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 garden: tulips and basket of gold.
The path up to the house is lined with various daises, alysum (Lobularia maritima, annual), zinnias, etc.
Late 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).
The 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 lilies (Lilium, Asiatic group) with some dianthus in the rear
Cheyenne mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii ‘Cheyenne’, Zones 3–9)
Dwarf sea holly (Eryngium planum, Zones 4–9) and bunny tails ornamental grass (Lagurus ovatus, Zones 8–10 or as annual)
‘Spellbound’ petunia grown from seed. It has truly giant blooms and was last year’s success story.
Various 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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