My plastic womb

Sweet is the lore which nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things –
We murder to dissect.

Enough of science and of art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

William Wordsworth, “The Tables Turned,” 1798

In this week’s Literary Gardener column and podcast, I discussed “greenhouse romanticism,” a genre of literature and poetry in which the relationships between plants and people are highlighted. In the 19th century, Romantic writers like William Wordsworth waxed poetic about nature as a way of criticizing the effects of the Industrial Revolution, which was moving people further and further away from nature and into cities and factories.

I wonder what the Romantics would have thought about gardening in today’s plastic-covered greenhouses? Indeed, plasticulture has transformed greenhouse gardening since polyethylene became commercially available after Word War II.

My plastic womb

For the past seven years, I’ve been growing plants in a 10 x 20 foot greenhouse covered in woven polyethylene. I’ve been impressed with the reinforced design of the 12 mil film (a mil is one-thousandth of an inch in thickness), which has made the greenhouse cover more resistant to stretching, tearing, puncturing, and turning brittle. The weave diffuses sunlight throughout the greenhouse, which reduces shadow spots, although the transmission of available sunlight is slightly reduced to about 85 percent. (By comparison, 6 mil clear polyethylene transmits about 90 percent of available sunlight inside the greenhouse.)

Polyethylene and other plastics are highly processed petroleum-based products; as such, I don’t think Willliam Wordsworth would have considered modern greenhouse gardening “sweet (a)s the lore which nature brings.”

But maybe that’s because Willy never gardened in a plastic-covered greenhouse. I love working with the plants in my greenhouse in the middle of winter when it’s cold and raining outside. There’s something about being in the enclosed space with the earthy smell of soil and growing plants and the sound of fat raindrops hitting the plastic roof that makes me wax poetic:

My Plastic Womb

Look up! My Friend, and quit your texts;
Surely, you will be fitter:
Look up! My Friend, you’re cyber-stressed;
Why all these tweets and twitters?

Venture ‘way from your plastic screen,
Give your tired thumbs a rest;
Yonder, there’ a capsule of green
Plants, where fragrant air is best.

Breathe deep! Take in the fertile smell!
Soil, rich, with tiny lifeforms –
Rain patters on the plastic shell,
Yet the womb is cozy-warm.

And look! Tiny seedlings emerge,
Gazing sunward as to home –
Oh, what joy to hopefully urge
New life ‘neath the plastic dome.

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