If you are deep into variegation, unusual houseplants, and the horticulturally weird and wonderful, you’ve no doubt visited—online at least—one of my favorite nurseries: Glasshouse Works. While I enjoy shopping on line, wading deep into a greenhouse overrun with plants is an experience like no other. I adore prowling through foliage and flowers looking for special plants and rare treasures. Luckily for me, I can drive right by Glasshouse Works (well, nearly) when I travel home from Maryland to visit my mother, something I did just over a week ago.
Glasshouse Works is located in Stewart, Ohio, a tiny burg in the southeastern part of the state that’s a loud shout and a spit from the Ohio River crossing at Parkersburg, West Virginia/Belpre, Ohio. Since they’re only open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays, visiting takes a little bit of timing but is well worth the effort. (They limit open days because over the years their business has become ninety percent mail order.) Since my mother is as happy to see me on a Friday or Saturday as any other day of the week, I now time most of my trips home to accommodate a dive into their offerings.
One note of warning: This isn’t a destination for people who demand that their nurseries, or their gardens, be neat, tidy, and meticulously organized. The gardens surround an old house on Church Street in Stewart that serves as office and storefront for many of the gardening ornaments, decorative containers, books, and whatnot offered by Glasshouse Works. Whenever I’ve visited, plantings were threatening to engulf their surroundings, and this fall was no exception. On the sales tables and in the greenhouse, containers also are crammed cheek-by-jowl. You have to proceed slowly and look closely to uncover everything that’s offered. I love to wander through the confusion, despite the fact that there are loads of plants that don’t have labels. Fortunately, co-owners Tom Winn and Ken Frieling can identify anything you ask about and label everything before you take it home. (They also maintain records on their computer as a backup for those of us who lose labels later.)
The plant offerings run the gamut: There are tables of perennials, ground covers, and succulents mixed together along with several sections of woodies. There’s also a small pond. My favorite area by far is in the back, where the houseplants and tropicals are. There you’ll find rare staghorn ferns—they currently have a number of Platycerium coronarium, a favorite of mine, although I resisted the urge to buy since I don’t currently have a good place to grow this fabulous epiphyte. I did pick up another darling, much smaller fern, Hemonitis arifolia, which has rounded, arrowhead-shaped leaves and the ability to form new plantlets at the base of the fronds. They also have a wealth of begonias, ficus suitable for indoor bonsai, sansevierias, and far too many more plants to list here. (Are there any Ohio residents out there who remember McCombs Greenhouse? Tom and Ken knew the McCombs and bought plants for them when they started Glasshouse Works in the early ‘70s.) Although I visited in fall and will have to overwinter, the coleus and other tropicals called to me on this visit. I came away with half a dozen plants with patterns I haven’t seen before that will look wonderful in containers and beds next summer. Plus, I bought a plant described as “shamelessly trendy” in the online catalog: Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’, which has dark green leaves and stunning racemes of purple flowers.
I should mention that after I’ve perused everything on the sales benches, I do look through the gardens for ideas on plants I’ve missed. This visit, I came away with an attractive, slightly tender ground cover to try, Muehlenbeckia axillaris ‘Nana’, after seeing a nice mound of this tiny-leaved, low-grower. It’s been hardy in a protected spot there for five years (warm Zone 6), and should be fine tucked near the house here in Zone 7.
Every time I visit, I vow that next time I’ll arrive with a list. This is the “do as I say, not as I do” part of this post, because my hunt-and-peck approach to plant shopping isn’t necessarily efficient. I urge any of you who are planning a pilgrimage to Stewart to arrive with a list. Start by look long and hard at their website—the range of offerings is simply dizzying. If you have a list in hand, Tom, Ken, and the rest of the staff at Glasshouse works will happily help you locate whatever you desire. They’ll also quickly identify whatever plants you find that are unfamiliar. Otherwise, you’ll have to resort to my approach and collect whatever appeals. Still, wandering through the tangled aisles of plant-packed nursery is enjoyable, with or without a list.
Needless to say, I didn’t leave the Glasshouse Works empty handed. My greenhouse and garden will benefit from the new additions I lugged home, and I’m already planning my next visit. I may even manage a list.