a table and chairs on a porch
(Image credit: Antema / Getty Images)

When we first bought our house, I wasn't very impressed with the enclosed front porch. Not only did it lack heat or air conditioning, it had never been made into usable living space. The shared wall between the house and porch was the original wood siding. The other three walls contained discolored aluminum windows, neither of which sealed properly nor opened easily.

Creating an Enclosed Porch Garden

With more important projects attracting our attention, the porch remained largely untouched. It provided short-term storage for building materials and the yearly Christmas tree. And like any unused spot in a crowded house, it became long-term storage for clutter. Back then, I never saw it as a gardener's paradise.

Yet, this unfinished living space is exactly that. Those southern-facing aluminum windows may not be much to look at, but they span the entire 32 feet (9.7 m.) of the porch. The glass in the windows predates modern UV filtration technology. With the entire spectrum of sunlight flowing through, I pretty much have a greenhouse attached to the front of my house!

How I missed the significance of this for so many years, I'm not sure. But I've come to love my enclosed front porch and here's why. Starting about 3 feet (.9 m.) off the ground and ending at the ceiling, the windows are the perfect height for potted trees. In fact, the first plant I put out there was my container-grown fig tree.

Living in zone 5, the majority of our winters are too cold for cultivating fig trees outdoors. The unheated, enclosed porch offered above-freezing midwinter temperatures in the 40-degree F. (4 C.) range. This creates an ideal chill period for freeze sensitive trees. Because of this, I've added another Mediterranean favorite to my collection. My olive trees overwinter beautifully in the enclosed porch and produces blossoms each spring.

Front Porch Gardening Extends the Season

So what I once considered wasted space has become the focal point of my indoor gardening experiments. The windows sit at the exact height as the top rack of inexpensive wire shelving. These 12-inch (30 cm.) wide shelves hold a variety of plants as well as the boot trays to catch the overflow from watering.

The brick construction absorbs radiant energy by day and slowly releases it at night. This creates an ambient temperature in the spring and fall which mimics outdoor summer weather. My enclosed porch hosts the perfect growing environment for seedlings which have outgrown my grow lights, herbs and geranium root cuttings.

Fall is the perfect season to grow leafy greens and the enclosed porch offers a bug-free environment. Warm days and cool nights encourage these cool-season crops to grow fast. But most important, the porch has allowed me to extend the summertime harvest season.

As a frost-free sanctuary, the porch provides an excellent refuge for container-grown vegetable plants. I can start these seeds earlier in the spring and transplant them much sooner into containers than the seedlings destined for the outdoor garden. Then in the fall when frost again threatens, I can bring the containers back inside so the remaining fruit can mature.

I'm not sure how I ever managed to garden before discovering this hidden treasure, but one thing is for sure. If I ever move, an enclosed porch will be at the top of my "must have" list.

Laura Miller

Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.