Greenhouses Are Havens For Greenthumbs

Greenhouses Are Havens For Greenthumbs

At her Springfield home, the backyard temperature-controlled greenhouse is a sanctuary for Casandra Dickenson, who is also the Burke Nursery greenhouse manager.

In the winter, the greenhouse was a tropical haven. In the summer, a shady, indoor spot where she could sit among her orchids. It became the gathering spot when guests came over.

"That's when I enjoyed it the most," Dickenson said. "It became everyone's hang out when they came over."

A backyard greenhouse is ideal for the plant lover but requires attention. Dickenson's 15-by-12-foot greenhouse was full of meters and humidity control devices requiring a knowledge of the plants.

"I know all about it," she said. "It's extreme devotion. They [orchids] grow on bark, not soil. Bark has to be totally replaced after they bloom. I always recommend a basic learning book."

One winter, an ice storm came and the electrical system malfunctioned.

"First, I started growing orchids and African violets until the system shut down and everything died," Dickenson said.

SINCE THEN, Dickenson moved to Manassas, to a house on two acres. There, she's able to garden in the classic sense, with shovels and hoes, which is different then the greenhouse work. That type of gardening is her passion, she said. When winter comes, all the outdoor plants die and Dickenson longs for the greenhouse.

"I always hint to my husband that I'd like a little one," she said.

Over at Sunglo East Solar Greenhouses in McLean, backyard greenhouses range from $2,000 to $15,000. An 8x10 foot greenhouse is the average size.

"A greenhouse is a dream realized for the gardener," said manager Maryclaire Ramsey. "We are finding a trend this year in larger greenhouses."

Sunglo's greenhouses are cooled with a fan shutter system in the summer and heated by electric or propane gas in the winter. Then there are greenhouses that aren't temperature controlled but do provide shelter from the elements. At Smith & Hawkin, Katherine Marusin has five varieties of greenhouses. Some are collapsible.

"Really there's one for everybody. They range from $12 to $12,000. Sometimes people look at it like their own personal oasis," Marusin said. She added that a greenhouse without temperature controlled devices are subject to weather.

"How do you keep it warm? You don't. The problem with a heater, it will dry it out," she said.

SOME OF MARUSIN'S exotic plants, perfect for greenhouses, include the maidenhair fern, bromeliads, and the brassia orchid from Central America, or the Lady's Slipper orchid from Asia. Most are brought indoors when the winter arrives. Some of her greenhouse customers start as plant enthusiasts and end up collecting too many plants.

"Any plant that would require high humidity and light would be perfect for a greenhouse," she said.

Some of the fruits that Marusin has seen grown in greenhouses include orange trees, bananas, limes and olive trees. But she noted the difference with growing plants in a greenhouse. It's not like the backyard garden bed.

"Gardening and greenhouse growing are very different," she said.

In communities with a homeowners association, the rules may limit greenhouses. Dickenson has noticed the way the rules limit structures in the backyard.

"There's so many architectural and zoning laws in this area," she said.

Sunglo sells greenhouses all over the country and knows the associations sometimes forbid them.

"The homeowner needs to look into it," Ramsey said.