer of the smallest bulbs: grape hyacinth, crocus, snow crocus, snow drops, squill (Scilla).

You also want to plant long-lived bulbs, that keep returning every season, where they can be left for many years. The Siberian squill I planted more than 20 years ago continues to spread and come up thicker every spring.



Kathy mentioned that small bulbs like these can be naturalized in your lawn, as long as you don’t get the urge to mow before they are finished.

You also need to think about what you want to grow over the bulbs in the garden for the rest of the growing season. A shallow-rooted or self-seeding annual works well because you won’t have to disturb the soil. It can cover the dying tulip and daffodil leaves before they can be removed, which is when they are completely yellow and finished feeding the bulbs.

The bulbs are dormant the rest of the year, but they do need some water. So pair them with summer flowers that also like it somewhat dry because bulbs will rot if it is too wet.

Choosing bulbs

Bulbs can be expensive. Breck’s was advertising the “Ice Cream Tulip—A Tulip They Haven’t Seen!” at an undiscounted price of $22 for three bulbs. There are lots of fancy tulips: fringed, double petals, multi-colored etc. Kathy said, “They’re pretty but they’re like annuals. They don’t have the hardiness of their wild parents.”

The bulbs that keep coming back are the “species” tulips, the ones closest to wild–which bulb breeders have messed with the least. These are the Kaufmanniana and Greigii types. The Darwin Hybrids are also good. These are also less expensive because they are older varieties. Kathy said in Cheyenne they don’t require extensive soil preparation before planting.

My species tulips are plain red, but I planted a sack of a dozen bulbs a few years ago and this spring I had a mass of 40 blooms. Some of them were a little small and Kathy suggested I dig them all up and replant the smallest bulbs somewhere else while they mature.

Keep in mind: The bigger the bulb you buy, the bigger the flower. The same variety of tulip or daffodil can be sold in different sizes. The purveyors with the best reputations will tell you how big their bulbs are so you can compare.

Choosing color and bloom time

Getting a great blend of flower colors is not my forte. I tend to go for the polychromatic look—any color I can get to grow. Sometimes clashing shades of red bloom next to each other at the same time.

Kathy, on the other hand, works with color palettes. For the Master Gardeners’ sale this year, her selections are in the yellow to apricot family, with purple/blue accents provided by an allium and a hyacinth.

All bulb descriptions include an expected bloom time. What actual week any bulb begins blooming varies from year to year based on how quickly the soil begins warming, so it is all relative, but there is a progression, though a warm microclimate, like next to a south-facing brick wall, will speed it up.

First the small bulbs bloom: crocus, squill, snowdrops; then the medium-sized, hyacinth, and the species tulips, like Kaufmanniana and Greigii; finally the big tulips, like the Darwin Hybrids. Daffodils (also referred to as “Narcissus”) also come in a range of bloom times. You can have bulbs blooming from March through early June in Cheyenne.

Reputable bulb companies will make suggestions and even put together collections—as Kathy has for the sale. Just check that all the bulbs are suitable for our hardiness zone 5. I aim for colder zones though, 3 or 4.

Additional considerations

“Don’t pick them if you want them to come back,” Kathy said.

This was the most surprising new information I learned. I like to bring in a few tulips to enjoy close up.

Apply fertilizer designed specifically for bulbs once in the spring as their leaves emerge and once in the fall. Kathy uses half the recommended rate.

If you have problems with critters digging up and eating your bulbs, try daffodils and allium, Kathy said. Animals don’t find them as edible.

And finally, the bulb companies have lots of advice. One even sent me a booklet with my order that I found helpful. You can also “Ask a Master Gardener” at the Saturday Farmers Market, now through Sept. 14.

Where to find spring bulbs

Bulbs are available at local garden centers in the fall.

Two catalogs I have ordered from are Breck’s and van Bourgondien; however,, the company the Master Gardeners are ordering from, identifies all of its offerings by name (not just “large red tulip”) and is indexed. It is also developing extensive online bulb horticultural information. Call 1-860-567-0838 to request a print catalog.

More information about the Master Gardeners’ bulb sale being held now through Sept. 14 at the Saturday Farmers Market at the Cheyenne Depot Plaza is at Bulb orders can also be made through the Laramie County Cooperative Extension office, 310 W. 19th St., Suite 100, 633-4383.

Photos provided by the paper included some of these bulb types:

Siberian Squill

Giant Crocus

Snow Crocus

Snowdrop (Galanthus)

Grape Hyacinth (Muscari)


Kaufmanniana Tulip

Greigii Tulip

Darwin Hybrid Tulip

Daffodil (Narcissus)

Allium (ornamental—usually those big blue balls on three foot stems)