The garden season is never long enough for most gardeners. A growing trend in gardening is to build sunrooms that are ideal as living spaces but additionally also allow one to grow plants indoors during the winter months. This allows more and more gardeners to take their outdoors plants indoors thereby extending the garden into the house. Many sunrooms create comfortable living spaces where people and plants coexist. Today we're in Hinesburg Vermont visiting a viewers wonderful garden and look at her elegant sunroom addition.
Jim Tabor is a spokesperson for the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, in beautiful Vermont. He tells us that although you might not think about it now, because it is hot, but it gets really cold in Vermont during the winter. In fact a ski area nearby gets over 300 inches of snow annually, that's more than Sun Valley in Idaho. Most Vermonters feel it's important to get out and be active in the wintertime, even more so than the summertime. In winter the days are short and it's easy to get cabin fever. Because there are many opportunities for world class outdoor recreation it's almost impossible to stay inside. Although there is a lot to do outside during winter you don't have to slack off on loving and caring for your plants indoors. Greenhouses are abundant all over the state enabling horticulturists and flower and plant lovers to come inside and enjoy plants as a winter activity. Although there may be large greenhouses many are opting to build beautiful sunrooms as a way to enjoy their plants year round. We visit one of those with a beautiful sunroom on this show.
Today we visit with Marcia Pierce the owner of The Hidden Garden's Bed and Breakfast in Hinesburg Vermont. Marcia is one of our viewers and has added a beautiful sunroom to their lovely home. They did this to add additional space but also to provide a place to bring in more plants. As a Bed and Breakfast the guests can sit in this area and feel like they're in the gardens. Previously they had a screened porch in this area, it's use was kind of iffy and dependent on the weather. This is where they now serve breakfast which pleases the guests as well as Marcia and her husband, Peter. Importantly it has made it possible to bring in more plant material during the winter months. The new room is integrated into the home and looks as if it was always there. Peter owns a company that builds post and beam homes and this house and the sunroom have beautiful rafters or beams and curved braces throughout. They cut out the old main beam so that they could see the last beam when you first walk in. The roof line is post and beam surrounded with plenty of glass. It makes a very nice, very pleasant room. Because of the surrounding glass windows it has a 180 degree view of the gardens affording great views. It can get hot in summer but they have ceiling fans and windows at the top and on the sides that open. This provides a lot of air circulation making it comfortable in the summer and in the winter they have radiant heating underneath the floor tiles. The sun in the winter warms the sunroom and the house as well. That keeps it toasty warm and the dogs really like it, they enjoy laying on the floor and being warm. The construction and insulation keeps it air tight.
Marcia keeps a few plants in this area during the summer. She has a Variegated Leaf Bougainvillea, a miniature and full-size Hibiscus, a Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana) and some lovely Begonias. During the winter she likes to bring the Begonias inside. Although normally considered an outdoor summer annual she enjoys the fact Begonias winter well and flower most of the winter. One normally associates a sunroom with exotic plants like Bougainvillea, Bananas and Hibiscus but simple plants like Begonias or Geraniums or sentimental plants like those that your Grandmother gave as a gift can be brought in and make a wonderful impact and they can last for a number of years. The Hibiscus has lasted 5 to 10 years, it's brought in during the winter then taken out in the summer. By the time winter is over you're ready for it to go outside and you know it will be happy outside.
Marcia not only has a beautiful space inside but outside is beautiful as well. We go outside and look around. She has beautiful stone steps, stonework, nice walls and a large patio. They have created outdoor rooms on either side of the sunroom that are enjoyable. They've never had a terrace before so this provides an area with a sophisticated feeling. To the side there is a lovely alpine garden that has little plants that are placed in a special mix of gravel and sand. Marcia has maintained a lot of large plantings then put in some little side gardens with a lot of annuals. They've used Heliotrope which has a nice scent at night and placed it next to the patio, making the the sitting area even more enjoyable. They have a Weeping Siberian Pea Tree (Caragana arborescens 'Pendula') on either side and have placed Snapdragons in pots. Marcia cut the Snapdragons back after blooming, they're back in bloom and looking gorgeous. There is a rock wall that can be used as a seat and behind it is an alpine garden. To do this she has actually created a micro climate and added special soil. With the rocks and plants it's a beautiful area. It's easy to sit there and look at the plants, accordingly she has kept the name tags on the plants making it possible to see their names. In containers at the entrance to the sunroom she has placed Phormium which are striking and compliment the space. The coloring of the leaves looks nice with the rock walls. They have performed well, not a lot of plants can take the hot sun but they have thrived in this environment. They will be kept in the sunroom during the winter. Also in a container is Portulaca and Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum variegatum), which has a variegated leaf and small yellow and pink flowers. It is very light and delicate. The patio allows one the opportunity to use different containers and showcase different plants.
Charlie wants to visit some of the other gardens. There are many gardens and Karen Caldwell, the head gardener, next shows Charlie some of those gardens. We first visit a sunken garden. Here Marcia created a micro climate. Most of Vermont is zone 4 so it really limits some of the plants that can be grown. But by having this micro climate in the sunken garden they're able to grow some additional perennials, annuals and get a jump on their vegetable garden. They increase the area a whole hardiness zone, for example they have a zone 6 plant here. Most people in this area plant their vegetable garden around the end of May but here they plant their vegetable garden towards the end of April, adding almost an entire month to the beginning of the season and several weeks to the end of the season. As well they grow Eggplant which normally isn't easily grown in Vermont gardens. This is possible because this garden is about 4 feet below ground level and the walls of the garden are about 3 feet high providing a micro climate. There is more to the garden than meets the eye. Below the garden there's a big drainage system comprised of drainage pipe and about 2 feet of sand and gravel. This is important because with the New England snow this would be a swamp or sunken pool until July.
We take a tour of another garden starting with some containers with unusual grasses. One is new to them and is filled with Juncus Grasses which they will bring into the sunroom this winter, since new they don't know what to expect. It's a tropical grass with unusual shapes and very attractive. They're fun and real conversation pieces. One is called Unicorn Grass and looks like a unicorn. Another has a smaller habit, is curly and called Curly Locks. The third is a Lemon Twirl Juncus and is more compact than the others. These are unusual to grow in containers, easy to keep, Karen doesn't know how large they'll get but will watch as they grow. This garden has mixes of vegetables integrated into the flower beds which are comprised of annuals and perennials. Marcia's husband, Peter, likes Asparagus so to please him they combined a flower bed with vegetables. To keep it pretty Marcia added vegetables with color, for example, Brightlight Swiss Chard, a beautiful rainbow of colors-red, yellow and orange. In the back is a Cardoon, a relative of the Artichoke. They're wonderful blanched and put into antipasto. But they're primarily grown for their architectural strength at the back of the garden. By the end of summer or early fall they'll be 4 to 5 feet tall and add a nice scope to the back part of the garden. In the front is Snapdragon, Red Cabbage and a new Phlox. The Phlox is a new variety, now available in garden centers, called Phlox Intensia, these plants are lavender and magenta colored. In the past they've grown Phlox Drummondi and they're beautiful but a lot of work. They require almost daily deadheading, removing the old flower heads. The new variety doesn't required deadheading, they look great and the flowers keep coming. It is stunning next to the Red Cabbage.
Charlie and Karen visit another garden that has an interesting mix of burgundy colors with green. It contains Dwarf Bananas. They usually bring these into a garage during the winter but this year will use the sunroom. They don't usually look too good when brought out in the spring but rather quickly come to life. The Dwarf variety typically grow to about 5 feet tall, the other variety will reach 10 feet tall. They are spectacular and are paired with a Burgundy Dahlia, called Arabian Night. It picks up some of the same color as some of the Coleus and other annuals planted in the area.
We next discuss plants that will be taken into the sunroom for the winter. They have a lovely collection of Oxalis in containers. There are 5 or 6 Oxalis grown from bulbs. These will be brought into the sunroom and kept as a collection plant. The Iron Cross (Oxalis tetraphylla 'Iron Cross') is a favorite and was taken from a cutting last year when Karen rooted it. Another is called Velvet Sunset (Oxalis siliquosa "Velvet Sunset'), the leaf color is indescribable, almost a cordovan with a little gold flower, a great contrast. The nice thing about Oxalis is if they get ratty looking, cut them down, give them a haircut, they'll come right back. One consideration to be made when moving in plants is the cost of the plant. For example the White Heliotrope would do well in the sunroom and the fragrance would be enjoyable but they cost only about $1.99 so they're easy to replace. The Phormium Tenax, Wings of Gold however costs about $35 so that will come in. The container with Variegated Maple (Abutilon) mixed with Begonias is nice so that too will come inside. They will experiment with a few other plants, not knowing what to expect, and learn each year.
Before moving plants inside for the winter Karen has a special treatment she gives plants hoping to remove insects. Plants like Tomatoes that are slowly ripening and can be put on a windowsill oftentimes have Fruit Flies and Fungus Gnats that will come along. A Geranium would be a nice addition inside during the winter but before bringing it inside she inspects for insects. She looks under the leaves, if the plant looks healthy she removes dead foliage. Don't allow the dead foliage to lay in the pot because it will eventually compost. Compost is great in your garden outside but inside it provides a host area for Fungus Gnats which primarily get into the soil of houseplants, they lay eggs and suddenly you'll be having Fungus Gnat problems throughout the house, even effecting the Tomatoes. She has, for years, used a solution on everything from African Violets to Geraniums to Yuccas to keep Fungus Gnats at bay. She uses a heaping tablespoon of regular powdered garden lime mixed with a gallon of tap water. Dissolve the mix, then simply water the plant well once or twice, allow the water to drift all the way through the soil and for some reason it takes care of Fungus Gnats and Fruit Flies. If after bringing plants inside and Fungus Gnats become a problem, water all plants 1 or 2 more times. It is a safe procedure and very simple.
Jim Cunningham lives in Bristol Vermont and makes writing pens from reclaimed Vermont hardwoods, primarily Lilac that grows, among other places, on the grounds of the Shelbourne Museum. The wood has beautiful purple streaks, it is a rich, unique wood and very popular for those that are fortunate enough to buy his pens. He tries to get the sapwood which is the white wood and the heart wood together, if it was all 1 color it wouldn't be as stunning. All pens are made from reclaimed wood, wood that came from a woodshop or pruned wood from the grounds at Shelburne or other places in Vermont. It is wood that would have ordinarily been chipped or burnt or just wasted. Jim shows us how he makes these pens. The pens when complete are truly beautiful and one of a kind.
If you don't have a sunroom you can still grow plants indoors with different lighting systems. We show several examples. The classic example has fluorescent bulbs, either 2 or 4 tubes per fixture. They're great for starting seeds or for growing foliage plants through the winter. This one allows you to adjust the height making it possible to get the fixture on top of the seedlings thereby providing enough light. This system doesn't put out a lot of wattage but will keep plants going through the winter. If you would like a little plant on your desk there is an intelligent plant light system that is interesting. It has a full spectrum bulb, not a big bulb, but enough to grow a single plant underneath. The neck can be adjusted allowing it to be close to the flower or up higher. What makes this great is that it has a computer chip that will simulate natural light levels outdoors for that time of year. For example, if it's March 21st the light will go on for 12 hours and turn off for 12 hours. It adjusts itself day after day to be exactly as it is outdoors. It also has a water meter that you stick in the pot and a light comes on to let you know if the plant is too dry and needs to be watered. Whatever light system you choose, whether it be one for seedlings and foliage plants, one for tropical plants so they flower throughout the winter or just a small plant these light systems will give you pleasure and bring the outdoors inside all winter long.
There are more gardens at The Hidden Garden. In total they have 26 acres, many landscaped. They've mixed trees with shrubs, Astillbes, Bee Balms to ponds, to Hostas. It's an arboretum of a garden.
Thank you Karen and Marcia for showing us around. This is truly a special place. We appreciate the tour and your hospitality.
The Inn at Essex
The Hidden Garden's Bed and Breakfast
Post and Beam Homes
Jim Cunningham, Vermont Hardwood Pens
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