I painted this watercolor in January 2020. A typical northeast gray winter afternoon. The sun is shrouded in thick clouds. In January this place is very quiet and solitude is possible. In the spring, summer, and fall – get your socializing hat on.
We have always dreamed about having a greenhouse. Build it out of wood and PVC pipe? I’d like to, but I’m not there yet. So, as a first time go at it, I decided to get a greenhouse kit, which included aluminum, plastic parts, and polycarbonate panels for assembly. We went with the Palram Mythos 6 x 14. At this time, it sold for around $1,000. Not too big, not too small, and most importantly – “not a permanent structure”!
After a bit of research, I learned that a sturdy wood or concrete base is highly recommended. I have seen YouTube videos where people put up that same greenhouse without a base and it seemed functional. Without a base, you would need to make sure to anchor the greenhouse to the ground to prevent it from moving in inclement weather. Also, the ground must be perfectly level to avoid assembly issues.
For my base, I used 4″x 4″ untreated cedar. Cedar is a naturally rot-resistant wood, which makes it a great choice for outdoor projects. Of course, it will rot after a few years, so I’ll need to replace the base eventually. I hear pressure treated wood is fine too because they no longer use arsenic, but I didn’t want to take the chance.
For site preparation and base construction, I used this tutorial from ACF Greenhouses for general reference and modified as needed. Before constructing the wood base, I leveled out a roughly 8’ x 16’ area using a hand-tiller (to remove the grass), hard rake, and tamper. Next, I laid down a weed barrier where I planned to put the base. I cut the cedar wood to fit a 6’ x 14’ greenhouse by making a couple of 45° angle cuts to connect pieces in the middle where needed. The corners of the base were connected using a ratchet wrench and 8” lag screws. Plenty of mistakes were made along the way!
Time to assemble the greenhouse! Warning: there is (at the time I am writing this) a typo on the front page of the Palram Mythos instruction manual where it indicates greenhouse dimensions in inches for the 6’ x 14’ model (the inches do not equal the feet specified). You can imagine the rage when I thought I had to redo the base and the relief when I realized they had made a boo-boo.
It took about 15 hours to put up the greenhouse by myself, but I’m not very swift. If assembling by yourself, I find the hardest part is getting the long sides of the greenhouse to stay upright until the cross-bar is installed at the top to secure each side. I used a wheel-barrow and some chairs on the outside and inside of each side to hold it up until I installed the cross-bars. Generally, the greenhouse assembly for this model is pretty good, no major headaches.
I had also purchased an anchor kit to secure the greenhouse to the ground, but I realized I did not need it, so I returned it. Instead, I secured the greenhouse to the wood base with wood screws. Shortly after, we had 45 mph winds overnight and it did not budge. I only had to re-adjust one of the roof panels that became slightly displaced.
We then got 13 inches of snow, including a 2-inch-thick layer of ice. The greenhouse held up nicely through it all. I went out to clean the snow off the roof a few times just in case, and to let light in, but the ice remained until it melted. I plan to use the greenhouse to get a head start on sowing seeds for spring and to grow cold hardy crops like kale and spinach for late fall and winter harvest!
I often get excited about the idea of planting trees near my home. Trees that will grow to become old, gnarled giants – beautiful sentient beings that amaze us. Then, a selfish reminder sets in. I will not be around to witness the transformation; my lignin endowed friends and I live on different timescales.
But wait. I can still plant things and watch them grow to large proportions in my lifetime! Trees, such as water loving willow species grow rapidly and reach mature size in just 15 years. Shrubs likes Red Osier Dogwood can grow to their maximum size in just a few years. Better yet – tall native perennials like Joe-Pye weed can grow a foot taller than me by its 2nd year of growth.
Still, how many of us have watched a little green Shagbark Hickory sapling spring 120 feet upward and put on fierce slabs of gnarled bark, pointing every which way? How many of us have planted American Sycamore and hung around long enough to see its smooth gray bark become a rugged mass, adorned with white, brown, and gray-green flakes? In the winter, the Sycamore takes on a ghostly form, as monster’s white tentacles reach out over icy water.
Finally, I come full circle and realize that my initial excitement is valid. Shortsighted are gardeners who plants trees for themselves only. Who am I to prevent air and water purification, food and shelter for living organisms, and many other gifts offered by trees? Plant trees I will – and if the exotic bug doesn’t get them, maybe my grandchildren will have a magical place to swing and climb
The Stairway to Heaven hike in Vernon showcases some of the most beautiful parts of northern New Jersey. But what did I choose to paint from this hike? A puddle of mud! I’m sorry, but beautiful vistas don’t always scream “paint me”. I found beauty in this mud puddle for these reasons – simplicity, reflection, composition, and color. The view from a mountain top can make for an excellent painting, but I’m craving a certain something else these days – something sort of interesting, though difficult to pinpoint.
I like a good architectural challenge once in a while – buildings in truthful perspective, arranged with charm. This time, I”ll take a couple of cedar trees and a muddy path, please. The freedom to paint a simple landscape promotes a sense of joy and relief, as if a tremendous weight has been lifted.
I’ve broken a painting rule – the reflection of a subject in water should be darker than the actual subject. Not in this painting. But that’s the way it is – there is a thin layer of water covering the muddy path, making the reflection of the tree appear lighter because the sun shining on the mud under the water is bright.
There’s no mountain in the background, but artistic liberties must be taken to make things a bit more interesting. Even without the mountain, the composition of this scene made me stop walking. I saw the potential for wonderful depth – the muddy path and lighting draws the viewer further into the painting.
This scene is located at the base of Waywayanda Mountain. The habit is mostly field with numerous red cedar pioneering the area. Whether the trees were planted here, I do not know. I found the color contract tremendous. Red-ish green cedar trees (hence the name Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana) against a straw-yellow field, with a cobalt-blue bright sky (some of that in the reflection).
That’s what hooked me then, not sure what will hook me next 🙂
Sometimes inspiration comes from a photo taken by your sister-in-law. I’m not sure what about the photo inspired me, but for some reason I just wanted to paint it. It’s great to see kids playing outside. The cold northeastern weather doesn’t seem to bother them. They are happy and curious exploring the streets of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania with their parents.