Wyoming’s Cheyenne Botanic Gardens has its origins in the desire among Cheyenne residents to build a non-profit, solar heated greenhouse that would allow senior, youth and handicapped volunteers to grow plants year-round. The Cheyenne Community Solar Greenhouse opened in the late 1970s and the structure was one of the world’s first 100 percent large-scale solar heated greenhouses.
Above & Below: The ornamental gateway is visible from the street and celebrates the entry to the Children’s Village. With only one point of entry, parents are able to allow their children the freedom to explorer safely within the confines of the walled compound.
Growing From a Greenhouse
This greenhouse grew in the mid-1980s to become a solar conservatory consisting of three greenhouses. The center greenhouse is filled with sunshine, tropical plants, and special attractions such as herb and cacti gardens, and a waterfall pond filled with Koi fish. The west greenhouse is used primarily for growing vegetables, while the east greenhouse is focused on propagation of bedding plants and flowers for the botanic garden grounds and all flowers for the Cheyenne park system.
One area missing from the botanic gardens was an area devoted primarily to children. That has changed as the result of the Cheyenne park’s department relocating its maintenance facilities.
The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Children’s Garden was designed by Herb Schaal of EDAW, and with the botanic garden’s history of promoting sustainability.
“When the park maintenance shop outgrew its facility next to the botanic garden, the garden officials saw this as a great opportunity to take the site over and use it for a children’s garden,” said Mark Kosmos, associate landscape designer at Fort Collins, Colo.-based EDAW Inc.
Inspired by Sustainability
The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Children’s Garden was designed by Herb Schaal of EDAW, and with the botanic garden’s history of promoting sustainability; it seemed only natural to use sustainability as the theme of the children’s area.
Construction bids were opened in October and construction of the garden was scheduled to begin in late October or early November with a June 2009 opening.
This walkway connects the main Botanic Garden Entry with the Children’s Village. The walkway will have the character of a village pathway. Its character will be sinuous and flowing, featuring large drifts of butterfly-attracting plants and ornamental grasses rippling in the wind. Included in the pavement will be colorful inlays with philosophical quotes about sustainable living.
“We were doing ‘sustainable’ before the word was coined,” said Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith. “With the children’s garden, we will be teaching sustainability of the past as well as the future.”
Kosmos said the design groups the children garden’s features into natural and urban components. The garden will feature a historic prairie that will allow visitors to see how Native Americans lived in the Cheyenne area; a sustainable agriculture area featuring a village square, farmer’s market and amphitheater; a solar court that will demonstrate healthy food preparation methods that utilize fresh produce; and examples of water systems, including the use of flow forms, aeration and biolfiltration with wetlands.
“This children’s garden dovetails nicely with what they are already doing at the botanic gardens,” Kosmos said.
The plaza paving in this prominent entry allows for the recognition of village patrons. Brick pavers sandblasted with the names or quotes provided by children’s garden donors are to be installed on this walkway.
Kosmos said the 3/4-acre children’s garden is designed primarily for children ages 4-12, with many features designed to be hand’s on demonstrations. The project as designed is in line for Gold LEED status from the U.S. Green Building Council, and Kosmos said Platinum LEED status is not out of the question.
In addition to the many solar features planned for the children’s garden — such as the solar heated and powered classroom — the landscape design includes a 55 percent reduction in water usage, which Kosmos said was a challenge considering the site is a botanic garden. Stormwater drainage was also a challenge to overcome, but permeable pavers will help the site capture and retain and redirect all storm water runoff.
This area is central to the village organization and will have the character of a village square. It will feature large drifts of butterfly-attracting plants and ornamental grasses rippling in the wind. Included in the pavement will be colorful inlays with philosophical quotes about sustainable living. Like footprints, these inlays will guide visitors to the Village.
The children’s garden is not only using sustainable methods throughout the site, these methods are on display for the children to learn about and experience sustainability.
For example, a recycled windmill will be placed on a portion of the children’s garden. This area will be about five feet above the existing grade to create the energy needed to recirculate water.
Water will be pumped to this area via the windmill, which draws from a low point in an adjacent pond. As the water moves between the low and high points, it will be put to beneficial use by the children operating a water wheel and irrigating the various crops. Gates, siphons and various types of pumps will also be operated by the children to move water directly from the pond to the crops.
This natural wetlands area is included in the plan so that kids can compare the naturally sustaining plant community of the High Plains, featuring plants such as sage, rabbit brush and prairie wildflower, with man-made landscapes.
“The kids will be able to learn the importance and value of water to agriculture and this will help them to appreciate water as a source of energy,” Kosmos said.
Learning by experiencing the sights and sounds of the Children’s Garden is key to the experience, according to Kosmos, as the various exhibits around the garden will have little in the way of signage.
“We wanted to do less with signage to promote more interactivity,” he said. “There will be some signage, but it is more for the adults to act as a cue to explain to the children what they are experiencing.”
The prairie area will let kids learn how Native Americans used to live in this High Plains prairie environment, and observe elements of the natural ecosystem by counting and recording species, observing natural adaptation, capturing and releasing aquatic insects, and identifying tracks and signs.
Children’s Garden – Phase II
Fundraising has already begun for phase II of the children’s garden – a section that will feature a large periscope.
The Children’s Garden will include planting beds featuring a variety of irrigation and growing methods demonstrating sustainable agricultural practices such as: permaculture, companion plantings, crop rotation, composting and drip, flood and spray irrigation. Reused building materials will be used to show economical ways to construct planters, trellises, hail shelters, bean towers, walls and pathways.
Initially, a periscope was in the discussion phase for the Secret Garden. When a Cheyenne resident who has retired from the Navy came forward to offer the donation of a periscope for the project, plans for the periscope changed. “The periscope is from an old submarine and it turned out to be too big for the secret garden,” Smith said. “The periscope is 43 feet high and 38 feet (from the bottom) needs to be covered by a structure.”
“ We were doing ‘sustainable’ before the word was coined.” —Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith
The solution was to change the location for the periscope and construct a grain silo to house the periscope. “The roof of a grain silo looks like an observatory, so we’ll open that up for people to gaze at the stars,” Smith said. “We’ll have microscopes and other types of lenses at the base of the silo for the kids.”
The classroom building and adjoining greenhouse will have solar panels installed – continuing a philosophy seen at the neighboring Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and its solar conservatory that is 100
percent solar heated and that receives 50 percent of its electricity through solar power.
Smith admitted that some people may see the addition of the periscope as a stretch when trying to fit it under the umbrella of sustainability, but he said the structure would be a nice feature representing the “arts-part” of the sustainability culture.
Responding to one of the most abundant natural energy systems in Wyoming, the Wsind-Thing Way is designed to be the gateway to the Garden Arts area and has been designed continually react to the natural wind systems of Wyoming. It will be an artful arrangement of kinetic objects, such as pinwheels and whirligig.
The children’s garden will feature a maze that leads to the Secret Garden — a hidden, walled garden in the northwest corner of the site. Sustainability was not the inspiration for this feature, instead, this garden is patterned after the book of the same name and has a child-sized entry. In order to make the garden more interactive, secret messages will be hidden in the garden for kids to find.