The Return of the Greenhouse
Unlike most Hollywood sequels, the sequel to our first greenhouse is far superior to the first one, which would have rated 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
First a quick review of version 1 of our greenhouse. In the summer of 2006, we purchased the deluxe greenhouse kit from Harbor Freight. It turned out to be one of the items you shouldn’t purchase from them. With the help of friends, we built it over a couple of weekends.
During the winter of 2006-2007, we had several windstorms that repeatedly blew out the plastic windows. Most of them I found, but some went missing, probably floating downstream in Williams Creek.
So in 2007 I ordered replacement parts, and rebuilt it, and this time in addition to the clips they provide, I caulked the windows in.
But the next winter, during a particularly nasty storm, our yard was flooded and the high winds completely destroyed the greenhouse, turning a $500 kit into $9 of scrap aluminum.
When my mom passed away in 2017, one of our big priorities for spending our inheritance was to build a flower bed along the back of the yard to provide some relief from the constant flooding. I wanted to incorporate a greenhouse as well, to provide a place to propagate plants, and grow plants like tomatoes and passion fruit that need more warmth than what our coastal climate provides.
I started looking around for Victorian style greenhouses, and loved the Jr. Victorian Antique Orangerie I found on Ebay. I decided to not purchase such an expensive item off of Ebay and looked for retailers, and found Gothic Arch Greenhouses. While talking to them, we decided to go with the bigger model, the Royal Victorian Orangerie Greenhouse, which measures, 12′ x 15′. After seeing how quickly the space fills up, I’m glad we went with the bigger model seeing as it was only $1000 more.
We purchased the kit in July of 2006, but had to wait for a couple of things before we could install it. First, I didn’t want to be building it while we were also working on the sunroom. That project took forever, and will be subject of a very long post if the dust ever settles from it. Secondly, I needed to build the planter and foundation for the greenhouse and that took some time, especially after having to take a break during one of our long, wet winters.
Miller Farms set the foundation for the concrete blocks and built the back wall out of cinderblocks that are cemented together for extra strength. For the front wall that is seen from the yard, we used Basalite Brisa blocks. I wanted something that would give the appearance of stacked stone walls.
In early May of 2019, I finally finished building the planters and pony wall for the greenhouse and work on the erecting the greenhouse began. I say erecting, because it totally reminded me of the Erector set I had as a kid. Who knew that was early training for home improvement projects?
The frame went up pretty easily by myself, unlike the Harbor Freight version that required four hands. Only the installation of the major roof beam required Lori’s help. The directions, while better than the Harbor Freight instructions, still could have been better. The biggest problem is that Jansen, the manufacture, uses the same directions for several different models, and they only have drawings, no text. There was also a DVD video that provided the basics, but it too was not model specific. So sometimes I had to guess what they wanted me to do for my particular model. Fortunately, they have a distributor in the US who is available to answer questions and send missing parts. I did have one part that was missing, and a couple of other parts that they didn’t provide enough of, and all were sent out and received quickly.
Once the frame was put together, it was time to install the glass. They recommend this as a two person job, but I got impatient waiting for a calm wind day that Lori was home so I started installing it by myself. One thing that made the assembly harder, was the instructions showed an old model where the glass panels were bigger. The newer one has narrower glass panels, which not only makes the frame stronger, but it’s a lot easier handling that size of glass. I had a couple of close calls where I almost dropped a couple of roof panels as I was trying to hold everything that needed to be moved to insert them, but I managed to get everything in without any breakage. I found at the end I even had glass left over, as they apparently include extra in case you didn’t order the roof vents.
So speaking of ventilation, the kit I ordered has three roof vents that open automatically, and two side louvered windows. They include auto openers for the louvered windows, but the installation of them seemed complicated and I decided it would be nice to have some windows manually controlled.
With the glass installed, it was time to work on the inside. I ran plumbing and electrical into the building, and then built two tables into the wings. I used 2″ x 2″ cedar spaced so water will drain down to the gravel floor. The left side holds my seed trays, with storage for soil and pots and buckets underneath, the right side has my 1 gallon pots, for plants being propagated like roses, rock rose shrubs, and boxwood, as well as seedlings that have been moved to bigger pots.
I also have two tomato plants growing, and I’m looking forward to tasting those later this summer. It’s amazing how much difference the greenhouse is making for growth rates. I started a bunch of lupines indoors in early spring, and then moved some directly to the beds, and the rest into the greenhouse. The cats immediately destroyed a bunch in the beds, but those that remain are about half the size of the ones in the greenhouse after just a few weeks of being there.
I still have a big learning curve when it comes to growing things from seed. We had an unusual heat wave in Ferndale where temps got into the 80s for two days (60 is normal for this time of year) and a lot of my seedlings expired from the stress even though I watered both days and had the vents open. The greenhouse comes with a misting system, but I hadn’t hooked it up yet, thinking it wasn’t a priority for our climate. It also has an option for curtains, but again I didn’t think we would need them in Ferndale. Next time we have a heat wave like that I’ll move the seedlings to the floor under the tables to give them some shade.
There are a couple more things I want to do inside, add some shelves and a hard work surface on the back wall, but already it has made such a difference to our garden and lifestyle. With our often drippy weather, it will be nice having a dry outdoor place to hang out when it’s wet outside. We placed our last remaining wicker furniture inside, and I’m sure Lori will be hosting Victorian tea parties inside as soon as she replaces the worn cushion upholstery.
With the completion of the greenhouse, our backyard transformation is nearly complete, and it’s hard to believe what it looked like just two years ago. My only wish is that my mom, who made this all possible, had been able to see how much joy her gift provided us.