Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Fair flowers educate

2017-09 Floriculture Dept by Barb Gorges

The Floriculture Department at the Laramie County Fair includes perennials, annuals, herbs, potted plants and flower arrangements. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Sept. 17, 2017 “Fair gives lesson about best oflowers to grow locally.”

By Barb Gorges

I wasn’t thinking of our county fair being a learning opportunity until I overheard one woman visiting the floriculture department say to another, “You should try that in your garden.”

I realized then that the open class entries (all the entries that are not 4-H or FFA) could tell me a lot about what Laramie County gardeners grow, and grow well, at least at the beginning of August.

Checking the fair results at, in horticulture (fruits and vegetables), there were only 81 entries, indicating a growing season with a slow, cold start. However, for floriculture [starting on page 148], there were many more entries: perennial flowers (146), annual flowers (84), culinary herbs (64). The other categories, flower arrangements, dish gardens and potted plants, had a total of 55.

Why wouldn’t you plant perennials, the most popular category, in the first place? They take so little work once established. And once you’ve planted a perennial, why wouldn’t you snip three identical flowers the first week in August, place them in a clear glass jar, carry them to the fair and hope for a blue ribbon and $6 premium?

I’ve entered numerous quilts in fairs over the last 35 years (one to two hundred hours or more of work for a chance at the same $6 premium) and understand quilt judging, but I wasn’t sure what floriculture judges were looking for.

The fair book will tell you a little bit, but the 2017 edition is no longer available and the 2018 edition won’t be on the website until next spring. You can contact the Floriculture Superintendent, Chris Wright, through the fair office, 307-633-4670, if you have questions now.

Unlike other competitive endeavors, fair judges give out as many blue ribbons in any class as they feel are warranted. The entries are judged by how well they represent the class. For instance, all seven pansy entries received blue ribbons. However, all the Monarda (beebalm) entries received red ribbons and only $4 premiums.

I chatted with one of the two floriculture judges afterwards. Chris Hilgert, Wyoming Master Gardener coordinator and Extension horticulture specialist, explained he thought all the beebalm was a little past its prime.

Beebalm flower heads are made up of tiny florets that bloom in groups, one concentric ring at a time. Mine had already been in bloom five weeks. But pansies have no florets, just five petals per flower. Mine have been putting out fresh flowers nearly every day since they started blooming in April.

Hilgert has been judging several fairs a year for the last 14 years. He looks for entries that are healthy—no sign of disease or pests. You can pinch off bad leaves, but you can’t remove very many bad flower petals without ruining a bloom.

The containers don’t matter, Hilgert said, though he prefers that they be a size matching the stem length. He’d rather not fish flowers out of the water when they fall into too tall vases. Our fair’s rules call for clear glass or plastic containers and it doesn’t matter to Hilgert whether they are vases or just jars and bottles.

2017-09 Rudbeckia entry by Barb Gorges

Rudbeckia entry in a jelly jar gets a blue ribbon. Photo by Barb Gorges.

When a class description asks for three stems, or three blooms, the three need to be as uniform as possible: same size flowers, same length stem, and flowers at the same stage of bloom. This year I had a bumper crop of Rudbeckia (gloriosa daisy or black-eyed susan), but in over 100 blooms, only three were identical, and luckily, were fresh enough to last the whole week of the fair.

Avoiding wilting, another of Hilgert’s benchmarks, was easy this year—it was a cool, rainy day when we brought our entries to the Exhibition Hall. However, during hot weather, the fair’s rules stating that all open class entries must be turned in between noon and 8 p.m., but not judged until the next morning, doesn’t work well for the tender plants. And it is another day before the public can view them. Volunteers keep the containers of flowers and the potted plants watered during fair week.

There is a simple strategy for entering floriculture at our fair. Before the entry deadline at the end of June, put in online for every class for which you have something planted. There is no entry fee. No one can predict what will look best the beginning of August when the flowers need to be picked. While seven people had great Shasta daisy entries this year, mine were already finished blooming. Of the 35 classes I put in for, I only brought 14 entries. I didn’t even have hail damage this year. It was just a matter of bloom timing.

There is a competitive aspect to the Floriculture department—those other awards that give you bragging rights: Superior, Best of Show, Reserve Champion and Champion. Those are the purple ribbons, some with fancy rosettes, that transcend the classes.

This year gardeners were rewarded with them for an exceptional hybrid tea rose, a sunflower, a salpiglossis, two mints, three potted plants and a fairy garden. A truly wonderful flowering tuberous begonia, entered by one of my neighbors, Jean Profaizer, was the champion.

Whether you ever intend to enter the fair and make some “seed money,” it is worth reading the Floriculture results to see what can bloom in Cheyenne in late summer. I counted over 20 kinds of culinary herbs (although these don’t need to be in bloom), 16 kinds of annuals and 30 kinds of perennials. The most popular, if you put all four classes of it together (white, yellow, pink and other), was yarrow, with 25 entries. It happens to be an easy perennial to grow, too.

2017-09 Echinacea entry by Barb Gorges

Echinacea is another popular fair entry because it is in bloom in early August. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Other late summer standbys are Echinacea (coneflower), Gaillardia (blanket flower), daylily, lilies, various roses, violets, and as previously mentioned, Rudbeckia.

Among the annuals are geranium, cosmos, bachelor buttons, snapdragon, sunflower, marigold, petunia and pansy (though my pansies sometimes come back, acting like short-lived perennials).

When you walk through the display of flowers at our fair, each vase or jarful with its entry tag that you see gives you more familiarity with local possibilities. If you are lucky, the gardener has added the variety name—it’s supposed to give them extra competition points.

With all that information, now is the perfect time to assess your garden, make plans and gather or order what you need for next season. Any end of the season sales on perennials at nurseries? How about seeds, both flower and vegetable? Although they are never seen at the fair, don’t forget spring-blooming bulbs. And think about planting flowering trees and shrubs.

The downside? You may have to dig a new bed to accommodate all your future flower plans. But the bees, birds, butterflies and bats thank you.

Heirloom veggies for taste and variety



Rusty Brinkman offers a variety of heirloom veggies at the Tuesday Farmers Market in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Sept. 4, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Local gardeners explore for taste, visual appeal”

By Barb Gorges

At the Laramie County Fair back in August, I was checking out the blue-ribbon vegetable winners and one name kept popping up over and over: Rusty Brinkman.

I met Brinkman and his partner Vally Gollogly last summer at a lunch they catered at their home just outside Cheyenne—a garden-to-table treat.


Midsummer, Brinkman partially rolls back the cover of his hoop house. Chickens are on patrol, looking for insects. Photo by Barb Gorges.

This spring, Brinkman added a high tunnel and a half-dozen chickens. The greenhouse-like high tunnel will let him to grow vegetables that need a longer growing season than Cheyenne allows. The chickens keep the insect pest numbers down, but at the cost of a little pecking damage. They seem to like yellow vegetables so Brinkman has to throw a little vegetation over the yellow squashes to protect them.

His backyard garden is sizeable, but he also helps garden another 4,000 square feet over at his uncle’s, where he has a real greenhouse to get seedlings started in spring.

A couple years ago when he and Gollogly had an abundance of dill, they thought it would be fun to offer the excess at the Tuesday Farmers Market. Now they are regulars, under the Mooo’s Market banner. Gollogly specializes in prepping the flowers and herbs, Brinkman the veggies.


Rusty Brinkman offers a variety of heirloom veggies at the Tuesday Farmers Market in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Their booth has a certain flair, a certain presentation. That might be because Brinkman’s day job is owner of Crow Creek Catering. As a chef, the Cheyenne native has plied his trade in Denver, New York and the Wyoming [correction: Colorado] governor’s mansion. He knows presentation is an important part of the dining experience.

So what does a chef grow in his garden? Brinkman is a proponent of organic methods so I’m not surprised he also gravitates to the heirlooms. Heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated. This means if you save the seeds, you can grow the same vegetables again next year. If you save the seeds from the best individual fruits and vegetables, you might end up with improved strains the next year. Over time, you will have varieties ideally suited to Cheyenne.

On the other hand, hybrid fruits and vegetables also produce seed, but plants grown from those seeds won’t grow true to the parent plant.

Brinkman is experimenting with seed saving, but otherwise his chief source is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, www.rareseeds. I have the 2015 catalog: 350 pages of delicious photos of vegetables and fruit from all over the world with exotic names and long descriptions.

For a gardener, it’s like being in a candy shop. But it is important to keep in mind our local climate and look for short-season veggies. Now that he is selling at the market, Brinkman also looks for varieties not sold at the grocery store.

There is so much to choose from. Offerings include purple tomatoes, oddly-shaped squash, a multitude of greens, pointy cabbage, red carrots. But in the end, they need to produce in Cheyenne and they have to pass the taste test–appealing to a gardener who cooks.

Brinkman shared with me a nine-page, single-spaced printout of his garden records for the past three years, organized by vegetable type, variety, heirloom status, year trialed, seed company, how many days to maturity, description. There are 360 entries to date, but some vegetables did not make the cut and were not planted a second year.

This scientific analysis is similar to Brinkman and Gollogly’s training in the science of food preparation. Cooking is one part art and a large part science. You need to understand how ingredients interact with each other. If you invent a good dish, you need to be able to reproduce it, just like scientific studies need to be replicable.

Vegetable gardening is also science, trying to produce the best crop each year.

Brinkman prepares new beds by smothering grass with cardboard or metal plates (he makes folk art from junk metal), then he rototills it. Once a bed is established though, he only uses a garden fork to loosen things in the spring and add compost.

His compost system is nearly keeping up with the garden’s needs and he fills in with more from the city compost facility.

But Brinkman also uses Espoma’s Plant-tone to add microbes and nutrients, and in the fall, he adds old cow manure.


Brinkman hand-pulls weeds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Brinkman hand-pulls weeds, and hand-picks potato bugs early in the season. This was the first year for the chickens and he’s not sure how helpful they will be, but he said he also uses several other methods for pest control:

–Neem oil has worked very well for aphids.

–Releasing ladybugs and lacewings in the spring, also for aphid control, seems to be working.

–Using Bt (a friendly bacterium) for cabbage whites (butterflies) for the first time this year seems to help.

–Agribon, a light-weight, white polypropylene fabric spread over the carrots seems to be controlling the carrot rust fly.

To get an early start on the season, in late March or early April, Brinkman uses low tunnels, stretching plastic sheeting over hoops placed over his beds.

Much of the garden area is irrigated using drip tape (flattened plastic hose that has a series of small holes).

So what was planted in the Brinkman/Gollogly garden this year? Lots of varieties with delicious-sounding names. Brinkman will know soon which ones have performed well enough to make the cut next year. Here’s a sampling you might find at their booth at the farmers market next Tuesday. If customers aren’t quite ready for “Tronchuda”, a Portuguese variety of kale, no matter. Brinkman can take it home and turn into dinner, or prep it for the freezer.

Artichokes: Green Globe.

Beans: Mayflower, Greasy Grits, Dixie Speckled Butterpea, Golden Sunshine, California Blackeye Pea.

Beets: Crosby’s Egyptian


Heirloom beets come in a variety of colors and shapes. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Broccoli: Purple Peacock, Romanesco Italia, Umpqua.

Cabbage: Aubervilliers, Bacalan de Rennes, Couer de Boeuf des Vertus, Cour di Bue.

Carrots: Amarillo, Dragon.

Celery: Giant Prague, Tendercrisp, Utah Tall.

Peppers (sweet): Antohi Romanian, Topepo Rosso.

Peppers (hot): NuMex Joe E. Parker.

Cucumber: Parisian Pickling.

Eggplant: Syrian Stuffing, Turkish Orange.

Kale: Dwarf Siberian, Nash’s Green, Nero di Toscana.

Lettuce: Crisp Mint, Little Gem, Baby Oakleaf.

Melon: Kazakh, Minnesota Midget.


Heirloom onions. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Onion: Flat of Italy, Red of Florence.

Pea: Laxton’s Progress #9.

Squash: Kobocha winter

Tomato: Cherokee Purple, Large Barred Boar, Cream Sausage, Transparent, Glacier, Topaz, Woodle Orange.

Turnip: Boule D’or, Golden Globe, Mikado, Purple Top White Globe.

Zucchini: Midnight Lightning, Tatume (Mexican zucchini)


How to enter flowers, fruits and vegetables in the county fair

Fair entries winning a first premium get a blue ribbon--and a check for the amount of the premium: first is $6, second is $4 and $3 for third.

Fair entries winning a first premium get a blue ribbon–and a check for the amount of the premium: first is $6, second is $4 and $3 for third.

Published June 15, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Grow a winner. Find out how to enter fruits, veggies, flowers and more in the Laramie County Fair.”

By Barb Gorges

If you grew up in town, you might not realize any Laramie County resident can enter the Laramie County Fair.

This year, the fair is set for July 27-Aug. 9, but now is the time to start planning what you’re going to enter.

“I thought you had to be from a farm. I thought it was all 4-H, but these were people like me” Timi Saville, Laramie County Master Gardener, said of her revelatory experience at the Park County Fair in Powell some years ago.

The following year, her Mexican Hats, a type of coneflower, won a blue place ribbon.

Open Class refers to all the fair competition categories open to the public. Besides the crop and livestock departments, there are also Open Class departments in art, crafts (everything from wood and metal work to jewelry), culinary, needlework and photography.

Since this is a gardening column, we’re going to look at how to enter in the Horticulture Department–fruits and vegetables–and the Floriculture Department–flowers and house plants.

Why enter the fair?

Your work will be judged by experts. That sounds stressful to some, but this is actually an opportunity to get some free advice, since it doesn’t cost anything to enter items in our fair.

And there’s community recognition, possibly causing WTE columnists to call you for pointers on entering the fair.

And there are the ribbons and premiums. In fair language, premiums are prize money. At our fair, first premium equals $6; second premium, $4, and third premium, $3.

If there are 10 plates of cucumbers competing, it is possible that all 10 entries could qualify for first premium—or none may qualify. But premiums checks can add up to seed money or more if you enter several items.

The very best plate of cucumbers will get a purple “superior” ribbon for that class.

And of all the people with purple ribbons in the Horticulture or Floriculture departments, someone will become Reserve Champion and someone Grand Champion.

So, are you in? You are? Good. Now let’s demystify the process of entering the fair.

This is the final year for a print version of the Laramie County fair book. It is already available online.

This is the final year for a print version of the Laramie County fair book. It is already available online.

Step 1–Find the Fair Book

This is the final year the Laramie County Fair is printing the 120-page book available at local agricultural supply businesses like Murdoch’s, the University of Wyoming Extension office, 310 W. 19th, Suite 100, or the office at the Archer fairgrounds, 3967 Archer Parkway (I-80 Exit 370).

The book is available online at as a PDF. You may have to look for the link under News/arrival (of fair book).

Step 2–Peruse the categories

Turn to page 46 for Horticulture and page 52 for the Floriculture departments.

Catherine Wissner, superintendent of the Horticulture Department, advises you to checkmark each class that you have the remotest chance of having a plant, flower, fruit or vegetable that would qualify.

Early in the season, when entry forms are due, she said it is hard to know what will be ready at fair time. If you enter a category but end up not having an entry ready—it’s all right—it didn’t cost you anything but the time to fill in one line of the form listing all your entries.

Also check out the Fair Fun contests on page 10, which are open to everyone. There are seven in all, everything from scarecrow building to pie baking contests. The entry form is on page 21.

Step 3–Fill out the Static Entry Form and get it in by July 14

Horticulture and floriculture entries are static entries—because unlike livestock, they don’t move. Find the form on page 117 and 118. Only children need to fill in the age information and have their parents sign.

Once it’s filled out, send it in [Page 10 is where you’ll confirm the information for sending in entry forms.]:

–online at,

–OR print a Static Entry Form from the website (or cut it out of the book) and

–scan and email it to,

–OR fax the form to 634-4511,

–OR mail the form to 3967 Archer Parkway, Cheyenne, WY 82009.

Step 4—Pick up entry tags at Archer, July 24-25, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Corrections can be made at this time, so check your tags over before taking them home.

"Tomatoes - Specimens should be uniform in color, shape, and size, and free from cracks, sun scald and blemishes, ripe, solid and without stems." Disclaimer: these tomatoes are from the store.

“Tomatoes – Specimens should be uniform in color, shape, and size, and free from cracks, sun scald and blemishes, ripe, solid and without stems.” Disclaimer: these tomatoes are from the store.

Step 5—Prepare your entries

While most Open Class departments accept entries July 31, noon – 8 p.m. (Culinary is the following Tuesday), Floriculture and Horticulture accept entries Aug. 1, 8 a.m. – noon.

This means your tougher fruits and vegetables can be harvested the night before, and tender stuff early in the morning. Flowers should be hardened off the day before (see accompanying information).

Timi Saville, who placed in nine of the 11 classes she entered last year, said to make sure you follow all the specifications.

Read vegetable descriptions on pages 46 – 49 so you know exactly how to prepare each item.

Once, her entry was disqualified because she only had four stems instead of the five required for chives—one got lost in the trip to the fair.

“It might be a good idea to cut a few extra to have on hand in case a flower gets crushed,” she said.

And bring extra water, she added.

In Floriculture, the required flowers need to be in plain, clear glass or plastic containers. Any container not plain enough could disqualify the entry. Timi uses containers she finds at the dollar store or food jars with labels completely removed. House plants are fine in their regular pots.

For vegetables, you will need a plain white paper plate with the entry form taped or stapled to it. Make sure your entries are very clean—sometimes judging requires tasting.

Step 6—Bring your entries to the Exhibition Hall

On Aug. 1, 8 a.m.-noon, head over to Frontier Park, where you will pass your entries over to fair volunteers who will set them on display.

Step 7—Return to see judging results

Judging is Aug. 1, 1 – 5 p.m. and is closed to the public.

The Floriculture and Horticulture entries are on display between judging and release of entries. During the fair, the Exhibit Hall is open to the public 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Step 8—Pick up released Horticulture and Floriculture entries

Entries in these departments will be released Aug. 4, 5-7 p.m.

You’ll want to collect your ribbons, vases, potted plants and any of your fruits and vegetables that are salvageable.

Other static open class entries are released Aug. 9.

Step 9—Get your premium check

Premium checks are usually available when other open class entries are being released at the Exhibit Hall, which is Aug. 9, 3-5 p.m.

If you don’t claim your check, it will be mailed to you.

Step 10—Consider entering the Wyoming State Fair

You do not need to enter a county fair to enter Open Class at the state fair, which will be held in Douglas Aug. 9-16. Horticulture and Floriculture entries can be delivered Aug. 9 or 10, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Pre-entry is not necessary, but there is a $1 processing fee per entry. Explore your options at

How to keep your flowers fresh or

How to harden off your flower exhibit

It is generally recognized that afternoon–especially cutting in late afternoon, when the greatest amount of sugar has ascended into the leaves and blooms–as well as a “hardening off” process, will help insure a winning entry.

Flower stems should be cut cleanly at an angle with a sharp knife or pruning shears and plunged into deep, hot water: 110 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Plunging plants up to their necks in cool water works as well.

It is a good practice to carry a bucket of water to the garden and to place each cut specimen in the water at once. Lightly crush the base of woody stems on plants such as lilacs to improve the intake of water. Some flowers, such as Dahlias, Euphorbias and Poppies, need to have the cut tips seared over an open flame.

Following cutting and water treatment, specimens should be placed in a cool, darkened room. After several hours, when the water has come to room temperature, add ice to the water and leave the flower material undisturbed overnight or place flowers in a refrigerator or cooler at a temperature between 38 and 40 degrees for six or more hours before they are to be shown.

Flowers prepared in this way improve their substance and will hold their freshness longer.

From the Wyoming State Fair Premium Book