Friday, August 18, 2017

A Crevice Garden in Wyoming

Cheyenne Botanic is finishing up work on one of the most beautiful conservatories I've ever seen.  It's three stories are clad in state-of-the-art hail-proof glass for those golfball and worse hailstorms which are a constant in life up there, and the brick architecture is classy as heck.

The conservatory is a collection of several different tropical exhibits including food plants, xeric/cacti, and a seasonal/temporary room.

So the pressure is high to create a crevice garden at the entry doors to match its grandeur.  I'm honored and excited to execute that for them.  Further, the site is a challenge of challenges in terms of possible plants, which is perhaps even more exciting.

Weather records for Cheyenne reveal that the town is absolutely shackled to a permanent west wind. Snow is blown, leaving the earth and plants uncovered and unprotected from the extremes of Northern-Plains winter.  And it's dry.

The site for the rock garden faces southwest and is backed and therefore baked by thirty feet of glass and brick, which reflect heat like a solar oven.  This is going to be one heck of a trick.  Even the crevice garden's North aspect, traditionally shaded, will have light and heat mirrored back at it!  No use huddling behind rocks, kids! Any little north-side snowbanks will get zapped by the windows, for the sun is a deadly laser!

But I feel good about it.

I think there is a plant for every place, and a place for every plant.   We all like to think we garden in the worse environment ever, and it's funny how that's all of us.  There are tough places all over the world, and beautiful plants from all over.

Erigeron compositus, with its many forms, is very adaptable, reliable, and often reseeds in new rock gardens: It's on the short list. (Wild plant in the Maroon Bells, CO, USA)

There is a small list of plants I know will be just fine, but a crevice garden is about variety, so the longer list is that of promising, not terribly common species, which should all be tried out.  The potential for experimentation and learning here is immense.  Buns and cushions are famous for their hail tolerance; this will be a true test, in a land where glass greenhouses are traditionally covered with a superstructure of chicken wire, because the hail you've really got to worry about is bigger than those holes!

Eriogonum umbellatum v. porteri provides a good green cushion and seems to tolerate winter sun.

While I'm growing and sourcing plants I know I can rely on like Eriogonum and Erigeron, who will laugh in the "breeze" and bathe in the winter sunshine (which would shrivel and destroy most leafy plants), I will spend much effort curating a squad of glorious foreigners to try out.

Austrocactus (bertinii var?) patagonicus. What if this odd, rare plant were hardy in Wyoming but not a soul on earth knew it?  Let's not take that chance: we'd better try it!

Patagonia is famous for its wind; and I've long though that Wyoming was our very own Patagonia.
Several plants from down there, like Maihuenia, Maihueniopsis, and even Petunia patagonica (mentioned recently not by accident in the bun blog) only get better with wind, so I really look forward to trying a few in there.

Stay tuned to see what we learn.  Oh, yeah, and we're trying some wild stuff for the soil mix.

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