Lucy and Ethel Erect A Greenhouse

My friend Mary makes fastidious use of her windshield shade – you know those things that unfold to keep your dashboard from melting in the sun when you can’t find a tree to park under? When I’m with her, being the super-consciencious guest I am, I always try to be first with the chore of folding it up whenever we get in the car. Sorry to have to say that I may be a helpful houseguest, but my manual skills are roughly on a par with a cow learning to crochet. You wouldn’t think folding a windshield shade correctly could be almost impossible, but it is for me.

Just fold it like a taco, says Mary.

I don’t know about where you live, but where I live tacos do not fold into a multi-layered circle. The stupid spring-loaded window shade contorts itself according to some perverse inner vision – the same one road maps follow – and no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot make a circle out of the thing. The best I can do is render it small enough to cram into the door pocket beside my seat and hope Mary won’t notice.

Here in Austin it’s the first week in November, blissfully damp, with temperatures in the 70’s. Every yard in the neighborhood is positively lush; wildflowers flame yellow alongside the road; the sidewalk garden is alive with butterflies. Native grasses flow in the breeze like long hair in a convertible, and in nearly the same range of colors: yellow, brown, red. Because we’ve had so much rain, the view from MoPac south of the river really does look like an enchanted broccoli forest. It’s a lovely autumn.

But do not allow yourself to be lulled into complacency by this explosion of colorful flora. Any day now we can expect our first – and perhaps last – freeze of the season.

What does this mean? It means it’s time to erect the little pop-up greenhouse I bought last year to shelter a few plants through the coldest nights. It has spent the warm months folded up like a giant version of Mary’s windshield screen, wrapped in muslin and twine and propped against some shelves in the garage. Floyd offered to carry it out to the back patio this morning, but I insisted I would have no problem doing that. He did it anyway. There’s just no bossing him around.

In possession of a couple of empty hours to use up before driving into town for a haircut (my students have an exam today and my TA’s can handle that), I thought I would pop the little thing open and get started on my “Raise the Roofbeam” enactment. A collection of strong, flexible poles form the ribs that give the greenhouse its adorable spaceship shape. All you need to do is insert one end of each pole into a strong sling at the top, secure it with velcro to the wall, and nestle it snugly into a strong sling at the base. All the while trying not to curse your homeowners’ association for their bias against real greenhouses.

I’m really glad you weren’t here to watch. Or listen. I was, however, tempted to publish this post in hourly installments throughout the day. That way, one of my three loyal fans would notice when I came up missing and call Floyd to come and untangle me.

Now that doesn’t look too scary, does it?
There must be a greenhouse in here somewhere.
Umm…
Aha! This must be the top.

You can see what one winter’s sun can do to dark green canvas-like material around here. Oh, well, the greenhouse isn’t here to look pretty. It has a shade cover for the top, as you’ll see; and I’m thinking of draping shade cloth down the back of all the plant shelves as I maneuver them into place inside. Our patio is 100% sun all afternoon, and even the cactus get sunburned.

Just as I’d sprung the mashed up layers into one giant circle, the clearing sky went cloudy again and it started looking like rain might be on the way. Pushing and pulling the half-unfolded thing through the kitchen door wasn’t the first time I thought about Lucy and Ethel today, and it certainly wasn’t the last. I could practically hear canned laughter in the background.

The little greenhouse lay more or less flat on the kitchen floor for several hours. All I could do was wait for clear skies, hope that nothing really scary took up residence in its folded-up parts during the months it spent in the garage, and think about my strategy for Take Two. Meanwhile, I went to get my hair cut and stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way home for salad stuff and a chunk of Creamy Toscano. Fortification was clearly going to be needed. It was all I could do to stick with water when any sensible adult would have gone for a much stronger beverage.

Lunch out of the way, the moment of truth could be postponed no longer. I screwed my courage to the wall, whatever that means, and stepped onto the patio, feeling inordinately proud of myself for remembering not to assemble the greenhouse in the comfort of my kitchen.

Insert pole in top; secure with velcro; insert in bottom. Piece of cake.
Umm…

After several failed attempts to insert the first pole (it takes a great deal of stretching all that heavy plastic!), I sought directions online and saw that the nice man assembling a greenhouse like mine appeared to be working on the inside. Hmm. Being as gifted as I am in the visual-spatial department, it took several trips to the computer to visualize and then mimic his position; but at last the first pole was placed.

As promised by the manufacturer, one person can certainly assemble this puppy. (Just as long as the person is able to employ two hands, two arms, two legs, two feet, and one head to hold things up while all those appendages push, pull, and do whatever’s necessary to maneuver the poles into place. The more I think about it, the gladder I feel that you weren’t there. I kept thinking I was going to inflict a through-and-through injury to my digestive parts with one of those tautly sprung poles.)

The next three or four poles were no walk on the beach, I’m telling you; but eventually the little greenhouse was almost ready for the standing position I demanded of it. The rest of the poles went into place relatively easily, as long as I started from the top and was careful not to fall off the ladder.

By the time I was done, my poor hands were no longer speaking to me except in very harsh tones, and my back and shoulders were marching right alongside them in protest. Ignoring this attempt at mutiny, I strung little while lights around the interior – yes! Tested them to make sure they work before I hung them! yes! – and managed to employ those annoying little zip-ties with reasonable efficiency. (I consider threading them correctly on first attempt approximately 75% of the time to be reasonably efficient.)

As you know from having read my previous greenhouse-related post, I’ve resolved this year to leave room for a reasonably comfortable chair. There’s nothing like relaxing in a hyper-oxygenated bubble, surrounded by blooming things and twinkly little lights, a space heater oscillating to and fro at your feet and a cold drink by your side to make a winter evening something to savor.

It almost makes me look forward to January.

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