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Welcome to My Greenhouse

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I was driving from Columbus one afternoon when a call came over my cellphone from Bill, who happened to be peddling Bird Watcher's Digest's wares at a home and garden show in Chicago. "Zick, do you want a greenhouse?"
"You know I've ALWAYS wanted a greenhouse."
"There are some guys packing up a prototype called a Garden Pod and they told me they'd give it to me half-price and ship it free if I'd take it off their hands. Do you want it?"
"Absolutely." No hesitation there. Bring it on.
And thus was one of the world's greatest birthday presents given. I think that was 2002. Man, I have had some fun with this little greenhouse. It's not much larger than your average phone booth--9' round--but it is packed with the most wonderful plants, plants I cannot live without. It's my own personal Florida vacation.
This view shows a couple of neat plants from Africa. The cascading one at far left is Abutilon megapotamicum, a member of the hibiscus family. I love its little pendant red and yellow bells. It's one of the most floriferous plants I know. The shrubby one just to the right, with small round pink flowers, is another hibiscus clan member--a mallow called Anisodonta capensis. I saw it in a planter at a restaurant in Amish country several years ago, and flipped over it. I filched a couple of little cuttings and prayed they'd root, because I'd never seen this plant before. It's like a tiny hollyhock, and it makes a nice full shrub spangled with pink all summer long in the garden.

This perennial snapdragon was my Plant of the Year three years ago. It's terrific for hanging baskets and rock gardens, being gray-green, wooly, and trailing. Besides that, it's fragrant. What more could you want in a plant?

You'll notice that everything is just blooming its head off. Secret? Feed Peter's Plant Food half strength each and every time you water. That's what the professional growers do. I do the same for my orchids, with their special food. Same trick keeps hanging baskets flowering hard all season long. You've got to nourish them each time you water or they'll peter out. I don't know why Peter's works so much better for me than other brands, but I'm not questioning it.
Bougainvillea "Raspberry Ice" (top left) has brought me a smile all winter long. It sat around on the front porch moping through July, August, and the rest of the fall, then burst into bloom inside the greenhouse in January and has just kept going. I'll be curious to see if the Ohio summer is hot enough for it. This baby likes it hot. I think I'll put the pots against the east side of the house near the front door and see if the reflected heat off the house is enough to keep it blooming all summer.
This heliotrope is coming into its third season with me. A lot of these tropicals are very long-lived and durable plants--it's a shame to let the frost get them. The Garden Pod is all about cheating winter (and saving lots and lots of money on fancy hanging baskets and planters come spring). And it smells like Paradise. The next couple of weeks will be a frantic pastiche of bird festival travel, talks, weeding and planting, and stuffing all this wonderful herbiage into planters, pots, and hanging baskets. I've got to get it all moved outside before May 2. It gets so darn hot in that greenhouse in spring that, after a winter of tenderly bringing them to their fullest beauty, I risk cooking everyone should I forget to open it in the morning. I have to keep a screen over the door because it's a magnet to hummingbirds. They come in and can't figure out how to get out--their instinct tells them to fly up when they're confused or frightened. But there's an exhaust fan up there that will make hummer hash of them. And so I never leave the door unscreened for so much as a second.I'd love to think this is Bela, one of the hummingbirds I raised. He's hanging by the front door like Bela always did.

Speaking of things getting in--there's a titmouse stuck in the garage right now, and a !@##$$#% chipmunk in the house. Chet was chasing him through the front flower beds as I was coming out the side door with a load of laundry to hang out. Before I could say what the heck?? he had chased that durn munk right into the basement. We opened all the basement doors, but asking a chipmunk to leave a nice dark basement for blindingly bright sunlight outside is asking too much. He didn't even take the trail of honey-roasted peanuts we laid out from his lair under the stairs to the door. For the last two days he's been in my studio! chittering at me from under a large chest whenever I make a sudden move. He chittered from under the fridge this morning. I've left him food and water, and set a livetrap for him with peanut butter and peanuts and seed. No interest so far. Durn dog.
Growing up to be such a handsome little man-dog. I hardly recognize him, he looks so filled out and stately. He knows the words "chipmunk," "deer," "cat," "bunny," "Daddy," "The Loop," "hungry," "breakfast," and "your own bed," as well as all our names.


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