This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
IT IS in the dead of winter that the greenhouse is at its best, for then is the contrast of life and death the greatest. Just beyond the living tender leaf - separated only by the slender film of the pane - is the whiteness and silence of the midwinter. You stand under the arching roof and look away into the bare, blue depths where only stars hang their cold, faint lights. The bald outlines of an overhanging tree are projected against the sky with the sharpness of the figures of cut glass. Branches creak and snap as they move stiffly in the wind. White drifts show against the panes. Icicles glisten from the gutters. Bits of ice are hurled from trees and cornice, and they crinkle and tinkle over the frozen snow. In the short, sharp days the fences protrude from a waste of drift and riffle, and the dead fretwork of weed-stems suggests a long-lost summer. There, a finger's-breadth away, the temperature is far below zero; here is the warmth and snugness of a nook of summer.
This is the transcendent merit of a greenhouse - the sense of mastery over the forces of nature. It is an oasis in one's life as well as in the winter. You have dominion.
But this dominion does not stop with the mere satisfaction of a consciousness of power. These tender things, with all their living processes in root, and stem, and leaf, are dependent wholly on you for their very existence. One minute of carelessness or neglect and all their loveliness collapses in the blackness of death. How often have we seen the farmer pay a visit to the stable at bedtime to see that the animals are snug and warm for the night, stroking each confiding face as it raised at his approach! And how often have we seen the same affectionate care of the gardener, who stroked his plants and tenderly turned and shifted the pots, when the night wind hurled the frost against the panes! It is worth the while to have a place for the affection of things that are not human.
Did my reader ever care for a greenhouse in a northern winter? Has he smelled the warm, moist earth when the windows are covered with frost? Has he watched the tiny sprout grow and unfold into leaf and flower? Has he thrust a fragment of the luxuriance of August into the very teeth of winter? Then he knows the joy of a conquest that makes a man stronger and tenderer.
Here is the warmth and snugness of a nook of summer.
Greenhouses are of many kinds. There is one kind of the commercial plantsman, and another of the man of means whose conservatory is essential to the architectural completeness of his mansion. Of these we need not speak here, for their necessity is long ago established. But for another kind we wish to plead - for the quiet, unobtrusive greenhouse as an adjunct to a modest home.
The object of this simple winter garden need not be the mere growing of flowers, although these may be had without trouble. It is worth the while to grow a plant just because it is a plant and because we are human beings.
The fences protrude from a waste of drift and riffle, and the dead fretwork of weed-stems suggests a long-lost summer.
The best plant is the one that has the deepest significance to you, even though it never make a flower. I know a man who has hundreds of plants in expensive greenhouses, and the best plant of all is a little white clover that closes its leaves by night and opens them by day.
Against the background of winter every green and growing plant is emphatic Against the luxuriant background of summer a plant twice as good may be overlooked and lost. The simplest and easiest things are best, for it is not well to make the uncommon things too common. A dainty rarity is all the better because it is seen in contrast with the homespun of the geranium and begonia; and the common things perpetuate the continuities and purposiveness of our lives.
A snug little greenhouse where green things grow and flowers bloom In the very teeth of a northern winter.
Like all effort that is worth the while, the labour of growing plants under glass requires watchful care. This care is its own reward. Many plants, however, are easy to grow, and with these the novice should begin; and with them, also, the very busy-man should be content. All of us can grow bulbs. We can lift the roots of petunias and alyssum from the garden when the frost comes. We can start the seeds of many annuals in late summer. We can make cuttings of begonias and coleus and a score of common things. Here and there we can pick up something new. Gradually we add to our store; and in three years' time our winter garden, small or large, becomes a unique collection of old-time friends and of new-time rarities.
It Is pleasant to grow one's own carnations.