Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming

Language of Flowers for Valentine’s Day

2018-02 Language of Flowers by Barb Gorges (2)

In the Language of Flowers, this arrangement of flower seed packets means Delight (Gaillardia and Columbine), Faithfulness (Echinacea–coneflower), Interest (Rudbeckia–Black-eyed Susan), Virtue (Mint–Bee Balm), Always cheerful (Coreopsis–Tickseed), and Petition–Please give me your answer (Penstemon). The potted fern translates as Sincerity. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Also published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Feb. 4, 2018, and at Wyoming Network News.

Language of Flowers provides many options for Valentine sentiments

By Barb Gorges

With the florists’ largest holiday approaching, I thought we should look at getting floral messages right.

The most well-known floral message is red roses for love. But red roses also make an environmentally unfriendly statement. An article at,, last year explained that the red rose-growing industry uses a lot of water, energy and an enormous amount of pesticides, and then more energy to get the roses from South America, where most are grown, to the U.S.

Here’s an idea: a bouquet of colorful seed packets—and the promise to help prepare a garden bed or container later when gardening season arrives. You can find seeds at:

High Country Gardens,;

Johnny’s Selected Seeds,; and

Botanical Interests, of Colorado,

There are hundreds of kinds of flowers that have sentiments attached to them, especially by the Victorians, famous for “The Language of Flowers.” They were very fond of sending each other floral messages and apparently every home had a floral dictionary on the shelf next to the Bible.

Here are my favorite native perennials for Cheyenne and what the Language of Flowers has to say about them. Keep in mind there is often more than a single meaning for each. And yes, they do sound like the sentiments printed on candy hearts, often addressing the early stages of romance.

Columbine – Delight – I enjoy being in your company

Coneflower – Faithfulness – Fear not, I am true

Coreopsis – Always cheerful

Gaillardia – Delight – Being with you gives me great joy

Liatris (Gayfeather) – Joy – Your attention warms my heart

Mint (choose Monarda, beebalm) – Virtue

Penstemon – Petition – Please give me your answer

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan) – Interest – I would like to talk with you more

Yarrow – Everlasting love

Mid-February is the perfect time to plant those seeds using the winter sowing technique. Plant them in semi-covered containers left outdoors. See my previous column about it at

Many of the most romantic sentiments may require a trip to the nursery if you can’t find seeds. Here in Cheyenne you may have to make do with an IOU accompanied by pictures from catalogs until planting season in late May.

The following definitions are from the floral dictionary included in the novel, The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

Alyssum – Worth beyond beauty

Cactus (Opuntia) – Ardent love

Cosmos – Joy in love and life

Daylily – Coquetry

Dogwood – Love undiminished by adversity

Goldenrod – Careful encouragement

Lilac – First emotions of love

Morning glory – Coquetry

Nasturtium – Impetuous love

Pansy – Think of me

Peppermint – Warmth of feeling

Phlox – Our souls are united

Pink (Dianthus) – Pure love

Speedwell (Veronica) – Fidelity

Sweet William – Gallantry

If you want to plan for romance next spring, plant some bulbs next fall:

Crocus – Youthful gladness

Daffodil – New beginnings

Hyacinth, blue – Dedication – I shall devote my life to you

Hyacinth, white – Beauty

Jonquil – Desire

Tulip, red – Declaration of love

Vegetables, fruits and herbs can have good messages too, so you may want to include some of those seed packets:

Allium (onion) – Prosperity

Cabbage – Profit

Corn – Riches

Grapevine – Abundance

Oregano – Joy

Parsley – Festivity

Strawberry – Perfection

Wheat – Prosperity

Not all floral definitions express happy thoughts. Thistle, for example, means “Misanthropy” in one dictionary. Not surprisingly, bindweed and burdock translate as “Persistence” – most of us work hard trying to eradicate them.

But if you don’t like one definition, look for another. Peony means “Anger” in one book and “Contrition – Forgive my thoughtlessness” in another. In a third collection, peony stands for “Happy life, happy marriage.” Maybe the last two definitions are related after all.

The houseplant option recommends itself over cut roses that droop within a week, if you want something that will remind your true love of you for awhile (providing they have the palest of green thumbs):

Ivy – Fidelity

Orchid – Luxury – I shall make your life a sweet one

Maybe roses are still your best bet. Think about planting a bush that will last a long time. Rose growers in Cheyenne look to High Country Roses,, in Colorado for hardy varieties. Each color has a meaning:

Burgundy – Unconscious beauty

Orange – Fascination

Pale peach – Modesty

Pink – Grace

Purple – Enchantment

Red – Love

White – A heart unacquainted with love

Yellow – Infidelity

Yikes! I like the old yellow climbing roses. Guess I better find a different dictionary.

Obviously, the recipient of your floral expression might be oblivious to or not speak the same floral language you do. Be sure to provide the definition you intend your flowers to speak.


You can promise a rose garden in Cheyenne

John Davis roses

“John Davis” is one of the Explorer series of hardy Canadian roses that Rhea Halstead grows that does not require covering for the winter, even in Cheyenne. Photo by Rhea Halstead.

Published May 18, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “You can promise a rose garden in Cheyenne”

By Barb Gorges

Gary Halstead probably didn’t promise his wife a rose garden.

With the Cheyenne weather as it is, most would bet on that becoming a broken promise.

But 10 years ago, when Rhea Halstead and her husband were finished with their list of major home improvements, she looked out at the backyard and was inspired to recreate a scene from Country Home magazine: a small, vintage travel trailer smothered in roses, with a little bistro table and chairs for two out front. The serene vision appealed to Rhea, who has a career that often brings her face to face with the dark side of humanity.

Ten years later, I am charmed by the oasis the Halsteads have grown, protected by hedges and trees. The tiny vintage travel trailer is there, embedded in roses, and should be covered in blooms within a month. Rhea found another, slightly larger trailer at a garage sale for $50 and fixed it up–antiques are her other passion. She calls it the Honeymoon Cottage, though, apparently her daughter didn’t take her up on the offer to stay there on her honeymoon.

Over to one side is a tiny cottage that’s really the potting shed. Another small building is the summer kitchen—the Halsteads love to entertain outdoors. And there’s the gazebo and a greenhouse. Circuitous gravel paths are sparked by a scattering of colored glass pebbles.

Rhea’s 150 rose bushes are tucked into protected corners or in small beds in which white picket and other kinds of fencing provide backdrops. And everywhere there are bits of vintage memorabilia to discover.

Rhea was not a gardener when she decided to plant her first rosebush. Instead, she researched and learned from members of the Prairie Rose Society, a local club. Today, she gives informative talks on growing roses for the Rose Club.

How does Rhea grow roses?

Rose garden

Rhea has created an oasis for her collection of 150 roses and vintage memorabilia. Photo by Rhea Halstead.

Right location

Roses need 6-8 hours of sun, preferably morning sun, because heat fades blooms.

Right variety

Most of Rhea’s roses grow on their own roots—they are not fussy varieties that require grafting onto sturdier root stock—and they tend to be repeat bloomers. Many are hardy enough they don’t need winter protection.

Spring planting

March and April are when Rhea consults her wish list and researches where to find new varieties she wants to try.

If you do plant a grafted variety, “grown on a union,” bury that union 2-3 inches deep, Rhea said. For the latest, best planting instructions, search online for “how to plant a rose bush.” This site,, has great directions.


Rhea waters as needed, which can be as often as every other day when it’s hot. She has considered drip irrigation but has chosen to walk her garden with the hose.

“That’s the whole Zen thing,” she said, and it helps her de-stress, she said. It only takes 30 minutes and it allows her to spend time with the roses and see how they are doing.

Summer maintenance

Before the roses leaf out, Rhea treats any with signs of magnesium depletion by spreading a half cup of Epsom salts per plant.

She tried using all the natural fertilizers, but the dogs ate them. Now when she checks mid-summer for the need to fertilize, she uses conventional products.

Each year she replenishes her wood chip mulch, which feeds the roses as it decomposes as well as represses weeds. And for weeds that do show up, “We get on our hands and knees and pick,” Rhea said.

She aims for rose varieties that aren’t as susceptible to pests and diseases, and if she needs to, she uses Neem oil and sometimes Bayer products.

Chlorosis can be another problem. Our alkaline soil can tie up iron and leaves will grow gangly and yellow. Roses like slightly acidic soil and so applying iron sulfate as directed can help. Consult the Laramie County Extension office for a definite diagnosis.

Deadheading, removal of flowers that are finished blooming, encourages the repeat blooming varieties to keep flowering.

Fall preparation

In September, Rhea quits deadheading to make it easier for the roses to go into dormancy. She reduces watering to once a week.

rose covering

With it’s bottom removed, this pot is placed over the rose bush and filled with leaves and a little dirt to act as winter insulation. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Winter covering

In November, about 60 percent of Rhea’s bushes get covered, and always the ones in their first year in her garden. Covering is about trying to keep the rosebush cold so it stays dormant, she said. If she has a variety that doesn’t die back, like the floribundas, it doesn’t need a cover.

But hybrid teas and some others, and new bushes do need a cover. So Rhea buries the base of the bush in about 6 inches of top soil, from either her garden or a garden center. Using an old plastic pot from a nursery, with the bottom removed, she places the cylinder over the plant and fills it with a mix of dry, brown leaves and a little more dirt. The open top allows water to leach in, but the leaves allow enough air to prevent mildew.

Spring uncovering

Rhea removes the covers between April 15 and 30. At the time of my visit April 26, she had removed the covers, but not the mounds of soil, which were fine protection for the coming spring snowstorms. [Rhea said she did re-cover the bushes before the 11 inches of snow we had May 11 and 12.]

Eventually, she waters out the protective soil, cuts canes back to the last green growth, blows the leaves out, picks the weeds and puts in new wood chip mulch.

Propagation is possible

Rhea has perfected the art of propagating roses from cuttings. It requires warm, stable temperatures and 95 percent humidity. Over the years she has improved her success rate from 10 to 90 percent.

The Rose Club’s latest project is propagating cuttings from the old roses in the Cheyenne cemetery, single bloomers (blooming once a year), probably centifolia, floribunda and cabbage rose types. Since they were planted decades ago and have survived without time-consuming cultivation practices, they should be perfect for the modern homeowner.

If you missed them at the annual Laramie County Master Gardeners’ plant sale May 17, check with Rhea to see if any are still available.

Mary rose

“Mary” is a variety of David Austin rose that Rhea recommends. Photo by Rhea Halstead.

Rhea’s advice on choosing roses for Cheyenne

Canadian roses, which are varieties developed by Agriculture Canada for harsh prairie conditions, are a better bet here in this climate. Some varieties to consider: the Explorer series roses, John Davis, William Baffin and Alexander Mackenzie. Also, Morden Blush, Hope for Humanity and Winnipeg Park are solid roses.

Knockout roses seem to do well here. These are varieties developed in Wisconsin and introduced in 2000.

The David Austin roses were developed in England beginning in the 1960s and cross old garden varieties roses with modern. These are very winter hardy: Winchester Cathedral, Mary, Crown Princess Margareta and Strawberry Hill.

If you have to go with a modern rose, floribundas are hardier than the hybrid teas. A few that survive well here and are quite beautiful are Europeana and Strike It Rich. They will require winter cover.

The floribundas can be found at most nurseries and box stores. Canadians can also be found at local nurseries or online.

The older Explorer roses will likely have to be bought online. David Austins can be found in Colorado nurseries or online.

The Flower Bin in Longmont gets a massive amount of roses every Mother’s Day and you can find many new and old varieties there.

High Country Roses in Denver carries many older varieties of roses that do well in this climate.

Roses rated for Zone 5 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plant hardiness map will mostly do OK here. Though Cheyenne is rated zone 5, roses rated for zones 4 and below do better here.

The Rose Club

The Rose Club meets in Cheyenne monthly, June through September. To attend, call Rhea, 637-3114.