This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
During this and previous Winters, several small Green Houses excited my interest, and I have made a "note on it, " which is here given for the benefit of those who feel a similar interest with myself.
They are all heated with anthracite coal, by stoves. The smallest is eighteen feet long, and nine feet wide. The highest part at the back of the lean-to is seven feet seven inches; from the ground to the roof, in front is three feet. The floor is dug down two and a half feet. An excavation deeper than the floor is made for the stove, which is set near the front, but not quite in the centre of the line east and west. A glazed terra-cotta pipe runs from a short galvanized pipe attached to the stove, about three-fourths of the length of the building, under a wide shelf at the front, then crosses the eastern end of the house, (the house faces south) and runs up the northeast corner nearly to the roof, and then passes outside, where it rises three or four feet. The top is closed, but several apertures beneath allow the egress of the smoke. There are four elbows to the pipe, the last one resting on a wooden bracket out-side of the house, where it is held securely by strong wires. A wide table runs along the front of this house.
A narrow pathway intervenes between this and the stage of four steps which fills all the rest of the house, except the pathway between the two stages which runs from the main path to the door; that opens three-fourths of the way from the east end, and is placed in the north wall. From the door we step into a narrow passageway, or shed, lighted by a window in the east end, and leave it by a door in the west end. This passage protects the house at the north, and prevents a draft of cold air when the door is opened. Three flat wooden shutters on top allow of ventilation. The glass in front is also set on hinges, and permits of more or less ventilation.
When the sun becomes too powerful, panes made of lath are laid over the roof, and are left there all Summer to protect it from hail. They make a subdued light and prevent the trouble of white-washing the glass.
The whole cost of this house was almost exactly $100.00; the lath-work for the roof costing an extra $4.50. It has been used nearly two Winters. The owners have had no trouble this Winter, with gas, since substituting the terracotta pipe for an ordinary sheet iron one, which in the previous Winter rusted into holes and allowed the gas to escape, and do some slight damage. This house is exposed to all the north blasts; but so far no flowers have been lost by cold. The stove is attended once in twenty-four hours, and consumes about one ton of coal in a season. It is a self-feeder, but is never filled up high enough to require the feeder.
Another house about eleven feet wide, and sixteen feet long, (we could not get the exact dimensions) faces the east, and is built up against a high back building facing west. The stove stands in the middle of a square left in the centre. The pipe to this is galvanized, and goes up straight through the roof where it is held in position by wires fastened to the wall. During high winds gas has sometimes been thrown back into this greenhouse; but no serious disaster occurred till this Winter, when a varnish which had been applied to the outside of the pipe had, unknown to the owners, found entrance, and with stringy festoons had formed a barricade, which on one dark night, sent out such a volume of gas, as nearly stripped every leaf, from every plant in the house. Some few plants were entirely killed. The only ones escaping injury were Amaryllis, and peristrophe angustifolia, which with its gay yellow and green leaves, and bright rosy-purple flowers, seemed almost too jubilant amidst the general desolation. We had seen the whole place a short time before in a blaze of beauty. The contrast was sombre. The stately Callas in bud and flower, and shorn of their leaves, looked like dignified poverty.
This house has a high shelf at the back, running the full length of the house, and near enough to the roof to allow only plants of moderate height to be accommodated. This shelf held some earth, or tan on which the pots were set. Kenilworth Ivy and Tradescantia zebrina were planted along the edge and fell in lovely green drapery nearly to a second shelf below, where ferns and other shade loving plants were kept. The under shelf extended front as far as the door, which was in the north end, and across the south end, meeting a shelf which extended the whole length of the front, and around again to the door. Hanging baskets were suspended to the roof, and wall-pots to the north wall. The peristrophe filled one of these and trailed down the side, making gayety amid the gloom, and assisted somewhat by a stately Cyclamen in another wall pot, the flowers of which remained uninjured, while a few leaves had been burned up completely. The floor of this house was perhaps eight or ten inches below the surface of the yard.
Another house of much less pretensions, was made of rough boards up to the height of the window, which were of old window frames fastened together, as was the roof and east end, the house facing south. The west end was partly formed by a fence and partly by rough boards. The back was a storehouse, which protected it entirely from the north. This house is heated by a self-feeding stove that stands near the door, which is in the south-west corner. The pipe runs up through the roof. Two wide shelves extend along the back of the house, one above the other, the upper being the narrowest. The lower shelf extends along the east end. A small shelf is placed high up at the west end. This is rather a cool house; the Begonias, and other heat loving plants, declined to flourish there till made quite warm. The plants that could bear a coolish atmosphere flourished and bloomed in exquisite beauty. The Zonale Geraniums Dr.
Koch and Jean Sisley took on an extra garb of loveliness and even of size in the flower; while Oxalis versicolor became so dainty and fairylike a beauty as to pass beyond the knowledge of its former owner, who had never known its perfections, or its capabilities. This house required very little fuel. One night, however, it was forgotten altogether, and jack frost swooped down with a keen blade and smote so fiercely that the delicate plants never again lifted their heads. Great lamentation ensued, among owner and friends; but it would not restore the lost beauty, nor even build the fire.
I heard a Florist say it did not pay him to cultivate his flowers all the year, and then by a night's neglect, loose all he had gained; so when severe weather approached he sat up at night and mended his fires, and so saved when others lost.
"Well lived, well saved, " says the proverb.