Yesterday was a brilliant tease, a spring day in February, t-shirt weather. Jeremy has been nourishing his inner gardener with houseplants since Christmas, and after finally taking down the outside Christmas decorations and tending to the care of the critters, he was itching for more green. We needed dog food anyway, which made a great excuse to go. We threw open the kitchen windows to let some spring in and went. It was a driving-with-the-windows-down day, the first in a long time, and we both enjoyed the torment of knowing it wasn’t going to last.
Our first stop was the greenhouse. Hueter’s Greenhouses is a local, family-owned place a bit off the beaten path. If you’ve ever gone to Rocky Ridge State Park just outside of York, you’ve driven past it. A collection of about 8 or 9 greenhouses, a small gift shop, outdoor perennial areas, and a large koi pond, it is a bit of a gardening oasis on a hilltop surrounded by woods. The woman who owns Hueter’s (I just realized, despite many visits and conversations, I don’t know her name!) is a wonderfully friendly person, always willing to pause for a chat or to answer questions. During the winter, only one or two greenhouses (really, hoop houses,) are open to the public. The rest of them are either empty or are (or soon will be,) holding her materials in various stages of propagation. We were the only shoppers there when we visited yesterday, which is helpful in navigating the main greenhouse, as it is stuffed to the gills with green. There is always a happy chaos of plants in the main greenhouse: a 20 year old amaryllis spilling out of a huge pot, flats of succulents being propagated, seeded trays, banana trees, a blooming bird-of-paradise, a growing pineapple plant (more on the significance of that in a bit…) It is an overload of happiness for the gardener in winter. She always has plants in unusual containers, and the variety is surprising and heartening, including, yesterday, something (I can’t remember what) growing in a suspended Coach purse. Traditional hanging baskets dangle on either side of the narrow path that circles the inner and outer tables. On a good day it is a challenge for 6’2” Jeremy to navigate that path, usually slightly slumped, trying to take in everything above and below, on both sides, while trying to slide past other shoppers and not hit his head on a massive hanging fern or something. It’s always an adventure; we usually have to make at least three loops around to be sure we don’t miss anything.
Yesterday, as we rounded the corner to enter the main greenhouse, we were stopped abruptly. The next greenhouse was partially collapsed, plastic shredded and swaying in the breeze, the metal hoops bent almost to the ground. It was awful to see. I hadn’t thought about the danger of the snow, even though I know at least one other grower who had lost a hoop house to it.
We continued into the main greenhouse, which looked unaffected, and began to look around. We were soon joined by the owner and her impossibly rotund beagle, a fixture of the business who always looks grumpy but is really quite sweet, if a bit aloof. As the owner slipped on socks and then a pair of pink printed muck boots, we asked her about the damage. She shared with us her story of the blizzard, and it was heartbreaking. She and her husband had spent hours and hours trying to keep the greenhouses cleaned off, a monumental task in that snow. They used snow rakes to pull down the snow, but as the depth grew that became almost impossible. The snow they pulled off filled the valleys between the greenhouses so deeply that getting in between them to use the rake became almost impossible, the snow there growing to depths taller than the owner. Nobody could reach them on their hilltop to help. When it became obvious that they were not going to be able to continue to clear snow off, and some of the hoop houses began to lean precariously, the owner opted for the last resort, the nuclear option, and began to slit the plastic. She couldn’t do that in the main two greenhouses without losing everything in them, but she climbed up the others, somehow, and began to cut that skin that was both protecting and endangering the greenhouses. She told us she remembered thinking she had to save enough energy to get back to her house, no easy task for a small woman in 30 inches of snow. She said she went to bed crying, thinking that all would be lost in the morning, and slept fitfully, trying to monitor the situation from the house but unable to see much through the drifted snow. The next day revealed that she had lost 3 greenhouses. Others, including the main one, were standing but with a tilt that spelled trouble. The insurance company had a crew there in a day and they were able to stabilize the remaining greenhouses, but the three collapsed ones were beyond repair.
As we stood and listened, Jeremy and I were dumbfounded. It is impossible for me to imagine what that fight must have felt like. The exhaustion, both physical and emotional, must have been crippling. I remember thinking that I had sat in the house, with not a worry, watching the beauty that was that blizzard, unaware of the dangers it presented to some. Perspective is everything. The owner continued, talking about the aftermath, which hadn’t occurred to me. She propagates most of her own materials, and the three out-of-commission greenhouses, while they will eventually be replaced by insurance, represent a significant loss of growing space. Easter being early this year, the owner lamented that she will certainly have to buy some things that she would normally produce herself, a fact that she dislikes more because of her inability to control the propagation than because of the certain added expense.
As she shared this with us, I was amazed at her calmness and determination. All was not lost, clearly, and she was plainly not letting this setback keep her from moving forward. She smiled and went about her work, nearby but not hovering, and the beagle accompanied us on our walk through the greenhouse until she was bored – or certain that she had investigated every smell of Guinness and Barney on the bottom 3 feet of our bodies. We shopped for a bit, picking up a few more plants, and prepared to pay. Jeremy asked the owner about the availability of a succulent he likes, which we had seen in some of her mixed pots but not individually. The owner hurried down the row of greenhouses, past the collapsed ones to another one, and emerged a few seconds later with a rooted start, the root ball in her hand, having dug it out of a flat, probably, with her fingers. She smiled as she tamped it lightly into a small plastic pot and said, “It has roots. It’ll grow for you.” And so will she, I thought.
When we left there, Jeremy suggested we stop at the grocery store. When we were there last week, he had been hit hard by some miniature pineapples they had, and seeing the propagated pineapple at the greenhouse, he was provided with a reason to get that baby pineapple. You should probably know that Jeremy, my gentle giant, has a magpie-like affinity for tiny things, so a miniature pineapple was almost too much for him to resist. We stopped and he selected 2 of them, admittedly cute at about 5 inches top to bottom. That was all he
needed wanted, so we checked out and headed to the pet store nearby for dog food. Of course, Jeremy in a pet store is a gamble, always, so in addition to the dog food, we left with a Betta fish, some gravel for his new home, and an amazingly marketed “Betta Buddy,” a moss-covered rock in a container of water. The idea that Jeremy would NOT buy a moss-covered rock is absurd, really.
After a quick lunch, we came home and Jeremy “played in the dirt,” as he described it, getting most of our new plants settled in. He walked to the little antique shop behind our house and came home with a variety of containers, most for plants, but one for the as-yet-to-be-named fish. It is a funky, mid-century brandy snifter with a ring of silver around it, but with a portion of the rim molded into a pouring spout. The fish and his buddy (as much as a moss-covered rock can BE a buddy,) are now happily cohabitating in a vessel designed for alcohol. (As I am sure you know, fish in general, and Bettas specifically, always look kind of grumpy and it is notoriously difficult to read their emotions. However, I feel sure that he is happier than he was in that little plastic covered dish he was in, so I’m just going with that. Call it creative license if you must.) The vessel came with 4 small rounded glasses, also with a ring of silver around the rim. Two of those glasses now support avocado pits suspended in water, the unavoidable outcome of our guacamole Friday night. Together, they make a lovely if odd vignette on the bar cart in the kitchen. Because, obviously, that was missing.
The last time we were at Hueter’s, as we were checking out, I saw a quote tacked to the little bulletin board by the counter, among the notes, reminders, and business cards. I am drawn to quotes, especially curious about ones that others find meaningful, because it provides a glimpse through that person’s lens. I like the simplicity of a good quote, the ability to capture something in just a few words, without the puzzle that is sometimes overlaying a poem. In any case, I read the quote that day and liked it, so I took a picture of it. It is still hanging there in the greenhouse, and it took on even more meaning after our visit yesterday. Here it is:
The kitchen windows are closed now, and although it is by no means bitter outside, the temperatures feel more seasonal and less green. Yesterday was a gift, a glimpse of things to come, and a reminder that I am so happy to live in a place with 4 seasons. It was also a wonderful cue to be grateful for this messy adventure called life. If you are ever in the area, stop by Hueter’s; there is a remarkable woman there who can remind you what it means to persevere. And there is a beagle there, too, who can show you that things aren’t always as they seem.