Famous gardener does great work in privacy of his home

Published: Monday, Feb. 13 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Peter Lassig checks on a cycad in his greenhouse.

Larry Sagers

What does one of Utah's most famous gardeners do after putting away his tools and retiring? He certainly does not take a permanent break from the soil, but instead focuses on his dream garden.

Peter Lassig spent more than 40 years lovingly tending the gardens at the headquarters properties for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He modestly refers to his title there as the gardener at Temple Square. Seven years ago, he hung up his trowel there and started devoting more of his time to his personal gardens.

After spending that long taking care of world-famous gardens your blood is likely a little low on hemoglobin, but has plenty of green chlorophyll to make up the difference. Lassig has continued his remarkable transformation of his landscape both inside and out.

He credits his wife, Janet, for the beauty of the interior gardens. She cares for some 250 plants spread throughout virtually every room in the home. Peter says that to give them all a thorough watering and the care they need may take as long as three hours per day.

The Lassig home did not always look the way it looks now. It was a ranch-style home with a low-pitched roof and resembled many of the other homes in the neighborhood.

About 10 years ago, Lassig sketched out ideas for remodeling his home. His children were almost all grown and he'd worked on the house for three to five years. He started by converting the garage into a greenhouse base and built a greenhouse on the top of the concrete roof he installed.

"My plan was to make it strong enough to support a car. You could park your car anywhere up there, but I wanted it strong enough that I could grow anything I wanted to on the second story. We reinforced the bottom story with wood-clad steel beams so they did not look so foreboding."

He also pushed out and added bay windows at several other locations where he wanted more light inside the home. That allows him to grow amazing plants.

The marvelous ferns that grace numerous rooms in the home are spectacular.

Unlike most Boston ferns that struggle inside homes, these are flourishing like they were growing in an Olympic rain forest.

While the downstairs greenhouse is impressive, the upstairs has many exciting plants. This is reached by a movable ladder. This area is divided into different zones depending on the heat needs and the light needs of the different plants.

"This greenhouse was an outgrowth of the passive solar work that I studied by working on my master's degree at Utah State University," Peter said. "I wanted to do a passive solar greenhouse so I built the roof on my garage out 12 inches of concrete.

"As long as I paid attention to the cost, I have great passive solar heat. The temperatures can get well over 100 degrees if we did not spread a lot of the heat to the rest of the house."

After his first wife passed away and he married Janet, he made changes to the greenhouse design. The 27-degree angle of the class is exactly perpendicular to the sun on the day of the winter solstice.

Because he had so many different plants I asked him what was his favorite flower. Lassig lovingly replied that it was Janet, his wife. They both love roses for the outside as well as wisteria, but the number of plants make it difficult to select favorites on the inside.

The top story has a very sunny zone on the south and a slightly shaded zone on the north. On the south, he grows many succulents, including a paddle plant, which is a type of kalanchoe. Other sun lovers include cannas, dichondra "Silver Falls' and many others.

Lassig explains that many of his plants are souvenirs from his travels. Some of the most unusual succulents he purchased from Rogers Garden in southern California. Others are gifts, plants they started themselves and others that friends have shared with them.

Not many people have showy vines growing inside their home, but this is an unusual greenhouse. He has fragrant jasmine in bloom in early February and several of the columns in the greenhouse are covered with Creeping Ficus, a tropical vine related to rubber trees.

After seeing so much beauty inside what was once an ordinary subdivision home, I asked Lassig why he and his wife devoted so much time to growing these plants.

"It is glorious to be in love with horticulture," he said. "It is a disease that I will never recover from."

It is easy to see that it is not just his thumb that is green, but his blood is tinged also. This beautiful work of art is a tribute to the love and skill that he and his wife share as they garden both indoors and out.

Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.

Garden tips

Wasatch Community Gardens class, "Growing in Greenhouses Workshop Series," Tuesday, Feb. 21, 6-8 p.m., Mountain Valley Seeds, 455 W. 1700 South, Salt Lake City. Cost: $10 each. Register for all three workshops on consecutive Tuesdays for the discounted price of $25. Pre-registration required.

Fruit tree pruning: Learn the correct way to prune your fruit trees to improve crop production and breakage and damage. Includes USU Pruning Bulletin and handouts. Choose from five single classes at Thanksgiving Point. Feb. 16, 2-4 p.m.; Feb. 21, 2-4 p.m.; Feb. 21, 6-8 p.m.; March 3, 9-11 a.m.; March 3, noon-2 p.m. For registration and more information, please call 801-768-7443.

Budding and grafting class: Learn propagation techniques of fruit trees. These principles and techniques also apply to ornamental plants. Learn how to preserve old varieties or propagate new plants through asexual propagation. At Thanksgiving Point, Feb. 27. For registration and more information and to order rootstocks for the class, please call 801-768-7443.

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