- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Jody Glazier of Northwest experiences springtime in the dead of winter. When snow is falling outside, she can watch it from the warmth of her greenhouse. In preparation for cold weather, Mrs. Glazier moved her plants from her back yard to the indoors when frost started to creep across the ground this fall. She renovated the upper-story porch on her home specifically for this purpose. Previously, she had been scattering the plants throughout her house during the winter months.
"The greenhouse gets the plants out of the living room and dining room area where there's not enough light for them," she says. "It gives you a place where you can keep your plants and work on them during the wintertime when the growing season is finished."
Greenhouses come in various styles and can be equipped with many modern conveniences. While the structures are used to house plants and flowers, they also can serve as private sanctuaries bathed in sunlight. For most owners, the rooms are garden retreats from everyday noise and stress, especially during the winter.
Developing a proper climatic environment is an important consideration when designing any greenhouse, says Skip Maginniss, vice president of BMK Architects in Alexandria. Mr. Maginniss, who assisted in creating Mrs. Glazier's greenhouse, says he aimed to make the room cool in summer and warm in winter.
Therefore, he built a wooden trellis on the top of the greenhouse to provide shade in the summer, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Because the sun is lower in the winter, its rays come through the trellis without a problem. Mr. Maginniss equipped the greenhouse with other methods of cooling as well, such as exhaust fans and sliding windows to let in fresh air. The room also has a small sink for watering the plants and flowers.
Aside from the climate of the greenhouse, Mr. Maginniss considered how the structure could visually expand Mrs. Glazier's home. Because the entire room has clear glass windows, she would be able to stand in her living room and enjoy the natural elements in her greenhouse and beyond it. To make sure the plants wouldn't block the view of the front yard, Mr. Maginniss designed low windowsills. Many of the plants sit on the ledge below the sills, leaving adequate space to see through the windows.
"It's a desirable and comfortable thing to have contact with the outdoors," Mr. Maginniss says. "In the middle of the winter, when you're removing the humidity from your home, you can open the doors from the greenhouse for a short period of time and replace the natural humidity."
Building a greenhouse directly attached to a home is not the only option for people interested in creating an indoor garden, says Janice Hale, editor of Hobby Greenhouse magazine (www.hobbygreenhouse.org), which is sponsored by the Hobby Greenhouse Association in Bedford, Mass. The rooms also can be designed as free-standing or lean-to structures. Mrs. Hale owns a lean-to, which her husband and son assembled from a kit in a few weeks.
"If it's a small greenhouse, have a few neighbors or relatives come over, and you can assemble it," she says. "We always tell people to put up the biggest greenhouse they can afford or put on their lot."
Before erecting the lean-to greenhouse, Mrs. Hale checked the zoning laws in her area to see if she needed a special permit for the project. Zoning regulations vary depending on the county. After she confirmed that she didn't need a permit, her husband and son created a concrete and wooden foundation for the structure so the cold weather wouldn't crack the frame. She bought pressure-treated lumber that wouldn't rot when exposed to water.
Then her son and husband positioned the long side of her greenhouse in the best place possible in their back yard, which is west. For optimum sun exposure, however, she recommends building greenhouses with the longest side facing south. This wasn't possible in Mrs. Hale's case because the only place she could construct a lean-to greenhouse on her lot was against the back of the house.
Mrs. Hale chose polycarbonate walls for the room instead of glass, and she is pleased with her choice. She suggests the material to others because of its durable nature. She says glass would lose heat too easily during the winter, even with an electric heater. As a final precaution, she recommends installing a temperature alarm system, which she has found helpful. She also suggests adding supplemental fluorescent lighting as a way to keep the room bright if sun exposure is inadequate.
Making sure the utility line for the electricity is connected to a ground fault interrupter circuit is another important factor for every greenhouse, Mrs. Hale says. This device immediately cuts off the power if there is a short. Otherwise, it would be easy to be shocked when watering plants.
"Depending on what level of sophistication you want to go [to], you can make it as high-class as you want," she says. "Some people like to go out there with a watering can or a hose. If you have a busy life, you can certainly automate it. Greenhouses are supposed to be fun. They are not supposed to be work."
However, with every flower or plant, there is a bug that wants to devour it, says Yvonne Procuniar of Bellbrook, Ohio. During the first year she ran her greenhouse, she noticed many critters, including aphids, especially on her roses.
She attacked the bugs by spraying them with insecticidal soap. She also used pyrethrins, which are natural insecticides made from certain species of chrysanthemum plants. She cautions against using harsh chemicals in an enclosed space.
"You have to keep your plants very healthy," she says. "The first sight of an insect, you have to treat it immediately. The most stressed-out plants get the most bugs. If something is terribly infected, it has to leave the greenhouse."
Albert Huntington of San Jose, Calif., says he enjoys growing carnivorous plants in his greenhouse, such as Venus' flytrap, which like to eat bugs. His free-standing structure covers about 150 square feet and has about 600 plants. He installed a drip irrigation system, which has a tube that runs into each pot. It sprinkles water by drips to the plants.
Mr. Huntington also uses a ventilation system called an evaporative or "swamp" cooler in his greenhouse. The process drips water through semiporous pads of wood. Then it blows air through the wood, which causes the water to evaporate. That increases the humidity of the air and lowers the temperature when necessary.
If he needs to decrease the temperature even more, he covers the greenhouse with a shade cloth so the plants won't burn. During the colder months, if the sunlight doesn't provide enough warmth, he uses a natural gas heater.
"It's a very nice place to go, especially in the winter," he says. "It seems tropical. It allows me to grow a lot of plants and have flowers in my house all year."

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