There is a long standing joke among hobbyists in which they collect so many orchids that a greenhouse is required to hold all their plants. This humorous scenario is coming true for many people now that working from home has become the norm. Tropical plants of all kinds are having a renaissance and growers simply need a place to put them.
This is not the first time that hobby greenhouses have surged in popularity. Great Britain saw a flurry of construction during the Victorian era as wealthy gardeners sought to outdo their friends with rare and exotic specimens. Closer to home, everyday Americans embarked on a greenhouse building spree during the 1940’s to help supply cut flower cattleyas during the glamorous corsage period.
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting a client’s new greenhouse in the suburbs of northern Virginia. The owners, Richard and Ginny Michaux, are retired and wanted to add a little tropics to their home environment. The new structure is attached to the south end of the house where it gets all day sun and is truly a sight to behold.
Dozens of colorful orchids of all genera have been placed on the benches and pedestals throughout giving the viewer a lot to look at. There is considerable automation in the room including louvers that open and close to maintain optimal temperature as well as fogging nozzles to supplement the humidity. The light levels are bright but diffused.
The Michaux’s have chosen to keep only blooming orchids in the greenhouse so, in effect, the 12’ x 13’ structure is more of a display house than a growing facility. As the plants drop their flowers, they are ‘sent off to boarding’ until they bloom again. The benefit to this strategy is that a relatively small space yields a big show.
The visual impact is enhanced by colorful stained glass windows that embellish the perimeter. The orchid designs were custom made and show images of lady slippers, cattleyas, and phalaenopsis. As the sun’s rays enter the space, the patterns seem to light up and glisten.
“If I were ordering again, I would make it twice the size” said Richard Michaux, who spends hours at a time in his new greenhouse. The orchid family is massive and collections can grow exponentially. It is common for owners to underestimate the amount of square footage they need.
The Michaux’s considered a number of greenhouse designs and manufacturers before deciding on Arcadia GlassHouses of Madison, Ohio (arcadiaglasshouse.com). This company has been around for years and offers a slew of options from stand alone to attached models of all shapes and sizes. A local construction crew prepared the Michaux site and Arcadia erected the greenhouse.
The CEO of Arcadia, Jeff Kenyon, is a horticulture major and has been personally building greenhouses since 1980. His designs are energy efficient and use extruded aluminum frames and double paned glass. He has seen a huge spike in demand for hobby greenhouses in the past year.
“The Michaux greenhouse is special because of the octagon shape, stained glass windows, decorative trim arches, and cresting on the roof” said Kenyon. He travels the country assisting plant enthusiasts with their building projects. The lesson for growers everywhere is that the acquisition of a single, innocent orchid can lead to a sizable greenhouse full.