Home & Design

Green Acre #38: The Tropic of Capitol Hill

The conservatory chez Cavanaugh. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

I SUPPOSE it’s time to properly introduce my solarium, a place I touched upon some months ago. Most of what gardening I do in the winter takes place in the greenhouse that has replaced the little open porch off my second-floor office.

It was constructed five years ago by My Prince and his sorry assistant, Muscular Mike, whose major employ is hefting things and then leaving promptly at 5, no matter what is going on, to drink at the Tune Inn, Capitol Hill’s historic dive bar.

The impetus was getting the damn tropical plants off the damn kitchen counter where My Prince slices banana for his

The grand-dog Lula doesn’t look so murderous, lounging in the solarium, does she? / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

cereal among other culinary adventures; the very same counter where I was growing all manner of delightful things that don’t take well to frost: jasmine and orange and lime and gardenia etc.

While the kitchen is narrow, with all the appliances along one wall—an arrangement often referred to as a Pullman kitchen for its resemblance to a (toy) train car—I had no difficulty making dinner for 10 in the midst of my jungle, but he found it irritating.

In that case, I suggested, perhaps I might tack up plastic sheets around the porch for the winter. This is the kind of suggestion that fills him with fear, that I might risk death falling off the ladder—or worse, that I might fall into a vegetative state and he’d spend the rest of this mortal coil changing my diapers.

So off he trucked to his favorite haunt, Community Forklift in Hyattsville, Maryland, a place where someone of his disposition can lose himself for hours amid the rusted claw-foot bath tubs, 1950s kitchen cabinets, broken slabs of marble and other precious relics, and return with a load of . . . bits and building bobs, in this case enormous windows, French doors and narrow sidelights to fill in gaps.

In a stunning burst of industry and with astonishing speed, the porch rails came down and were replaced with a glassed-in sky box. I don’t think it took a week. This was remarkable because most tasks around here never get completed, or even partially completed, never mind started, with the speed of a wounded snail, as I may have mentioned more than once.

You would think I would be the beneficiary of all manner of magnificent home improvements—The Prince is, after all, a restoration carpenter. But no.

I close my eyes to his insistence that this is not actually a permanent greenhouse; that the patch of pink label up near the

sky light that reads “Owens Corning Extruded Polystyrene Insulating Foam,” is just temporary; and at some point (in the next 20 years, or just before we move to the end-stage senior community) it will be extended across the rear of the house, have multiple sets of French doors, and perhaps an extra bath. That’s what he says.

As I said, I close my eyes and give thanks for what I’ve got and year by year the solarium grows ever fuller with plants of extravagant foliage and scent awaiting the return of summer.

For a while there were birds, parakeets that flew about freely and had raucous conversations. I miss them, but they were extremely messy and they stank. We will not get into what happened to them, though my grand-dog Lula the Murderess was involved.

Now, along with the jasmine and lemon blossoms, there are several white wicker chairs and a small table. Sometimes on weekends we have breakfast there, toting platters of eggs and coffee and the newspapers upstairs and sit reading and eating in the tropical sun.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie is hunkered down in her solarium these days, but her work on city gardening proceeds apace. For more of her Green Acre columns, search for Green Acre in the Search box at the top right of the page.


2 thoughts on “Green Acre #38: The Tropic of Capitol Hill

  1. Bonnie Mitchell says:

    The Murderess Grand-dog does look rather innocent…and very relaxed. It’s certainly a cozy looking nook. Are the Birds of Paradise feeling at home here?

  2. jean b. gordon says:

    Breakfast in the mini jungle sounds enchanting…I’ll have lox and eggs and onions please.
    and don’t forget a small fan on the side table. Love this article…thanks for sharing….

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