Monday, September 16, 2013

An Irish garden in Wyoming?

Jane and Mike Sullivan

PLEASE NOTE: I have revisited this garden in 2014: you can read a much more current update on this fabulous garden at "Wyoming-Iris Garden revisited" (just click on that phrase to go to the post)

I might have said an ENGLISH garden, but with a name like Sullivan, I might get in trouble saying that. Whatever style you may wish to call it, there is no question that the Sullivan garden in Casper, Wyoming, is wonderful any time of year--including at the end of a long hot summer. I first met Jane when she was serving actively as First Lady of Wyoming in the 1990's: she was on a mission to promote, preserve, promulgate and just plain appreciate the wildflowers of her native state. She organized many symposia and conferences to promote the awareness and cultivation of wildflowers along highways, and make Wyomingans (and visitors) realize the enormous value of the native floral bounty. She invited me to participate in several of these meetings--a highlight of my professional life.
Like all statesmen (and stateswomen!) Jane and Mike practice what they have preach: their garden is a bower of beauty. Notice the sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata) blooming behind them...the beginning of a theme!

View of the Sullivan garden towards the house

There is a greensward, and no end of treasures tucked around it...

Clematis vernayi
One of the first things I spotted when I came in the garden was this garland of clematis embracing a birdhouse: Tibetan clematis! I was amazed and delighted to find that they had a wonderful form of this subtle (and beautiful) clematis! You can imagine how thrilled I was moreover to find that some of the seed was very close to ripe (and they were generous enough to let me have a few heads of it)...

Closer up
I have admired this clematis on the coasts--and have been wanting to grow it: you can imagine how impressed I was to find such a good form: we don't have any forms of this (as far as I know) at Denver Botanic Gardens--and I certainly don't have any at home!

It has a superficial resemblance to the rather weedy Clematis orientalis that is so abundant in Clear Creek Canyon above Denver--as well as to the somewhat less weedy (but still rambunctious) Clematis tangutica that I used to grow. This one possesses all their charm and more, and is well behaved: a good quality in clematis as it is in children (and pets!)...There were numerous clematis throughout the garden...come to think of it, there is a correlation between the abundance of clematis and the quality of gardens in my book!

And roses galore!

Champion cottonwood at the back of the garden....
Nothing dazzles a plant nerd like myself more than "venerability" in plants--if you have an ancient specimen on your property, you have it made. In addition to all the art and gorgeous plants throughout their garden, the Sullivans have the largest Plains Cottonwood (Populus sargentii) in their City growing on their lot: a little like having a Rodin or Henry Moore sculpture--only alive!

Bark on the cottonwood
The incredibly thick and corrugated bark on the Cottonwood always delights me. What a treat to have this so near at hand!

A grotto with Virgin
Art in many manifestations appears tastefully throughout this garden (not to mention the gorgeous paintings in their home): Jane is manifestly an artist herself, the way she places and plants the art in the garden. What a lovely shady retreat from the hot Wyoming summer sun?

Closer view of a lovely piece of folk art

I don't usually associate fuchsias with Wyoming...

A few more pieces of garden art artfully displayed

Heptacodium miconioides in full bloom in a container!

The border was past full bloom, but full of texture
The garden featured the most wonderful edgings, walks and brick work---you can tell they spent time in Europe (Mike was the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland during the Clinton Administration--and Jane was busy there trying to restore an immense ten acre garden around the Ambassadorial residence: she has lots of good stories about that)...
A corner of the Garden cottage--with a xeriscape in front
You can see the clematis I was so impressed with on the wall--but here I am also highlighting the wonderful container and the ceramic decorative chain I thought was stunning (by a local artist)...

Obligatory skull motif (Georgia O'Keefe strikes again)
I couldn't resist adding this shot...

If you follow my blog you will have noticed that most of the gardens I have featured seem to contain a skull: I'm feeling terribly déclassé and am in search of an appropriate skull to add to mine! Even this elegant garden has room for a whopper of a cranium with horns!

Jane designed the hardscape and has put much of it in herself around the garden!
Is this not the most stunning way to accommodate drainage from your roof? Jane pointed out that she brings back many of these round stones from her trips around the world...

Granite slabs inset in the walk add contrast and interest...
A contractor had salvaged granite that had been discarded after a renovation at Wyoming's capitol--and it found a very appropriate home with this former Governor! For a Democrat to have been a popular Governor in Wyoming, you realize that Mike is a real statesman...I can think of several hundred Congressmen I would gleefully trade in for Mike and his ilk--alas, public service is less and less attractive to people of his temperament. If we were a wise electorate, we should settle for nothing less...
Gorgeous container plantings of course!

I was charmed by this rather simple but captivating fountain...

Art and plant perfectly combined...

Lombardy Poplar in the front yard...
Wonderfully balancing the giant cottonwood in the back yard, the Sullivans planted what they thought was a cottonwood in front: it has become a champion Lombardy in the interim (they were not pleased)...but I have always had a fondness for these sentinel poplars.

I had not seen the Sullivans in over a decade, so having some time with them this past weekend was a great pleasure for me. It takes a measure of charisma and charm for anyone to achieve success in public service as the Sullivans have in their day. But now returned to private life, they are even more lovable and admirable than ever! I hope they don't object my giving you a glimpse of the garden of two of my favorite Americans!.

Again,click on "Irish-American garden revisited" to see a more recent posting about the Sullifan's great gardn


  1. I love that brick/rock walkway...very cool!

  2. Hi Panayoti, The brick/rock walkway is indeed beautiful. I have found that moisture loving plants do much better where the down spout drains from a roof. I hope the Sullivans are utilizing the excess water to grow plants that would otherwise be difficult to grow in a typical Wyoming yard.

    I have been pondering your skull, or lack thereof, problem. I think I have found a solution. Since some of your best expeditions have been to South Africa, I think your garden needed an elephant skull. This would be impressive. Although, I think the Inupiaq in Barrow would still have you beaten.

    I did notice a lack of crevice garden plants in the Sullivan's rock work. Maybe you could send them some plants to thank them for letting you visit.



  3. I do find the Bowhead whale bones impressive, James, but a tad big for my garden (albeit it's a big garden!). Not to mention they are just a bit offensive to Coloradoans (like Swiss, we don't like jokes about our Navy!)..

    Another year shall not pass without my obtaining a skull--that's for sure--even if it's just a ground squirrel's!

    Your suggestion has struck home: next time I go to Casper I shall bring a trough filled with Wyoming treasures: believe me, those two are treasures too!

  4. Hi Panayoti, You are lucky to have a big garden. My garden is small. My rock garden is even smaller. When I mentioned to my neighbor that my son wanted to decorate for Halloween, she tried to give me a helpful suggestion. She said, "Your rock garden looks like a grave. All you need to do is put a headstone in front of it."

    This comment made me cringe. It reminded me of the following article.

    I specifically tried to avoid the 'grave' look. However, my neighbor’s criticism was apt. My rock garden should have been a minimum of four times larger. I obtained my stone for free and have been unable to locate a source that sells it.

    The local nurseries want 20 to 40 cent per pound for stone. For the amount of stone needed to make a minimally sized rock garden I could just about purchase a decent used car. Growing the plants is the cheap part. Purchasing the stone and transporting it is expensive. In my area cost is a big deterrent to many who might otherwise make rock gardening a hobby.


  5. Hi, I love the ceramic rain chain!
    How can I get one?
    Please contact me as I'm very interested in buying one. Thanks!
    Sara R. :-)

    1. I am still looking for this information as well!

  6. The ceramic rain chain was created in Casper by an artist who lives there. I don't have their name: I'll ask and see if I can get it (and their website) published here, Sara R.

    1. Oh, me too! Please. It's so original with a lot of natural beauty and function.

    2. Would love to know where I can purchase the rain chain! It's fabulous!

    3. I'd love to have a rain chain like yours. Did you ever find the artist name. I'd like to contact to see about purchasing one for my home. Thank you.

    4. Did we ever find out where we can purchase these rain chains?

    5. The rain chain shown was hand made ceramic by an artist in Wyoming: I don't have their contact information. They're not cheap. Sorry not to be of more help!

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  8. That pebble drainage path is so clever! I've been doing some paving in the front of my house, but I wanted to do something a bit more organic for the side and back by placing bricks and stone down without having to use cement. This is beautiful and functional. I'll be sure to try this :)

  9. Your walk is so beautiful! The Clematis is awesome. Jeff C. Davis

  10. Love #4 rock rain chain. Where are they available?

  11. Love #4 rock rain chain. Where are they available?

  12. Love the rain chain! Where are they available? Thanks!

  13. Has anyone found the rain chain? I have searched online and can only be redirected to this sight.

  14. Sorry for not responding to the two of you: the rain chain in Jane's garden was created by a local Casper artist: I would suggest contacting a local ceramicist in your area and seeing if they could make one like it for you. I don't have the name of her ceramicist...sorry!

  15. What did you put under the round stones at the end of your gutter pipe? I love this idea- Thank you!

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  17. I hope to see this garden in person and am trying to keep my calendar clear so I can go on the next Wyoming field trip!!


  18. Can you share contact info for your local artist that made the ceramic or stone rain chain?

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  23. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your Blog.Thanks for sharing this information,this is useful to us. Keep posting!

  24. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your Blog.Thanks for sharing this information,this is useful to us. Keep posting!

  25. Such an interesting article here.I was searching for something like that for quite a long time and at last I have found it here. Killmonger Vest

  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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