The Backyard Greenhouse Is Finally Getting Some Respect!
The backyard greenhouse is finally getting some respect. Avid gardeners, many of them retired baby boomers, are building greenhouses not just for gardening, but also for crafting, reading and lounging—in essence, a female version of the "man cave."
By day, they are sunny, private, plant-filled sanctuaries filled with the sound of classical music or NPR. By night, they are sparkling spaces for cocktails amid exotic foliage. Either way, they are worlds away from the rinky-dink eyesores that backyard greenhouses used to be, all flimsy plastic and wobbly poles.
"I love to go out there on a cold January day," says Alice Preyer, 56, whose greenhouse is built of heavy aluminum and tempered glass from an English-imported kit behind her 1930s brick home in Greensboro, N.C. "The sun is beating in, and it feels fabulous," she says.
Plants are almost an afterthought. Ms. Preyer's greenhouse is a home for her citrus trees and tall gardenia, but it also contains a comfy garden chair, tucked in a corner and reupholstered in a fern print. She displays her collection of antique water pitchers in the greenhouse and filled shelves by the entryway with garden books and magazines. Pots of blooming pink geraniums are arranged on wrought-iron shelves. "I'll go out there with my magazines, listen to music and make phone calls," Ms. Preyer says. "It is like a fairyland."
The latest addition to the backyard is sometimes a greenhouse. Families are finding it's more than a great way to grow plants, Anne Marie Chaker reports on Lunch Break. (Photo: Jay Paul for The Wall Street Journal) James Kirkpatrick, 61, recently added a 22-foot-long "Cape Cod" greenhouse to his property, also in Greensboro. It's mainly for his wife, Jane, 58. She envisioned year-round gardening, tea parties, flower-pressing and scrapbooking with her granddaughters amid African violets and orchids. "I'm just interested in a good-tasting tomato in January or February," Mr. Kirkpatrick says. "I hope she lets me in the door."
At International Greenhouse Co., a commercial and residential distributor in Danville, Ill., sales to homeowners are up about 30% from three years ago, while commercial sales have been "in the dumps," says business owner David George. Hartley Botanic Ltd., a British maker of Victorian-style greenhouses (average price, $65,000), pegs annual sales growth in the U.S. at about 15% for the past three years. Behind the growth is increasing "awareness about growing your own food and getting back to nature," says Johnny Mobasher, Hartley's U.K.-based managing director. Hartley's typical consumer is about 60, "fully retired, their mortgage is paid up, working a couple days a week and with a lot of disposable income," he says.
Brenda Plantz, 65, has been experimenting with different plant combinations in her "Victorian manor" greenhouse from Hartley, which she had built last July at her Charlottesville, Va., home. The cost, including electrical wiring, gas heating and plumbing installation, was about $80,000. Her San Marzano tomato plants, started from seed, are about a foot tall, and mesclun lettuces are ready to pick. She plans to start English cucumbers from seed soon. But more than a vegetable zone, Ms. Plantz's greenhouse is her playroom. "It's a huge sunny spot, and fun to go there in the wintertime, sit at the table and have a cup of tea," she says.
Greenhouses let in light and contain heat—meaning on a sunny, frigid day, temperatures inside can easily run 50 degrees higher than outside, says Shane Smith, author of the book "Greenhouse Gardener's Companion." In winter, that can be ideal for growing tropical plants, which thrive in temperatures in the 80- to 90-degree Fahrenheit range. But watch out in spring and summer, when interior temperatures can be unbearable for plants and humans, climbing up over 120 degrees. Crack open a few windows or run a fan so plants don't overheat. On winter nights, to protect plants from frostbite, it may be necessary to run a space heater.
Mold and mildew thrive in greenhouses with overwatered plants or inadequate ventilation. The fan or the heater will help, but running them also will add hundreds of dollars a year to the electric bill. "It's kind of like having a pet," Mr. Smith, the author, says. "If you disappear for four or five days, you can have problems."
Ms. Plantz appreciated the risks of ownership last August, when an earthquake rattled the East Coast a month after construction ended. "I looked over to the greenhouse and the very end pane moved," she says. "We were petrified that the whole thing would come crashing down." The structure remained standing.
When Dan Schwenker, 57, and his wife, Deb, 55, built their long-dreamed-of outdoor pool, Mr. Schwenker thought of a way to swim year-round. "An idea popped into my head—greenhouse," says the retired vice president of a Burlington, Iowa, construction company. "We usually go for a swim at night, after we get off work." Even in the dead of winter, he says, "you can just go out there, turn on the pool lights, see the blue water— it's just really nice."
From the Wall Street Journal http://www.wsj.com/articles/
By Anne Marie Chaker March 7, 2012