Plantry transformed

I have been a little bit addicted to internet real estate listings. Either I’m hardwired to be on the lookout for new digs after moving every so often for most of my life, or it could just be I like to see how other people arrange their furniture. In the last few years I searched in earnest for a piece of property we might like better… Some place with water views (pie in the sky), and/or distant neighbors who maybe don’t hock loogies and play Portuguese pop music all day (marginally realistic-ish). I found possibilities but we never made the leap. I’m more than OK with that and have stopped itching to move.

Because — a bazillion-gajillion thanks to Z — the plantry is now a functional greenhouse! And precious few (affordable) houses on the market have one of those. This summer Z re-roofed our entry porchlet with triple-wall polycarbonate panels that let a lot of light in and not too much heat out, and installed a perfectly weensie automagic exhaust fan to regulate high temperatures. I’m still using an electric heater connected to a plug-in thermostat to keep everything from freezing during arctic blasts, and a little fan to circulate the air. It’s so nice out there on sunny days I had to leave room for at least one human to lounge, and we enjoy some solar gain by opening the door to the kitchen — even though whenever I allow cats access to the plantry they eat stuff they shouldn’t and yark it on the living room rug two hours later.

I love where we live and and need a new addiction.

Where do your plants overwinter? Is your plantry super cute and functional too? Could it be?

Plantry transformation

Almost 10 years ago to the day I wrote about the little lopsided glassed-in entry porch that sold me on this house, and tentatively named it “the plantry.” I have filled it to the gills every fall since with tender plants and cuttings — and, of course, the name stuck.

Over the years Z improved it. He installed exterior doors that closed and an interior door with a view. He plumbed a spigot, hung a fan, and found a plug-in programmable thermostat that turns the space heater on automagically. And, over the last 10 years, he has wooed me with whispers about turning it into a “proper greenhouse.”

Other (less sexy) projects have taken precedence, such as replacing a furnace that coughed black smoke, putting a new roof on the rest of the house, reflooring the bathroom and kitchen, and installing a wood stove in the living room. (Super sexy, that one.) Being unhandy, I am the soul of patience — and gratitude. Obviously. 

This year the plantry roof, which we didn’t bother replacing back when the rest of the house was done, really started to look rough and Z got busy realizing my wildest greenhouse dreams. He started by cathedral-ing the ceiling, insulating the walls and spraying the interior bright white, all of which is a game changer light- and heat-wise. I contributed by thinning the herd of plants that needed to be moved in and out during the project, and by freeing up 2 more sets of IKEA metal shelves. (In library-speak, I “weeded” my gardening books. There’s probably another post in that.) The polycarbonate panels for the roof arrive at the end of the week — much later than originally anticipated and maybe too late to install before winter. That’s OK. The plantry is still and again my favorite room in the house, brighter and cozier than it ever was before. I’d be out there writing this right now if the living room stove wasn’t ablaze…

Anatomy of a plantry

The plantry nearly filled and ready for winterEvery once in a while Z suggests like he did today that perhaps it would be cool if the plantry were bigger. And then he gets this furrowed look as if he’s actually calculating measurements, drawing plans, and ordering materials. And I can’t help getting kind of excited even though any kind of remodel – especially one entailing digging new foundations and putting in skylights – is way beyond our budget. No matter. The plantry is awesome just as it is. In fact, (I think I’ve mentioned this before) an enclosed entry porch was one of the selling features of a house I would have otherwise dismissed for its boring vinyl sided, mid-century, ranch-ness.

Bumped out on the south side of the house, with windows facing east, south and west, the plantry warms up beautifully during the day from fall through to early spring when it actually heats beyond comfort if I forget to open windows. Overnight, the temperature dips with the weather and can fall below freezing on cold nights especially after a chilly day. It’s the perfect place to overwinter tender (not tropical) plants and I fill it to the gills with things like New Zealand flax (Phormium spp.), parlor maple (Abutilon spp.), rosemary, coprosma, orchid cactus, night blooming cereus, various pelargonium, Clivia miniata, pink jasmine, panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa), and echevaria. Anything that needs light over the winter but doesn’t mind chilly near-dormancy.

Abutilon 'Kristen's Pink'Tricolor sage and pigeon planter with lobelia

To ensure that nothing freezes, I set a timer to turn on an electric radiator in intervals through the night. The plantry is also kitted out with a bench, a bespoke sideboard with drawers (thank you, Z!), an Ikea Hyllis shelving unit with shelves installed upside-down to catch watering overflows, a spigot and hose (thank you, Z!), and a custom sized waterhog mat from L.L. Bean to keep major overflows from reaching and rotting the walls. Cuteness is also important, obviously, because this is the only way to enter the house. (The other entry – the actual front door into the living room – is blocked by houseplants over the winter.) So I do what I can – with my mother’s help in the goose planter department. All the plantry really lacks, because it only measures 7’x5′ not including the passage between doorways, is room for a small table and chairs; a place to sit and eat breakfast on warm mornings.

organized plantry: watering wand, dogpoop bags, wreath ribbons, and toolsGoosegirl planter with echevaria

Where do you overwinter your tender perennials and shrubs?