|Liberty Hyde Bailey, self-portrait|
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 the midwinter. You stand under the arching roof and look away into the bare blue depths where only stars hand their fold, 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 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 suggest a long-lost summer. There, finger's breath away, the temperature is far below zero; here, is the warmth and snugness of a nook of summer.
This is the transcendent merit of a greenhouse, - the sense of mastery over the forces of nature. It is an oasis in one's life as well as in the winter. You have 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 animal are snug and warm for the night, stroking each confiding face as it raised 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.
|Cornell's historic Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory may face demolition.|
Did my reader ever care for a greenhouse in a northern winter? Has he smelled the warm, moist earth when the windows are covered with frost? Has he watched the tiny sprout grow and unfold into leaf and flower? Has he thrust a fragment of the luxuriance of August into the very teeth of winter? Then he knows the joy of conquest that makes a man stronger and tenderer. - L.H. Bailey (From, Country Life in America, Volume 1, Number 5, March 1902)Related Articles