Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Frosty Experience in the Yates House

Some of my pots of impatiens got knocked over in the squirrel invasion, but these plants actually died of frost inside the apartment. How could that happen? Many Plainfielders who live in apartments carved out of the city's Victorian mansions will understand.

My apartment is basically two rooms that once were second-floor bedrooms in the elegant home of shipping magnate Joseph Yates, one of the first council members. Each room has French doors that open onto a porch. On the 1976 tax card, a photo showed it enclosed only by screens, possibly for use as a sleeping porch. Somewhere between then and when I moved in in 1992, the porch was enclosed with plywood about waist-high and jalousie windows were installed. Each of the 10 windows got shelves propped up with fussy, unhistoric brackets.

The remodeling left plenty of fresh air coming in through cracks where the plywood didn't quite meet the existing structure. By the time I got there, the jalousie windows didn't close tightly, making the porch even more drafty. I kind of liked the feeling of being halfway outdoors, especially in summer.

A few years ago, a city inspector saw that the porch had no heat source and had the owner install baseboard heaters. The porch already had the best electrical outlets in the apartment, but was still sort of odd as living space. It was always at least 10 degrees cooler than the inside rooms. In recent years when the heat was spotty in winter, the porch tended to have temperatures in the 50s or lower.

Since the squirrel invasion forced me to close the doors and turn off the heater on the porch, the temperature went even lower. During the recent windstorm and cold spell, the porch temperature went down to 28 degrees one night and when I checked my plants, these two had died of frost.

I still have plenty of plants grown from cuttings and now I am making more cuttings from a couple of those plants. I should have a great crop by the time it is safe to plant them outside.

Meanwhile, I have one more quirky story about living in this converted mansion - the time we had a killing frost inside the apartment.

--Bernice Paglia


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