Garden Photo of the Day

A Wyoming Garden

Beautiful flowers in a challenging climate

My name is Helen Coates, and I have been gardening for more than 60 years in various states and climates. For the past 10 years I have lived in Laramie (known as “Laradise” to its happy residents), a university town of 30,000 in southeastern Wyoming.

Challenges involve altitude (7220 feet), high winds, minimal rainfall (11 inches a year, but lots of sun), hail, and a very short frost-free growing season. This is supposed to be Zone 4, but it acts more like Zone 3 sometimes because of the altitude. It has alkaline soil.

When I moved into my current house with its relatively small garden, it was all barren lawn. I dug up about three-quarters of it, and now there are many plants, shrubs, butterflies, bees, and birds.

I love to experiment and grow without chemical pesticides, although there are few insect pests that survive the climate anyway. I have amended the soil with vast amounts of compost.

The front lawn was replaced by English-style perennial beds. There are two crabapple trees, one on each side of the walkway, as well as massive cotoneaster hedges 5 feet tall and wide on each side of the lot that are great windbreaks. There is a succession of flowers from tulips, especially species tulips, and basket of gold (Aurina saxatilis, Zones 4–7), which blazes in the spring and tolerates the dry partial shade under the trees for the rest of season. Later in spring there are Oriental poppies (Papaver orientalis, Zones 3–8), Baptisia, peonies, snapdragons (Antirrhinum), and violas. These are followed by Canadian roses such as ‘George Vancouver’, ‘Morden Sunrise’, ‘Emily Carr’, and ‘Morden Belle’, as well as annual rudbeckias (Rudbeckia hirta), catmint (Nepeta), Monarda, irises, Delphinium ‘Magic Fountains’ (Zones 3–7), petunias, Phlox, various penstemons, sedums, Coreopsis, Oriental lilies (Lilium, Oriental group, Zone 4–9), Allium, and many more.

I have a couple of soaker hoses that wind around both beds, and the rest of the bed is drier. It faces north-northwest and is covered with snow most of the winter, which aids in the survival of many perennials, acting as a blanket during severe temperature drops and protection from desiccating winds.

Over the years I have planted more perennials, often native in origin. Last year we had terrible hail that defoliated and broke the delphiniums but left the penstemons unscathed. They are basically tougher. I have discovered that yarrow (Achillea) can spread too aggressively, so now it lives in the dry strip in the alley.

In the back garden, I have a small area where I grow snap peas, beans, tomatoes, squash, etc. The warm-season veggies all do better with hoop plastic protection (warmer and no hail). I get a really good harvest.

I grow vast amounts of plants from seed, experimenting from seed catalogs. Some are successes, some do not last. Some of my best are various penstemons, dianthus, rudbeckia, and varieties of petunia. Last year I grew ‘Spellbound’ petunia, and it was HUGE. I love dahlias, but they just get to flowering and the frost kills them. I really love red birds in a tree (Scrophularia macrantha) because it is an awesome hummingbird magnet. Also known as Mimbres figwort, it is a 50-50 survivor (Zone 5 plant), so I often buy replacements in Colorado or grow them from seed.

I participate in our local gardening club, which is a great experience, and we all learn from each other.

Best wishes from Laradise!

spring in the gardenSpring in the garden: tulips and basket of gold.

alysumThe path up to the house is lined with various daises, alysum (Lobularia maritima, annual), zinnias, etc.

oriental poppiesLate spring in the garden, featuring Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale, Zones 3–8), blue flax (Linum perenne, Zones 5–8), Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum, Zones 4–9), yellow Baptisia, and catmint (Nepeta).

‘George Vancouver’ roseThe front bed: I had replaced the Coreopsis with Missouri evening primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa, Zones 4–8) because the Coreopsis was not hardy and the primrose comes back yearly. Also visible is ‘George Vancouver’ rose, delphinium, and snapdragons.

Border liliesBorder lilies (Lilium, Asiatic group) with some dianthus in the rear

Cheyenne mock orangeCheyenne mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii ‘Cheyenne’, Zones 3–9)

Dwarf sea hollyDwarf sea holly (Eryngium planum, Zones 4–9) and bunny tails ornamental grass (Lagurus ovatus, Zones 8–10 or as annual)

‘Spellbound’ petunia‘Spellbound’ petunia grown from seed. It has truly giant blooms and was last year’s success story.

Pentemon barbatusVarious hybrid penstemons, mostly derived from Pentemon barbatus (Zones 4–9). They seed around and self-hybridize.

Last of all, myself in front of the back bed.


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View Comments


  1. garden1953 02/06/2020

    Helen, your gardens are just gorgeous! It's great to see such a beautiful garden that does so well in conditions similar to mine. I live in Colorado at 7,600' elevation with little rainfall as well. I'm sure you have heard about Plant Select. Their plants should do well in in your yard. Thanks for sharing. I love your gardens!

    1. sagebird52 02/06/2020

      I try many but often they are borderline here - its the drying cold wind in the excessively cold winter. Thank you for for comments.

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 02/06/2020

    Absolutely incredible! It is all just gorgeous but that mock orange is out of this world!

  3. arboretum 02/06/2020

    FINALLY! a GPOD worthy of a " Beth Chatto award"! Helen, I am so excited to see this, and i LOVE LOVE that you include the Latin and common names of every plant mentioned. My personal favorite combination includes the bunny tail grass,
    unknown to me. My mission now is to see if anyone, like High Country or Santa Rosa- sells this plant [as seeds are not in my wheelhouse...] Helen, I drove thru Wy. on my 1978 camping trip, but i stopped over north of you , in missoula.
    But boy do i want to come to wyodise and meet such a talent as you...

    1. sagebird52 02/06/2020

      Bunny tails is native to N Africa and Mediterranean area. I looked and several nurseries carry it . It dries well and keeps well. Thank you for your comments .

  4. user-5117752 02/06/2020

    Simply scrumptious!!!!! Marvelous color and combinations!!! So much in such a short, difficult growing season and from seed as well!!! And, very best of all was seeing you, the gardener, the creator of all this beauty!!! Thank you for taking the time to share with so much important information!!!

    1. sagebird52 02/06/2020

      Thank you

  5. sheila_schultz 02/06/2020

    I am in complete awe of your ability and perseverance in creating such magnificent gardens. They are truly inspiring Helen. WOW!!!

  6. User avater
    simplesue 02/06/2020

    Oh that was fun seeing your garden and meeting you the gardener in the last photo!
    I just had to save some of your photos to my private Pinterest garden files where save inspiration for the garden!
    You did a wonderful job turning what sounded like a barren bit of land with harsh soil conditions into a nice habitat garden for pollinators and birds and people!

    1. sagebird52 02/06/2020

      I love the summer months - but sooo short. Thank you for your comments.

  7. btucker9675 02/06/2020

    Be still my heart! So much color in your beautiful gardens. That Spellbound petunia is almost beyond belief! Wow!

    1. sagebird52 02/06/2020

      Yep that spellbound is as big as my hand!! - Thank you for your comments

  8. User avater
    meander_michaele 02/06/2020

    Hmm, gardening for "more than 60 years" must have practically started in your mother's womb. You and your delightfully colorful backdrop look great. Love the wonderful intensity of color that your grown from seed petunia 'Spellbound' displays...hubba hubba about that.

  9. sagebird52 02/06/2020

    I was 7 and my mom gave me a little patch to grow what I wanted. Mostly annuals - its was fun.

  10. [email protected] 02/06/2020

    For some reason, I didn't get all the pictures. Am I the only one? Love what I saw, but would love to see the mock orange and rose. Thanks for sharing.

  11. [email protected] 02/06/2020

    Ooops. Never mind, took forever, but the rest of the photos finally downloaded. Mock Orange is going on my "lust list".

  12. arboretum 02/06/2020

    they can be ordered now for spring deliv

  13. Cenepk10 02/06/2020

    Spellbound is the most fabulous petunia I’ve ever seen. Gorgeous garden. God bless you for surviving Zone 3. Zone 7 winters are all I can handle. But- I‘d gladly trade to Zone 3 summers ! Beautiful job !

  14. sagebird52 02/07/2020

    Thank you all for your comments. Its great that all our gardens bring beauty and joy into the lives of others - even if the flowers are transitory.

  15. Maggieat11 02/07/2020

    Fabulous! Truly a labor of love, with outstanding results! Your neighbors must love it too; what a bright spot in anyone's day! Thank you fo sharing. Wishing you a wonderful growing season ahead. LOVE that petunia!

  16. darylsavage 02/09/2020

    That petunia looks almost like a hibiscus flower. I too love the combo of the grass and the sea holly, outstanding. A truly beautiful garden. Thank you for sharing.

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