I just found out last week what my brother in Maine used his 2008 economic stimulus tax rebate check for. Yes, a hoop house greenhouse kit. I guess I really wasn't too surprised since his work with home garden hoop houses had been going on for well over a year now. Last October he built himself an 8' x 5' cloche-type hoop house out of pvc conduit pipes, rebar pipes and 4 mil plastic polyethylene sheeting. He was able to keep his Swiss chard going as well as the thyme, tarragon, sage, and parsley. He also grew lettuce and spinach that germinated for him by the end of October.
And then I heard all about his seed starting plans for the hoop house in January. I even salvaged a number of 4" pots with heavy duty plastic fitted trays from my parents' house who were clearing things out. These trays would make it easy for sliding in and out of the hoop house for watering I told him.
So when I heard about his purchase - the "large size" model - and plants he was wintering over, the parsley, three varieties of sage (one of them Salvia elegans), thyme, tarragon, winter savory and a rosemary, I began to work on plans of my own.
It started out simply enough when I emailed my brother on Saturday. "I have a beautiful purple sage that you've got me thinking about. Will bring up the cold frame tomorrow and put it in there. "
My husband built the 4' x 2' cold frame for me in the fall of 2004. Usually we would haul it up early spring in preparation of sowing sweet peas in March. But this year I decided I needed to winter over that purple sage. And so much for waiting until the next day. I pulled my husband away from his Saturday afternoon college football game and out we went.
After setting it up on the raised bed outside the back door in went the purple sage, then parsley, chives, oregano and thyme. I found a couple calendula seedlings when digging the parsley that joined the herbs in the cold frame and scattered some of the seed in there for good measure. And then I noticed the salvias - greggi and blepharophylla - still holding their own despite the killing frosts we'd had last week. In they went too. I finally made myself stop when dusk arrived. Dirty, tired but content I sent myself to the showers.
I got up early the next morning and checked on things in the cold frame. All was well. But then I took a walk around the yard looking at the frost-bitten gardens and noticed how silver-blue glorious the Aeonium arborens looked in the morning light. They wouldn't make it past the end of this month I was certain. And the Provence Lavender in its clay container still fuzzy gray and looking as if it was mid-summer. Sure enough they found room in the cold frame too.
What had possessed me to practice a round of extreme intensive gardening in a 2' x 4' enclosed space in early November? After a moment of careful self-introspection I was able to identify two sources responsible for my behavior. Alice T.A. Quackenbush's "sport" of gardening fueled by pure unbridled hoop house envy.