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.
An amateur can readily dispense with most tools rather than with a greenhouse. If his taste for growing things is catholic, it becomes a necessity; and if he collects only so-called "hardy*' plants, it is scarcely less a most valuable adjunct to his garden. With a winter of practically seven months, a man without shelter for plants misses more than half his pleasure in seeing things grow. I say "a man" advisedly; a woman, somehow, being able to grow plants to perfection in living-rooms under adverse circumstances. A greenhouse is nothing more than a tool to a gardener, and it is difficult to see why greenhouses should be placed so prominently in gardens, and often made so pretentious. They would mostly be improved by a coat of dark-green paint, which would help to eliminate them from the landscape; or, if near the house, they might be of some colour which would make them as inconspicuous as possible.
Having satisfied oneself as to the need of a house, the ways and means are in order. Here, as in most garden matters, the cost is on a sliding scale which bears no relation to the pleasure to be derived. One can spend several hundred dollars on a small house, or, if he is handy with tools, can, by using sash, cover as much space as one would care to look after at an expense for materials of fifty to seventy-five dollars. A good hot-water apparatus with two-inch pipes should cost as much more. This will cost nothing to place, if pipes are bought cut to right lengths.
There are makeshifts for heating, but for a small house or a large one there is nothing as satisfactory, to my mind, as hot-water circulation from a self-feeding heater. These heaters need no attention oftener than twice daily. One does not care to be tied up to a fad, and a greenhouse so heated can be left to the care of almost any one. I have heated a house fifteen by eighteen feet for about ten years with such a stove with an average of less than twenty-five pounds of coal per day.
In a greenhouse, as with other things, it is not what you put in, but what you get out of it, that counts. The "cropper" finds his fun in practical results, while another has just as much fun in letting things grow and seeing visions without tangible results; while another man, who should be an entomologist, persecutes bugs to his joy. (There are insects to be found in a greenhouse sometimes.)
There are some advantages and some disadvantages in attaching a greenhouse to a dwelling, but the man who likes his fling and wants a workhouse had better have it at a little distance, where his ideas of order will not receive critical attention. In this case he will be doing about the best for his comfort if the house is only shortly distant from the dwelling, when the heater may be placed in the cellar, to the saving of room, and the saving of comfort on stormy nights.
Do not get hot yourself when told that "you should see Mr. Brown's flowers," when you know they are chickweed as compared with yours.
An ideal worth striving for - to own such a place and share It with others.
The feathery grace of palms, the rugged strength of sword-like pandanus leaves, the greenery of ferns and hanging baskets the rich form and colouring of certain begonias.