Garden Design Tips from Garden Walks : A Convertible Greenhouse

Convertible, moving-wall greenhouse, with back wall open for summer.

In Buffalo this summer, while Helen and I toured the city’s must-see Garden Walk, I became deliriously envious (I mean, inspired) of a design solution for convertible greenhouse. Buffalo gardeners Arlan and Dom had transformed their greenhouse into four-season use. A greenhouse that doesn’t turn into the fiery gates of hell in the summer? So smart! What they designed (and constructed themselves) is a greenhouse attached to the back of the house, and enclosed for the winter. So far, so good: typical greenhouse. But in spring, the magic happens, when the entire back wall pivots upward on a hinge into a horizontal position, and held up by pillars. The wall then serves as a summer patio roof, (with fabric shading), and the fully open wall lets fresh air flow into a now open-air greenhouse.

Great tip: Wild strawberries in the gaps of the stone steps leading from the terrace. Arlan says they mostly “provide the squirrels with a buffet”.

The terrace, protected with leafy arbours, is a shady and restful oasis. Wide stone steps take you out to the main garden.

Some greenhouse plants, (like this burrows tail sedum that made me gasp), remain inside the greenhouse winter and summer.
Classical fountain sculpture looks towards the terrace.
This thirty-two year old gardenia, standard bay trees, and a small orange tree all summer outside on the shady terrace.

The icing on the cake of this tour was a viewing of the remarkable scale model of their entire house and garden, including all its structures, especially the greenhouse. A beatiful overview, in intricate precision. Mind-blowing, really, is the only word for it.

Scale model of the historical house and garden shows the greenhouse construction.

The only thing now is for me to somehow reproduce this ingenious greenhouse. Maybe, one day.


    1. It's often so hard to whittle down the things to talk about in any garden, and Arlan's garden was full of ideas and inspiration. I'm sure you'll be seeing more bits and pieces in future posts.

    1. Kellie, when will you be here and will you have a car? For a bit of the Toronto experience, take a walk down to the ferry docks and hop over to Toronto Islands. It's a short walk from your hotel. If you take the Ward's Island ferry, either go left at the Ward's dock and wander through the Ward's Island cottages there, or go right at the dock, past the marina and take the bridge to Algonquin Island and do the same. They're very small and charming — and you can enjoy them from the lanes which all terminate in a great view of the city skyline. If you're looking for something more immersive, the Music Garden on Toronto's Harborfront is quite famous (designed by Julie Moir Messervy) — and is at its best in the fall when the grasses are out. It isn't my favourite garden, but it is downtown and the harbour area can be a fun stroll. In the other direction, the green room on City Hall is also easily walkable from your hotel. To reach it, go up the ramp on the east side of Nathan Philips Square. However, if you have a car, then I'd head up to the Toronto Botanical Garden, whose Piet Oudolf entry garden can be spectacular. Other than the cost of the ferry, all these garden experiences are free. Have fun!

  1. Arlan & Dom's garden is my favorite garden on the Walk. I come away from his garden each time with more ideas. I WANT his outdoor drinking fountain! Arlan was chair of the Garden Walk Buffalo committee for many years. He's my hero.

    1. We were pretty much in awe of their garden, too. My WANT list includes the lovely garden shed with its gingerbread trim. Likely, it will crop up in other posts.

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