A winter escape

Photo by Colleen Armstrong

Do you need a garden oasis about now? Someplace quiet and filled with plants happy to see you? You are in luck. The University of Vermont greenhouses are where you need to drag your tired, worn-out self.

The UVM greenhouses are primarily for teaching and research. They are staffed by three fantastic and very knowledgeable folks: Colleen Armstrong, Dave Helebea and Tom Doubleday. The greenhouse frequently has plants for sale and usually twice a year an “odd ball” plant sale when there are unusual plants for sale. You can find all of this on their website.

But that does not amount to an oasis. What does is the public rooms filled with wonderful plants, benches and waterfalls. Open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (check the website for holidays). It is possible to have a guided tour – call Colleen at (802) 656-0465 – but wandering is really more fun.

The public spaces are roughly divided into three rooms. The first as you enter has a cacti collection (left as you enter), a succulent collection (to the right). Depending on the time of year, the large citrus collection will be on the west wall, though that space may be occupied by other well-deserving plants.  Of note is the water feature: several small cascades with water-loving plants. Sit on a bench or just gaze at the moving water and you could imagine spring (well, OK, mud season first).

The second room is to the left. There you will find the orchid wall filled with small cuties. On the south wall is the larger orchid collection. There is usually but not always something in bloom, either delicate or showy, including fragrant ones. The west wall is fern mania, with types and colors (yes, colors) that you may not have seen. The center has, among other beauties, a large coffee tree, a cacao tree and large tree ferns. Do look around and up for the bromeliads, some of which are in bloom now.

The third room is the corridor with a selection of trees and hanging baskets. In the spring do not miss the “fruit cocktail” tree with its grafting of nectarine, peach and plum. Currently there is the devil’s tongue, which smells like rotting meat; it does this to attract flies that allow it to pollinate.
There is always something new. In the spring the greenhouse sells flower and vegetable starts…you can never have too many.

This is truly a wonderful oasis that also puts you in the center of research activity. You cannot go into the research rooms, but you can look in and see what they are doing.

Go, now!

Vera Maroney has lived in Charlotte for 45 years and in the same house in West Charlotte for 40 years—plenty of time to make every gardening mistake multiple times. She cherishes the local nurseries, the UVM Extension Master Gardener Program and the uncertainty of gardening. And she’s an avid reader of The Charlotte News.