January 25th 2017  Shawnee News Star Blog Becky Emerson Carlberg My lush citrus trees whose ancestors had lived in Southeast Asia or even possibly Australia loved life this past growing season and the two competed to see which one could be the biggest.   They were both proud of themselves that they had become too tall and [...]

January 25th 2017  Shawnee News Star Blog

My Orangery

Becky Emerson Carlberg

My lush citrus trees whose ancestors had lived in Southeast Asia or even possibly Australia loved life this past growing season and the two competed to see which one could be the biggest.   They were both proud of themselves that they had become too tall and round to easily enter through the front door and roll into the sunporch.   The tropical hibiscus had been under the impression it was living outdoors back home in Malaysia or Hawaii.  What to do with three large not cold-hardy trees.  Greenhouse?   Conservatory?   Orangery?

Historically, greenhouses have been around in one shape or other for hundreds of years.   Heating the glasshouse was a persistent problem.   In the 1600's furnaces were put inside, but the fumes often killed or damaged the plants.   Hot air flues became popular in the 1700's.   The coal-fueled stoves sat behind fire walls fitted with heating ducts, but had to be constantly tended.   Soot and debris collected and the glasshouses became fire traps.   Pineapple growers had discovered another option in the early 1700s.   Pineapples needed heat year round and some clever duds created the tan pit.   This was a large cold frame lined with pebbles on the bottom, followed by a layer of manure, probably horse, and a top layer of Tanner's bark into which the pots of pineapples were placed.   Tanner's bark was oak bark soaked in water used in the tanning process.   The Tanner's bark slowly fermented, producing a steady 80 degree heat for 2 months or more if stirred.   Using only manure caused much higher temperatures and it cooled down more rapidly.

At Mount Vernon, George Washington had his orangery constructed in the 1780's.   It had below-ground flues. In his glass conservatory he had grown a Malayan Palm tree (Cocos nucifera) from seed. Malayan palms are coconut palms and palm seeds"coconuts"are the largest seeds in the world.  The orangery was a warm room that not only sheltered George's tropical plants, but people could enjoy their fruits and flowers throughout the winter.   In 1835, President Jackson had an orangery built at the White House to rescue George's tree.  Washington's orangery had burned to the ground, but the palm had been saved.   It was later taken to the White House. The palm lived until 1867 when the White House orangery caught fire.  Had to be fate.

In the fall we investigated greenhouses.   Small or large?   U-Haul had an 8'x 16' greenhouse on display, constructed of a wrap-around four foot high red cedar base topped by single polycarbonate sheets that formed the sides and pitched roof.   The front had a wooden Dutch door with an openable top section. The solid structure was made in Mansfield, Arkansas by Yoderbuilt.  Another smaller greenhouse was parked across from the Shawnee Feed Center, our birdseed supplier.   This greenhouse was built by Big Creek Nursery out of Stillwater. It was a metal and wood framework covered in double polycarbonate sheets along the sides and pitched roof.   The metal storm door top section could also open.   Did they have an 8'x 16'?   Yes, they could build and deliver. Soon a greenhouse was bolted down to the garage concrete pad.   It was a pricey way to deal with overgrown wimpy fragile plants, and that was just the beginning.

The polycarbonate house had a built-in fan mounted in the front that required electricity and louvered metal plates in the back that automatically opened, without power, as the temperature climbed to very warm inside. The house needed to be wired for air movement, heat and light.   An electrician was called and the house was energized.   With three outlets along the side and the dedicated plug for the fan and light in front, the greenhouse was almost in business.

Inside the Orangery the Hibiscus Blooms in front of the Citrus Trees

When the meteorologist announced frost was on the horizon, it was time to bring the plants into their new digs.   The heavy bulky trees squeezed through the greenhouse door and were placed in the northern area.   The weighty hibiscus faced south.   I wanted to save the green pepper as the plant was still covered in small fruits, so the Earth Box (obviously made of lead) was also wheeled in followed by the ferns, ornamental peppers, poinsettias, the Plumerias, pineapples, marigolds, and other plants.

What to do for a heating source?   Out rolled the oil heaters that usually resided in the back bathroom and dining room.   I set up two thermometers and thus began the fun and games of attempting to maintain a constant heat in the new conservatory.   Everything was fine until the temperature plummeted to nearly zero degrees.   Those poor heaters were pumping out every bit of heat they could.   The greenhouse temperature dropped to the low forty degree mark, but the plants took it all in stride.

The outside temperatures continue to see-saw up and down. The temperature has reached 60 degrees at least 10 times in January. January!   I am not going to think about July.   High record breaking temps, low record breaking temps, heat on, heat off, water, don't water, it has been a challenge.   It was time for the citrus trees to launch into a blooming episode.   They were now, after all, safe and secure. Whenever one entered the greenhouse, they would be greeted by the beautiful scent of lemon flowers.   You know, like what Linda's well-behaved trees are doing.

Instead, my trees think they have just experienced the shortest winter ever and are looking at the greenhouse as the new spring venue.   They are producing branches and leaves with relative abandon.   So far the two have been pruned back four times, and yet they still keep putting out new growth, not flowers, darn it.

So, don't forget Gertrude Jekyll's words in 'The Patient Gardener':   For the love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies, but always grows and grows to an enduring and ever-increasing source of happiness.