Katherine Kane had always imagined a greenhouse in a certain spot at her magnificent garden at Waterperry Farm in western Albemarle. And not just for sheltering plants.
“There are two kinds of greenhouses,” says architect Jeff Bushman, who customized the kit that Kane bought from the English company Alitex. “There are purely service buildings, and then there are those that are really part of the design, and contribute to making spaces.” The Waterperry greenhouse, of course, is one of the latter type.
English gardens are Kane’s primary inspiration for the 10 acres of specimen trees, walkways, flowering perennials and fountains that she’s painstakingly designed and installed since 1990. Her gardens include formal geometric “rooms” as well as meandering paths under shade trees, and they’re carefully laid out to align with axes that begin at her farmhouse. The greenhouse is an element meant to extend and complete a section of that overarching design—much more than a workspace that could just as easily be tucked out of sight. “In English gardens, they always make the greenhouse part of the garden,” says Kane.
This one certainly earns its spot in Waterperry’s lovingly tended beds. The kit, says Kane, is like a “giant Erector Set,” with aluminum framing elements that can be combined in any number of ways. “You can build anything you want,” says Bushman.
The greenhouse’s dimensions and siting were two interconnected questions; Kane had a spot in mind that was already constrained in several ways. “We wanted to work with the natural grade,” she says. The greenhouse also needed to center on a major cross-axis through the gardens, culminating in an archway covered with clematis and roses. And it needed to fit between two existing trees. Bushman shifted the greenhouse footprint around within these limitations until he and Kane were satisfied.
Though other similar greenhouses Kane had seen were fairly low to the ground, Bushman designed this one to be taller, with a 14 1/2-foot center ridgeline decorated with fleur de lis ornaments. “It’s the perfect scale for that garden,” says Kane, who’d previously planted upright columnar boxwoods in a nearby section, in themselves now 13 feet tall. “The greenhouse needed to have its own presence,” she says.
A bluestone patio provides a transition to the greenhouse’s stone foundation, as well as space for a bit of seating and some pots of flowers. Inside, one steps onto a floor of Old Carolina brick, laid in a herringbone pattern. “I loved mixing brick and bluestone,” says Kane. “I wanted it to look old.”
Under that floor hides a radiant heat system, and the greenhouse is also furnished with radiators to nurture young seedlings. This winter, Kane started about 180 annuals in the greenhouse and grew salad greens, too. Three workbenches, also sourced from Alitex, are filled with Hydroleca clay pellets for optimum drainage.
The greenhouse was installed in winter 2017 and already looks like a fully integrated part of the Waterperry vision. Behind it, ever on the lookout for a new place to add a bed, Kane is growing river birch, Japanese iris, sedum and lavender.