I am reluctant to have plants at the shop too early in the spring. As Rob has said, it takes mother nature a long time to make up her mind to commit to spring. I hate to see plants damaged by frost. We do have a green space of sorts where we can stash plants during inclement weather. I cherish that glass roof. It makes reference to the living and the breathing that is the heart and soul of a garden. Sun streams through the roof. We sawcut and removed the concrete floor adjacent to 3 of the walls. We planting creeping fig at the base of 2 of those concrete block walls 10 years ago. These green walls are lush and thick year round, and provide a green backdrop for the plants we house there year round.
Plants and water-we felt these two elements were an essential element of any garden shop. We tore the midsection of the roof off the building in this room. It sat exposed to the weather for 3 months, until we found an old used Lord and Burnham greenhouse for sale. I remember watching rain falling inside that room. The floor was greasy and slick from years of cutting oil that lubricated the machines bolted in place. The rain puddled on the floor, until we shotblasted that surface clean. A steel storage tank that held waste oil was pumped out, and filled with sand. A built-in concrete wall fountain designed after a French original sits on top of that old tank. Eventually we set the peaked roof and hip of that greenhouse on top of the existing flat roof. The room was flooded with light. The exposed steel H-beam is a strong visual reminder of the industrial history of the building. The glass roof still has the original old chains that open the vents. I would not call this a conservatory-that would be laughably overblown, and altogether missing the point. It is an old factory room repurposed such that we can shelter plants.
I am sure I have talked before about the purchase and reclamation of this building. A good portion of it was built in the 1920’s-the rest in the 1940’s. But that protected green space is much on my mind now, given the weather. I have been uneasy about the unusually early warm weather-uneasy enough to be sure I had a giant roll of floating frost cover on hand. A frost warming last night, and a freeze warning for tonight makes me glad I have it. Yesterday afternoon we brought almost all of our plants indoors in anticipation of a threat of frost last night. The glass house is stuffed with plants-hellebores, primulas, rosemary, ivy, myrtle topiaries and so on. Ordering in plants in the spring can be dicey; that room has my back right now. Most of our pansies are still outside, under steel plant tables covered in several layers of row cover. All of the espaliers are under cover, in the garage.
None of the plants in that space are rare but for our Wollemi Pine. It is a small start of the rarest of all trees. Only one stand of about 50 trees in some undisclosed location in Australia is known to exist. I bought a seedling propagated from an original tree from the Brooklyn Botanic garden 8 years ago. The sale of these seedling trees goes towards protecting the habitat of the original trees. I like that it lives and thrives in our glass house. The other plants we have you might well expect to see for spring, or perhaps they are unusual in commerce. But what really makes them different is that they are very well grown, or in large sizes as in a 25 tear old lemon tree. Or that we created a space so we could properly look after them in stormy weather. We will haul our usual standard spring plants in and out as often as we have to, until the night temperatures are reliably friendly.
In the same vein, there is nothing about this standard issue old concrete and steel factory that is of any particular architectural interest. The renovation and repurposing of an old building-our own showstring version of urban renewal-isn’t particularly newsworthy either. Lots of people do this. But standing in that glass house this very cold March morning, I felt such relief that we were at least able to protect some of our plants. I cannot do a thing about my Galaxy magnolia in full bloom which will possibly be subjected to 25 degrees tonight. If every flower freezes and falls tonight, there will be the ordinary heartbreak that is part and parcel of a gardening life. But I could hardly sleep last night, worrying that gardeners in the northeast are facing much more seriously damaging low temperatures overnight tonight than I. Godspeed, all of you.