The City Magazine Since 1975

Work House

Work House
April 2012

“On a cold winter’s day, I go in and soak in the flowers, the sun, and that wonderful aroma,” says Karen Coste of her Sullivan’s Island greenhouse. But it’s not all rest and relaxation for this hands-on gardener, and her handy spouse, Hal. No, they like to work—as evidenced by their gem of a yard and its charming outbuildings.

When Karen retired as a Charleston County school administrator, she focused full-time on her garden. With their yard renovated—they did most of the heavy lifting themselves, from clearing the lot to ripping out more thorny smilax vine than Karen cares to remember—the hobbyist horticulturist decided on a potting shed. In short order, Hal built her one, using salvaged 18th-century windows from the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and reclaimed wood. 

Next up: her long-desired greenhouse—a place to save her delicate potted blooms from winter’s chill and nurture curbside rejects back to life. Despite grandiose ideas of building it from more old windows, Karen ordered a kit. “I was so happy, like a child getting her first bicycle on Christmas,” she says.

There, for the past decade, Karen has wintered her begonias, geraniums, and an immense Staghorn fern and propagated plumeria and milkweed, which provides sustenance for stowaway monarch caterpillars. 

In addition, the greenhouse and potting shed, strung with twinkle lights, perform double duty for entertaining. “On a spring night, it casts such a beautiful glow throughout the yard,” says Karen. “It’s truly magical.”

Sun Catcher:

The Costes’ greenhouse takes advantage of an eastern sun, which Karen says isn’t as harsh as western exposure. A portable heater provides warmth on colder days, and upper vents open and close automatically when it gets too hot.

Coste Greenhouse

Hal Coste ran water and electric, and checked with his local zoning codes to make sure placement didn’t infringe on any setbacks.

Size: 10x12 feet

Approximate startup cost: $2,500-$3,000 for the kit from Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden ( Salvage materials picked up from Hal’s renovation jobs, and the couple did the work themselves.

A sample of what’s inside: air plants, assorted ivies and ferns, begonias, camellias, geraniums, hibiscus, impatiens, milkweed, plumeria, staghorn fern, and Tradescantia zebrina (or wandering jew)

Months used: December through March (after last frost)