It may be cold and bleak outdoors, but this is definitely a time of year when it’s easy to appreciate the advantages of greenhouse gardening. Just take your cue from the Conservatory of Wave Hill, a public garden located in the Bronx, New York. Here, the fragrances and colors of other climes help us momentarily forget the chilling cold and waist-deep snow outdoors– just beyond the glass. On a recent February day, Wave Hill’s greenhouses– a Lord & Burnham range constructed in 1910 on what was then the estate of the Perkins family– was brimming with wonderful plants.
Flashy vines, like Pyrostegia venusta (Flame Vine) and Canarina canariensis (Canary Island Bellflower) were exuberantly alive and in bloom. The Flame Vine’s bright orange flowers, in clusters resembling honeysuckle, appear along trailing stems that can reach eighteen feet and cover trees when grown outdoors. Originally from Brazil, the Flame Vine can become a rampant weed in the tropics, but appears gloriously contained within greenhouse walls. The Canary Island Bellflower is a “scrambler” and sports striking 2-inch coral-red bells all winter. They can both be grown in large containers, as they are at Wave Hill; certainly anything that blooms at this dreary time of year is worth some space!
We plant amaryllis to enjoy through the winter, but why not pot up bulbs that are normally spring bloomers too? A container full of bright yellow crocus introduces a welcome, and very sweet breath of spring in the conservatory. Phormium (New Zealand Flax) contribute handsome architecture all season, but seem especially effective juxtaposed with the delicate white flowers of Westringia fruticosa, or Australian Rosemary. Phormium ‘Maori Sunset’s leaves sport pink bands that coordinate wonderfully with the creamy pink “sparkler”-like flowers of the African winter-bloomer, Veltheimia bracteata too. Cassia artemisioides, loaded with lemon-yellow button-shaped flowers contrasts with the smooth silvery blue leaves of Eucalyptus gunnii ‘Silver Drop.’ You are unlikely to forget the stunning cobalt and white blooms of the South African bulb, Moraea aristata! And winter is the time for marguerites to shine—a case in point is Felicia amelloides ‘Variegata’—also originally from South Africa.
As the professionals at Wave Hill illustrate, greenhouses provide a perfect home for these exciting plants from distant lands where the winters are sunny and dry– and not nearly as inhospitable as our own. How wonderful to travel to those lands when our own world seems considerably less inviting!