New greenhouses enhance Alaska Botanical Gardens’ mission
As snow begins to melt across Anchorage, organizers at Alaska Botanical Gardens prepare to debut two new greenhouses that will help the nonprofit expand its operations. A grand opening to celebrate the launch of the first greenhouse is set for 2 p.m. April 22, just in time for Earth Day.
“This has been in the works for multiple years now, because there was a need identified for us to grow our own material,” said gardens and facilities manager Mike Monterusso. “We have a plant sale every May, and we have to ship our plants in because that is still too early in Alaska’s seasons to have these plants available. … So having the greenhouses is really about the time it takes to grow these plants and eliminating the carbon footprint of bringing them up.”
The first greenhouse, Monterusso said, is smaller and architecturally designed, using geothermal heat from the ground instead of fossil fuels. It is called the Nursery Greenhouse, as it will be used to start new plants. At about 1,000 square feet, the structure is not large by most greenhouse standards, but will serve as a repository for smaller plants and perhaps even be used for other events.
“We will use it in ways that we don’t even know about yet,” he said. The April 22 grand opening and ribbon cutting celebrates the Nursery Greenhouse, which by late March was close to completion.
“We do use more than ever annuals for color and food production,” Monterusso said, “and this greenhouse will help with that.”
Later this summer, and perhaps even more impactful to the Alaska Botanical Gardens is the ground breaking for Phase II of the greenhouse project. The Verna E. Pratt Memorial Greenhouse will be a larger, more functional greenhouse, built in a more traditional northern-latitude style.
“It will not be heated directly and it will have south-facing glazing,” he said. “It will be designed to give us a longer season and will be almost two times as big as the first greenhouse.”
In late winter, an anonymous donor contributed $50,000 to the greenhouse project with only two stipulations: The donation remains anonymous, and the greenhouse named after Pratt, an Alaska household name to those who enjoy plants and gardening in Alaska. Pratt, wildflower and rock garden educator, writer, self-taught naturalist and longtime Alaskan author was a master gardener who not only wrote books and led workshops on plant identification and propagation, but also served as an ardent supporter of protecting Native Alaska flora. Her book, “Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers,” remains one of the definitive works on native Alaska plants today. Pratt died Jan. 8, 2017, at the age of 86.
“For those who knew Verna, her personality and style, this is the greenhouse she would have wanted named after her of the two,” Monterusso said. “It’s a workhorse type of greenhouse. We were very happy and appreciative when that donation came in.”
“This is one of the largest one-time gifts received at ABG,” wrote its Board of Directors after the March 2 donation announcement. The project is also the nonprofit’s largest capital project ever. “We at ABG couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Verna and her life’s work.”
Work on the first greenhouse began last June, and includes greenhouse space as well as public restroom facilities, which the ABG has needed for many years.
“The new nursery greenhouse will be extremely energy efficient, informed by best practices for sustainable, high-latitude greenhouse design. When completed, the greenhouse will showcase the role of green design in sustainable gardening and demonstrate ABG’s commitment to ecologically sound development,” wrote its board of directors. The Pratt Greenhouse, ABG said, will be considered its research and development greenhouse and is expected to open by the fall of 2017.
“We can use the (Verna E. Pratt) greenhouse for propagation and overwintering,” Monterusso said. “It will lengthen the growing season for us and allow us to overwinter trees and shrubs. … And the anonymous donation helps us consider upgrades that will help the greenhouse run more efficiently. We are thankful for that.”
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