This is nothing compared to her garden out at the ranch, Janet Jordan told a group of fellow gardeners Thursday night as she ushered them into her backyard awash with the sweet smell of peonies and a flourish of purple, yellow, and bright reds. She and her husband had bought this house and moved into town five years ago, she explained in her thick English accent, and she’d brought many of her plants and herbs along with her in an attempt to replicate a smaller version of her classic English garden in her new backyard, which back then was a grassless patch of gumbo.
Despite her protestations, the Campbell County Master Gardeners murmured appreciatively and asked Jordan questions as they strolled across her lush, green yard to admire the handful of garden beds full of peonies, wild flowers, and even sprigs of asparagus that she plans to baby along in their new habitat.
Jordan’s garden is the first stop on the Master Gardeners annual Garden Walk and Yard Art Raffle this Saturday, and tonight, the group is taking a sneak peek at all five houses on the tour in preparation for Saturday’s event. Beginning with Jordan’s garden in Hidden Valley, the tour winds through Gillette with a variety of gardens, from Jordan’s classic English to Asian Zen to more rustic, prairie cowboy gardens. The self-guided tour can be taken in any order and runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the group will convene at Mt. Pisgah Unity Garden for refreshments and to raffle off three garden bikes. Home owners will be on hand during the day to answer questions, along with a master gardener at each site, so viewers can visit these houses at any time during the allotted hours.
Master Gardener Sandra Aberle, a long-time organizer of the tour, is a big fan of Jordan, who she’d heard about from other gardeners in the area. Just under a decade ago, Aberle had called Jordan up to ask if she could bring a crew out to the ranch to take a look around. They were blown away by Jordan’s beautiful acres of flowers, vegetables, and herbs as well as her ability to raise asters, columbine, daises, and the other flowers on such inhospitable ground.
“She’s one of the best,” Aberle said, as Jordan took the compliment with a shrug. In her mind, she still has a long way to go to once again tame the wild tufts and gumbo native to this part of the world. Gardening at the ranch had been challenge enough, and after moving into the house on Essex Court, she once again eyed the barren wasteland in her new backyard and got straight to work. Fourteen trips of gumbo later, the couple laid down top soil, hauled off the abandoned sand box, and put up a new fence. Today, Jordan’s yard is a ghost of its former self, which has impressed her fellow gardeners who are busy oohing and aahing as they take a stroll around.
The second garden on the tour at the home of Troy Nellermore is literally a wild deviation from Jordan’s with native shrubs and flowers and a xeriscape design. Nellermore, who has lived at the house for four years, has embraced the rugged terrain with the goal of creating a self-sustaining garden that fits within the particular confines of his grounds. This means a lot of experimentation and testing native shrubs and flowers to see what works in his soils as well as locking out the wildlife. He handled the pronghorns with a fence, but the voles have proved trickier, so now he aims to find plants they won’t eat as much as he continues experimenting.
“It’s just beautiful,” Aberle said. “Kind of rugged and western.”
Third on the tour is the home of Scott and Christine Engel, who have been working on their garden for the past 20 years. Like Nellermore, Scott likes experimenting with different soils and aesthetics and has rare, unusual plants from all over the country and world, including anise plants from Michigan, Asiatic maples, conifers, other ericaceous species, and woody liliesstrewn throughout the Zen-inspired garden. Complete with a Japanese tea house as its centerpiece, and flanked by trickling water, one starts to feel time slowing down and the stresses of the day fading upon entering the Engel’s immaculately landscaped space.
Continuing the theme of unique variations on this year’s tour is garden number four at the home of Denis and Grace Christensen. After completing the Master Gardener course in 2000, Grace focused on design while Denis experimented with soil, mixing in some Nebraska worms, sawdust, and mixed manure. From there they culled plant donations from various homes and family members, including Missouri hackberry and junipers, which they pruned to create a rustic, distinctly-Wyoming garden complete with fruit trees, vegetables, and a terrace overlooking their pond.
Long-time gardeners Dianne and Ray Cassell also have a stop on this year’s garden tour. About 20 years in the making, they’ve moved their garden space several times until finally finding the ideal location in their side yard. Ray tills and rotates the crops while Dianne does the canning, which in the past might be up to 28 quarts of green beans, 35 quarts of potatoes, and up to 30 quarts of carrots. The garden space might be small, but it’s mighty, and they’ll be looking forward to showing guests around.
At 4 p.m., the group will raffle off their three bike planters. Raffle tickets can be purchased at all five garden locations and booklets with maps to the houses and information about each garden will also be available. Tickets are $15 each or 2 for $25, with children 10 and under free, and can be purchased on the day of the event at Mount Pisgah Cemetery (cash or card).
All proceeds will be used to host free gardening classes for the public.