Budget Friendly Greenhouse Design

Lack of space, budget, and materials wasn't going to stop Axton Burton from building a greenhouse in which to overwinter his prized, tropical houseplants. With his rented studio apartment clearly not an ideal location for such a structure and the majority of residential greenhouses too short to accommodate his ice cream banana tree (Musa acuminata × balbisiana 'Blue Java') anyway, he persuaded his parents to donate a spot on their rural property and together with his dad designed a greenhouse with suitable dimensions that could be constructed from (mostly) recycled materials.

This unique greenhouse is made from recycled glass bottles set within a fir frame. Cucamelons grow on the outside, their wispy tendrils attaching to bamboo skewers pushed between the bottles.

While he initially considered using recycled windows for the walls, Axton realized that trying to get exactly the dimensions he needed could be both time consuming and frustrating, so instead opted to use recycled bottles; 4516 of them to be exact, in all shapes and sizes from nail polish bottles and spice jars to larger canning jars. These are glued into place to fill the frame.

"This has been my passion project," said Axton, admitting that the focus helped keep him grounded during months of COVID-induced isolation. He began in January 2020 and had mostly finished the greenhouse by September 1st 2021,  "although I don't know when it will be ever truly finished," he admits.

Yet there was still the question of the glass bottles – where to find them? The answer was in his neighborhood. Axton is clearly much loved within the local community and he reached out to them via Facebook groups asking if anyone had any glass bottles to donate while explaining his idea. Intrigued friends, neighbors, strangers, and clients scoured their homes and donated what he needed, investing themselves into the projects' success at the same time. Axton also advertised using the Next Door app at which point "everything exploded!"

Visitors (there are many)  are invited to decorate and sign leftover lids from the donated jars. (Any extra lids were donated to local schools).

These lids are then hung outside – a testament to those who have encouraged and helped Axton in his quest.

Moss gathered from garden is used to pack the spaces between the glass bottles in the walls

As the temperatures dip, Axton has started moving his precious plants into their winter residence, while admitting this is all something of an experiment. He has installed LED lights and a misting system, the latter being run from a rainwater collection system. A fountain, found for free via Craig's List, will add to the humidity his tropical plants need in order to thrive.

A fountain inside the greenhouse provides humidity – as does a misting system

During summer months when the greenhouse isn't needed for his tropicals, Axton has considered using the space for date nights. "It's so romantic with all the lights," he notes, adding that his partner James is a great chef.

When Axton isn't tending his prized exotic fruiting plants he is an active transgender healthcare activist and also manages a senior rat rescue business with James. "We provide a rat-tirement home," he quips.

Axton Burton in front of the greenhouse he designed and built

Connect with Axton

Email: axtonstrong@hotmail.com


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  1. nancy mellen on October 19, 2021 at 8:00 am

    I love the greenhouse but am creeped out by the idea of a rat retirement home.

    • Karen Chapman on October 19, 2021 at 9:00 am

      If I recall correctly, the reason Axton and James created that business was because they became aware of rats being abandoned when they got older. While rats certainly wouldn't be my first choice of a pet either, I can appreciate this alternative to euthanasia or simply letting them loose when owners lose interest.

  2. Margarete Haefele on October 19, 2021 at 8:25 am

    But did the Banana Tree survive the winter?

    • Karen Chapman on October 19, 2021 at 8:56 am

      I'll let you know next spring!

  3. Gale WALD on October 19, 2021 at 3:44 pm

    Hi Karen, great project, but think finding the windows might have been easier to do…lol Thanks for sharing this. Think of you often re English gardens

    • Karen Chapman on October 20, 2021 at 8:24 am

      Not sure about windows being easier or not – but this method certainly engaged the community which I think has been key to Axton's mental health during the pandemic.(And I promise the English tour info is very close to being released….been held up waiting for a few details)