Launch Slideshow

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The greenhouse effect

The greenhouse effect

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    With a total growing area of more than 54,000 square feet, Denver's greenhouses produce most of the annuals that grace one of the nation's largest municipal park systems. Photo: Stan Obert, Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau

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    Starting from cuttings or seed, staff at Mobile, Ala.'s greenhouses and nurseries grow a variety of trees, shrubs, and plants. Photo: Dan Otto

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    Although Wichita, Kan.'s greenhouse stopped propagating plants in the early 1990s, it's still used to house greenery before planting time. Photo: Thane Rogers

To that end, Wichita gets a head start on the spring planting season by buying bedding plants from private growers during the last week of March. Its greenhouse acts as a holding facility, and the plants continue growing in the safety of the warm, moist air until staff can get them all planted after the season's last frost.

GROWING PEOPLE

Naturally, plants need the right soil, climate, sunlight, and amount of water to thrive. A successful city greenhouse also requires the right mix of specific ingredients—funding is one, but just as important is people.

Mobile's greenhouse and nursery boast two year-round employees, who get a lot of help from their friends. A four-person pesticide crew works at the nursery during the growing season, teenagers participating in job training programs come in to get their hands dirty, and community-service workers are brought in. Occasionally the landscape services division sends employees through the state's Cooperative Extension master gardener program; at press time, one of those workers was helping out.

“Adequate staffing” is not so much a matter of having enough people as having the right people.

“Over the years, our nursery has hit peaks and valleys, depending on its staff,” Otto says. “It's been most successful when staffed by employees who are interested in and knowledgeable of nursery production. It's important for city nursery employees to be energetic and self-motivated.”

PUBLIC PRIDE

City-run greenhouses provide cultural benefits as well. They often offer tours to schools, seniors, scout groups, and the general populace. Green-thumbed citizens are invited to volunteer, helping out by tending the plants inside and, when the time comes, planting them outside; this saves labor costs while increasing constituent involvement and pride in the community.

Each March, Douglas and his staff begin propagating poinsettias. In addition to the traditional red variety, they grow pink, white, marble, speckled, yellow, and variegated-leaf poinsettias, in three sizes (large stock plants, and smaller plants to fit in 6- and 10-inch pots). When the holiday season arrives, the plants are used to adorn public spaces and deck the halls of municipal offices.

Special programs like this strengthen the bond between a city's residents and plants, making city greenhouses and nurseries more than just a place to grow shrubs.

“If managed correctly,” says Otto, “a city nursery can be an invaluable asset.”