Anyone who knows me , knows that my favorite place on earth to be, is in my greenhouse and gardens. No matter what life has to throw at me, I know I can go to my greenhouse and play in the flowers and dirt...and in a while all will be well with the world.
My first attempt at growing my own flowers was a complete disaster. I decided that if I could grow all my houseplants, that I was so wonderful that I would have no problem growing annuals.
So...I hurried my arrogant little bottom down to the local garden center and purchased myself a roll of plastic, three growing light bulbs, some seeds and a bag of dirt. I didn't need to buy any containers, as I had been saving every little thing I could from my annual garden center purchases each spring.
I hustled myself home all excited at the prospect of starting my own annuals. I set myself up a little growing room in the unfinished room in our basement. This room had no windows...heck it didn't even have a door...so I lined the table in there with plastic, and set about my business.
I planted and planted...and had the best time. I labeled and decorated the sticks with each plant name on them, added a little bit of water, and went about setting up my lamps. I hung them from the ceiling about a foot above the trays....and then waited. I waited, and waited, and watered and waited some more. Then the day I had been waiting for finally arrived.
It was a marigold! A beautiful green shoot just peaking out of the soil. I was so thrilled I called every single person I knew! I have success! I think I spent more time looking at that marigold shoot than I did anything else. I watered and watched and talked to my plant...and then the rest popped up! Let me tell you I could have burst my buttons!
Well, I was very new to the world of growing my own annuals and even more new to the world of growing under artificial light. My seeds germinated alright....but that was all that went according to plan. I did not know that the lamps needed to be almost right on top of the plants, or that I needed far more than three of them. My beloved Marigolds began to grow. They grew into long spindly pale green weak seedlings. I was devastated to see them. They looked more like bean sprouts than anything else. So....I did what any good gardener would do ...I fertilized them.
Fertilizer is an amazing thing...it makes plants grow like weeds. And this was no exception. My spindly little Marigolds got taller and taller and taller and fell down. They didn't have the light that they needed and they were so weak from reaching for the poor amount of light that I was supplying, that they finally gave up...by the next morning, they were dead. This gardener cried.
Now all the time that I was nurturing these plants, I was talking about them constantly to anyone who would listen. And to my surprise...the my husband (at that time) was listening. I had always assumed that what ever I said to him while the hockey game was on , was just background noise for him...he certainly didn't remember me asking him to do the dishes or for the foot rub for my swollen feet. Did I mention that I was grossly pregnant at this time?
The growing season came and went, and I did enjoy my store bought annuals...but it was not the same. I had always loved my houseplants and had many books about them. After all- what kind of a green thumb has no reference books to rely on for their information? I would read and read all that I could get my hands on about my plants. All winter long I was reading and planning and filling my head with ideas for my garden to come in the spring.
It was a very warm spring for us here in Alberta. I was busy with my son, who was now 17 months old and a brand new big brother. Over the winter his little sister made her grand entrance to the family. With two young children you would think that I would have had no time to daydream about my gardens, but this was not the case. At every opportunity, I would wander the garden centers and admire all the plants. During these trips I would often drag my family along.
One weekend, I was very busy running around and keeping appointments, my daughter had a doctor appointment and my husband kept our son at home with him. I went on my way not suspecting that my boys had a great big Mother's day surprise planned for me.
When I arrived home after all the errands were done, I was surprised to see that those boys were out in the back yard, each with a hammer and a whole bunch of wood. They were building me a greenhouse! I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. It was not the prettiest greenhouse....it was 8x8x8...and made from warped 2x4's and corrugated plastic. But to me...it was the most beautiful palace in the world. My boys had built me my very special place...it was all mine...and I could hardly wait to use it.
I would wake up early and sneak out to my greenhouse every morning that I could...I would wait until all three of my loved ones were sleeping and go out to my greenhouse and stay there until the wee hours of the morning. I planted that little house so full that I thought it would burst! I loved my little house-and little it definitely was.
After the spring planting, of all the seedlings that I had planted and loved to play with all this time, I was finally a success! My husband decided that maybe I needed a little more room to grow in. So....he decided to raise the roof. Literally. He took the roof off my greenhouse, and extended it another few feet. It was wonderful...I had even more room for even more flowers next year! And then I got pregnant again.
Well....you can't have a baby that has no where to sleep! So in light of the little "surprise" that would be gracing us with her presence in a few short months, my husband decided that we needed a larger house. This was not good. I was not leaving without my greenhouse! There was no way I was leaving that beautiful house behind! My greenhouse meant way to much for me to leave it behind. My young son hammered nails and worked hard with his dad to build me the most precious gift, and if it didn't come along I was not moving! Yes- they offered to build me a new and better one...but that would not do. I was taking MY greenhouse! And I did.
It took five brawny young men and my husband to lift my beloved greenhouse over the fence and onto the flat bed quad trailer and move it to the new house. All the while under my watchful eye. They had been warned that this was my pride and joy and it held many precious memories for me...they must get it there in one piece. They slowly drove it across town, with me following closely behind, and put it into the new yard. I was so happy that it got to move with me!
The very next season came and I planted my little heart out! I had a much bigger yard, and therefore would need LOTS of flowers. It didn't take long to realize that 8x8x12 feet of greenhouse was not enough. So....we added on. When he was finished it was 8x16 x12. I was in heaven! He had used the storm windows that I loved so much that his Grandmother had given us from her old house. It was so cute-well to me anyways. I planted my little heart out in there for the next two seasons, and had enormous success. I spent hours planting and planning and just being happy in my greenhouse. I hung plant hangers all around it to dress it up for spring, I painted the windows and the door frame in a lovely periwinkle. It was a little piece of heaven on earth for me. What happens the third year?
My third child was now two years old, and very very busy. The kids were in school, and my husband was away working a lot. He would be gone three to five weeks at a time. This left me with a lot to do on my own. Every moment that I could steal to even just stand in my little greenhouse, I did. It was about the middle of May on this year that I started to get sick. I thought it was just one of those colds that hangs on and on and on...but was sadly mistaken. I had developed myself an allergy!
I immediately went into denial. I had never had an allergy before! I certainly wasn't about to get one now! But this approach did nothing for me. I became sicker than I had ever been. I went to doctor after doctor, and took medicine after medicine, but seemed to get progressively worse. The only place that I could breathe easily after a while was in my greenhouse...so that is where I spent every available moment. The doctors tested me for pollen allergies and a myriad of other know and common allergens...every test came up cold. I was depressed and weak and was worried that I would not be able to plant my seeds for the new season that was quickly approaching. I had no sense of smell or taste, and was feeling very sorry for myself.
One day while I was out in the greenhouse pouting, and trying to make my world a little easier to understand, I noticed a little rotten spot in the wood that was the frame of the structure. I made a mental note of it and never mentioned it to anyone for several weeks. The spring plant came and went and my flowers were lovely as usual. I kept checking on my rotten spot to make sure it was not getting any worse....there was no way I would let my little house rot away.
I had to (on occasion) bring my youngest daughter out with me when I went to the greenhouse as she was far to little to leave alone in the house, and on one of these occasions, she noticed the rotten spot....and so we told her dad. He looked at my rotten spot, and then inspected the entire structure. It was slowly falling apart! In fact he was amazed that the roof hadn't fallen in on me yet. So...we went to the store for more wood.
I removed all the tools and Little greenhouse type things from the house and had them all out on the lawn , and I stood there and watched my husband move the shelving outside. I went inside to investigate further....to my horror there was 7 different colors of mold growing all over the place in my haven! It was at that moment that a big decision was made. The greenhouse had to go.
And this gardener once again cried.
We found out that some of the reaction that I had been having was due to the mold situation in my greenhouse, and some of it was from the air fresheners that I had fallen in love with the winter before I got sick. You know the type...the scented oil fragrances...Well the fate of my greenhouse had been sealed and I was devastated. All the memories I had of my son and husband building , the jolly jumper hooked to the door frame with my daughters jumping in it....the tears I had shed in private over various difficult times in my life were about to be destroyed.
My husband knew me well enough to know that I would not be able to function without my greenhouse, and spent many hours over the next few weeks drawing the plans for a new and better set up for me. He had gas heat, a fridge, cable t.v.....the works planned for me. And when the ground thawed enough the following spring, he started to build.
I was hurting from my broken heart and weak from the illness that I had been enduring now for the last 21 months, and was not an eager participant in the planning or building of this new house. I hated the thought of it....and kept looking over at my old one, longing to go inside and stay. My husband kept building, and had all three of our children pounding nails, screwing screws, and painting wood with a sealer to protect against moisture. He had the gas line plumbed in and ran the cable t.v. from the garage to the greenhouse....set me up with a tiny fridge to store pop, water and seeds, and installed the t.v. The new "shack" was almost ready to move into, all that was left to do was to hook up the gas heater. I had fluorescent lighting, a beautiful iron and glass desk, and more room than I had ever had. The only thing I didn't have was a potty! This new greenhouse was 12x20 feet large! It is the same size as a single car garage...and even I had to admit it's beauty made the old one look sad in comparison.
The day came to move into my new house. I was excited, and a little sad. I knew that once I took all of my things out of the old one, it would only be a matter of days before we were to rip it down. I held onto my tears and with each trip inside would look around and tell myself that it was going to be okay. If my husband or children were to see me cry, they might have the wrong idea and think I didn't like the new and beautiful greenhouse. So much work had gone into building this wonderful space for me, and it really was a step up from the old one. So I put my big girl face on and sucked it all in.
At least for a while.
All the trays, pots, bags of soil and tools were carefully placed inside my new haven and the day was upon me. The day the little old greenhouse was to go. We had removed the plexi -glass roof, and had taken all the old storm windows out for me to save. All that was left of my little house was the walls. It took one big push from my now seven year old son, and the house fell like it was made from cards. I could no longer hold my sadness inside. I cried and cried and cried. In fact just thinking of that day still make me choke up a little.
My husband was not upset about my tears. He understood and was expecting them. He knew that it was a very dear thing for me and I am a very sentimental girl. After a little while, I wiped my eyes and helped load the remains of the old greenhouse into the box of the truck and haul it to the dump.
I spent the next few hours in my new greenhouse organizing and sprucing it up, decorating and getting used to the whole idea. Part of me was so excited that I almost felt like dancing. From that night on....I began longing for those stolen moments in my greenhouse...only they were moments that I would spend in my brand new, big, beautiful gift. The only thing left to do, was wait for the next season to start.
It didn't take long to see improvements in my health as soon as the little greenhouse was gone. I slowly got stronger and eventually my sense of smell and taste returned. (I had also removed all of the suspect air fresheners from my home) I was back! I had the entire summer to settle into my new greenhouse! I spent many hours in there that summer and grew to love it in a new and different way. We had salvaged the little periwinkle bird house that had hung so prominently on the outside peak of the old one, and I hung my old horseshoe that was in my old one ...proudly inside the new one. I ordered the seeds for the new season that would soon be upon me on the laptop that Bob bought me to journal my garden and greenhouse files on...(.it was part of the package...so to speak...)and I was ready to plant, and make some new and beautiful memories in my wonderful new greenhouse.
Winter was well under way and I was growing houseplants in my new greenhouse....this was the first year that I could go year round...see my old house had 4 tiny ceramic electric heaters...and even then the temp was dangerously close to being too low. With my new gas heater...it was nice and cozy year round. I no longer had to close my door for the winter months....I was in business now!
January 2008 came and it was time to start planting the seeds. I eager awaited each minute I would get to hang out and listen to my favorite t.v. shows while I planted, oh yes ... I planted more than I had ever planted before...why not fill the space right? I knew that there would be some growing pains, as this was unknown territory for me. I had never planted anything in this greenhouse, and had yet to settle into a comfort zone. I had no idea the growing pains I would have to face.
I had all the trays planted and they were doing nicely. The tiny seedlings were popping up left and right and I was once again getting excited to plan my spring plant. I had some big plans for this crop. I wanted to add a couple of new beds and had several new plants started that I had never planted before. The peaceful and easy feeling that I had finally found my comfort zone was upon me once again, that is until the house guests arrived.
I had aphids!!!!! And I don't mean one or two little bugs...I mean APHIDS. They were suddenly everywhere in my greenhouse and they were killing my tiny seedlings! I tried and tried and tried to rid my plants of these pests...but to no avail....dish soap and water in a spray bottle didn't work. Insecticidal soap didn't work. Cans of insect spray didn't work. In fact, the last two left awful burn marks on the leaves. I have spent countless hours researching the awful bugs, and know much more about them than I feel comfortable with. I got on the telephone and called several of the commercial growing operations in our area....and was very disappointed with the response I got from them. One guy told me that he cannot help a competitor...COMPETITOR? I am NOT a competitor....I am a girl with about 100 measly little trays of flowers....how does that make me a competitor to a guy with thousands of trays and acres of greenhouses? I was disgusted. I was told "good luck with that lady" by another place. No one is willing to divulge how they keep the pests down in their operations. Looking on the Internet did me no good either. Apparently pest control in a greenhouse is a very well kept secret.
I did eventually conquer the aphids...and several other little obstacles that seened to come with the growing pains of learning how to be the most effiecient in my new digs...but I have overcome all the sad...and the greenhouse has pulled this gardener through several difficult situations over the past few years.
For me gardening indoors and out is a release. My greenhouse, although a challenge here in Central Alberta Canada is my refuge from each and every storm that comes my way. It has helped me to stay strong through many a painful time and has given me hope when I thought all was lost.
Just as my greenhouse has grown and changed over the years, so has my family. I am proud to say that I have escaped an abusive marriage and am a happy single mom with three beautiful children who have also taken much pride in those things I grow in my greenhouse. They share the gardens with friends, help with the yard work and are proud when 'mommy' donates trays of flowers to the school for the mother's day projects or garden green space.
I do hope to take you on many fun adventures in gardening in a climate that can only be considered extreme...and show you how I have learned the things that work (and some that don't) by trial and error.
Until next time...happy gardening!
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