An inside look at one of the Benson greenhouses after the renovation.

Tropical plants can’t survive in sub-50-degree weather. However, they are thriving in the Rexburg winter inside of the Benson greenhouses. 

Horticulture students spend hours inside the Benson greenhouses—home to hundreds of plant species. Yet, a few weeks ago, renovations to these greenhouses took place without causing damage to either plant or student learning.

Ever since the first greenhouse was built on campus in 1978, the facilities have been moved, updated, and renovated as needed. Recently, the university decided to make the necessary changes to make the Benson greenhouses more energy efficient.

Polycarbonate panels (otherwise known as the “greenhouse skins”) are the clear, window-like structures that make up a greenhouse. Not only do they allow sunlight to reach the growing plants inside, but they help trap heat needed to grow the plants.

Although the previous skins fulfilled their purpose, they weren’t as energy efficient as the new ones recently installed.

“With new skins on, we can save more energy. It doesn’t cost as much to heat them. That was the biggest purpose of the renovation,” said Forrest Barnes, greenhouse and Thomas E. Ricks Gardens manager.

Unlike past renovations, the greenhouses have stayed open throughout the entire process.

“One of the interesting things about this construction project was that instead of isolating the greenhouses—shutting everything down and making it so that nobody had access—they took it apart just a piece at a time and then replaced that piece as they were going,” said Nels Hansen, Applied Plant Science Department chair. “That meant that we could continue to teach classes, and we didn’t hurt the plants with cold weather.”

The majority of the renovations have already been completed, and the entire project will be finished during the winter semester.

These facilities are open and available to anyone from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. who would like to come in and see what it’s all about—or for anyone who would like to escape the Rexburg winter.

“It’s fun to be able to go in there in January or February and smell fresh tomatoes. Just smell that summer smell. I escape from my office and go there to remember what it’s like to be warm and green and have things around me that are green,” said Hansen. “In our long, dark, cold winters, the greenhouses are a respite from that.” 

The Benson greenhouses have served the university and its students for many years. With these updates, the facilities will continue to beautify campus, help students learn, and provide enjoyment to all who visit BYU-Idaho.