Laramie Garden Club— Proving it Can be Done at 7220 feet

In the 1860s, pioneers brought seeds to Laramie—sharing cuttings and information on those that survived at our high elevation. Typical of these “heritage” plants are hollyhock, rhubarb, lilac, and yellow rose bushes that continue to thrive in Laramie.

 Wise local residents noticed that if they wanted trees, it was best to transplant native cottonwood and spruce. Aspen and pines took a little more effort, but they also could survive. No doubt sharing gardening information was done informally, helped along by the UW Extension Service. Then, almost 55 years ago, gardening enthusiasts formed a club that is still going strong.

 According to former president Eileen Routson, the Laramie Garden Club (LGC) was formed in 1960. Charter members were Floy Nelson and Stella Munson--iris experts with over 400 varieties between them, Amelia Arkoosh, Dorothy Dueweke, Hazel McConnell, Anna Lembke; Dorothy Jackson, Mildred Viner, Otto Dahl--UW head gardener and his predecessor, Arthur Strouts. Annual membership dues were $1.

 Past fund raisers have ranged from bake sales to garden tours but the mainstay has been the annual plant sale. The first year of the sale, in 1967, the LGC made $200, most of which they donated to help establish Laramie’s first history museum. Now the early June plant sale brings in $5,000 or more annually, and is used to run the Club and for garden-related projects throughout the community.

 Early on, the Club set service as a mission. They bought books on high altitude gardening for the Albany County Public Library; they bought and planted crab-apple trees around the perimeter of the Ivinson Mansion grounds. They provided cottonwood, spruce and other trees at nearly all Laramie parks, Laramie High School, Spring Creek channel, and at the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary grounds. 

 Routson says that she has enjoyed watching the growth of a semi-circle of young spruce trees in Washington Park.  The Club paid for the trees in 1973 when they were no more than five feet tall—they were to form an acoustical background for the Park band-shell. Paul Harrison and his crew from the City Parks Department planted them in cooperation with the Garden Club. 

 Club funds have also been used to help provide ornamental landscaping at many public buildings in Laramie. The showpiece garden at the Laramie Plains Museum has been a Club project since1973 when LGC member Carolyn Nelson encouraged them to take on the challenge of establishing one garden; over the years many other flower beds there have been created or revitalized by the Club, many with heritage plants.

 Gardens designed, funded and/or maintained by the LGC include the raised planters on the south side of the courthouse which are currently being renovated by the Club. Others are the flowerbeds at the Albany County Public Library, Eppson Center and Laramie Civic Center. Still more projects like the Kids’ Garden in LaBonte Park and “Danny’s Garden” at First and Garfield Streets are maintained in partnership with government other organizations.

 Regarding Garden Club membership, LGC member Carol Hoff says “It’s an excellent way to learn from experienced gardeners about what works in Laramie.”  Routson adds that “sustainability is a focus now--a new generation of gardeners is getting into vegetable gardening and ecological principles.” 

 The Club meets evenings on the fourth Tuesday of most months at the United Presbyterian Church.  Meetings usually include an educational program on a gardening topic.  Find out more through their web site: http://laramiegardenclub.wordpress.com.  Current LGC President, Jenny Thompson, can be reached at 307-760-0007.  Dues have gone up to $5 annually, which Routson notes is “a bargain for the wealth of information members share.”

By Judy Knight

Caption:  Carol Hoff, Laramie Garden Club member, visiting with Martha and Roger Farris of Mississippi. Shears in hand, Hoff is “deadheading” lily and columbine blossoms that are past their prime. Twice-weekly, volunteers maintain the gardens at the Laramie Plains Museum.  In the background is Junior Docent Kyla Bressler, waiting to take the couple on a tour of the Ivinson Mansion.  Photo by Judy Knight