Frost Against the Panes

One of the most beautiful greenhouses in the United States, at Tower Hill Botanical Garden outside of Boston, which was built as a classical winter conservatory. Another of my hibernal favorites is Logee‘s in Danielson CT, where you can not only enjoy the oldest commercial greenhouses in the US, but also indulge your buying fancy.

It is in the dead of winter that the greenhouse is at its best, for then is the contrast of life and death the greatest. Just beyond the living tender leaf — separated only by the slender film of the pane — is the whiteness and silence of midwinter. You stand under the arching roof and look away into the bare depths where only the stars hang their cold faint lights. The bald outlines of an overhanging tree are projected against the sky with the sharpness of the figures of cut glass. Branches creak and snap as they move stiffly in the wind. White snow drifts show against the panes. Icicles glisten from the gutters. Bits of ice are hurled from trees and cornice, and they crinkle and tinkle over the frozen snow. In the short sharp days the fences protrude from a waste of drift and riffle, and the dead fretwork of weed-stems suggests a long-lost summer. There, a finger’s breadth away, the temperature is far below zero; here, is the warmth and snugness of a nook in tropic summer.

This is the transcendent merit of the greenhouse — the sense of mastery over forces of nature. It is an oasis in one’s life as well as in the winter. One has dominion.

But this dominion does not stop with the mere satisfaction of a consciousness of power. These tender things, with all their living processes in root and stem and leaf, are dependent wholly on you for their very existence. One minute of carelessness or neglect and all their loveliness collapses in the blackness of death. How often have we seen the farmer pay a visit to the stable at bedtime to see that the animals are snug and warm for the night, stroking each confiding face as it rises at his approach! And how often have we seen the same affectionate care of the gardener who stroked his plants and tenderly turned and shifted the pots, when the night wind hurled the frost against the panes! It is worth the while to have a place for the affection of things that are not human.

From The Garden Lover
Liberty Hyde Bailey, 1928


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