Roger Marshall’s journey
Gardening came to me naturally, while growing up in England in the 1950s. At that time, with war time shortages still distressing the UK economy, commercial fertilizers were hard to come by, so we made compost and used natural organic materials to fertilize our gardens, practices that I continue using today. English winters are usually mild, making cloches and cold frames viable season extenders. Only my immediate neighbor had a home greenhouse in which he grew flowers. I decided then that I wanted one.
In 1973 I took a job in Manhattan. I was a country boy in the ultimate of big cities and couldn’t wait to move someplace where I could have a garden and perhaps the greenhouse that I had wanted as a boy. This opportunity came in 1980 when my wife and I bought property in Rhode Island looking out toward Block Island Sound. Initially, the land was overgrown with brush and scrubby trees, but I quickly set to work laying out my vegetable garden, planting fruit trees, and installing flowerbeds. After building a two-car garage with office space above it, I attached to the southeast side of it my first greenhouse, 30’ x 10’ long.
For more than 20 years, this greenhouse has been producing year-round, as it is heated with propane in winter. It contains seven citrus trees, including a key lime, ponderosa lemon, and several varieties of orange. Also growing there are avocado, guava, mango, banana, and other tropical trees. Under and around these trees, I’ve planted tropical herbs of various kinds, such as lemongrass, curry plant, ginger, and galangal, all of which I use in cooking, another of my passions.
A few years after I built this heated greenhouse, I erected a 20′ x 15′ unheated one. During winter, as long as the temperature doesn’t drop so low that everything in it freezes solid, this greenhouse can protect a number of hardy cold-weather crops, including winter greens, carrots, and leeks. During summer, these crops are changed to heat-loving ones, such as tomatoes, peppers, melons, and eggplants, all protected inside the greenhouse walls from an army of hungry herbivores, including deer, rabbits, and groundhogs.
I’ve fine-tuned my schedule for greenhouse vegetable gardening. I start my plants indoors in a basement germination chamber. Tomatoes, for example, get started on New Year’s Day and are transplanted into the heated greenhouse by early March. This schedule results in my first greenhouse tomatoes being harvested around mid-May. Because the greenhouse is heated, the tomatoes keep producing until February the following year. This year I picked my last 2014 tomato on February 24th.
During the winter months, my entire gardening experience centers in my greenhouses. Space in them is limited, of course. But on a frigid day, as long as the sun is shining, these greenhouses give me delightful, summerlike places in which I can retreat. Inside them, the temperature climbs to 75 degrees F or more and with plants creating high humidity, the feeling is downright tropical. This wonderful, summery environment is all the more enjoyable when it’s surrounded by the deep blankets of snow that frequently cover New England.