In December, not long after purchasing his first home in West Point, the 24-year-old came up with an idea to build a greenhouse in his backyard. As the projects coordinator for City Hall, he oversees the city’s recycling program, so he knew he wanted a structure that was environmentally friendly.
What he came up with was a greenhouse made of glass, shredded paper, mud and a bit of Portland cement.
“I had everyone in Starkville, Columbus and West Point collecting wine bottles for me,” said Estes, the son of Tim and Angie Estes. “I got most of them from a recycling center, though, probably eight or nine truckloads.”
The greenhouse isn’t just made from wine bottles. There are also beer bottles, mayonnaise, pasta and pickle jars, canning and jelly jars, glass jugs, candle holders and even Starbucks frappuccino bottles.
The effect is like walking into a life-size kaleidoscope.
“At night, I come out here and put a light on and it looks like a Lite-Brite,” Estes said, referring to the children’s toy. “Photos don’t do it justice.”
Try, try again
Estes started building the greenhouse just before Christmas as soon as he got his first truckload of bottles. He made a frame out of some cedar logs from a cutover that were destined for the burn pile. Next, he had to find a mortar mix that would hold glass.
He finally came up with a mixture of 10 to 15 percent of Portland cement mixed with good old Mississippi mud. Shredded paper donated from area office buildings rounded out the mortar.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing at first,” he said. “So I did a test wall to see how well everything held together, how high I could go before the wall started falling, whether the labels needed to come off the bottles. I built one wall and saw what I did wrong and then I took it down and started over.”
Every afternoon, the neighborhood kids would get off the school bus and head straight to Estes’ house to work on the project. Two boys, T.J. Haughton and Joseph Salmon, were especially loyal.
“They just wanted to help out,” he said. “They couldn’t do much, but they could hand me bottles and the paper and mud mixture and move dirt piles. They’d go home covered in mud from head to toe.”
Estes put two old windows out of homes in West Point in the greenhouse, and used a door from his own home as the main opening. He picked up political signs off the side of the road between West Point and Tupelo, coupled with some old shower doors for light, to make the roof.
After a close friend politely chided him about the roof, Estes replaced the political signs with poly-plastic.
Estes figures the greenhouse, which he completed mid-April, cost less than $350 to build: $44 for cement, $20 for brackets and $280 for the new roof.
“This is the first time I’ve really ever built anything,” Estes said. “Before, I wouldn’t even trust myself to build a bookshelf.”
Recycler at heart
Estes has filled his 12-by-12-foot greenhouse with orchids and bromeliads, all purchased at rock-bottom prices.
“I buy the orchids on sale at Lowe’s when they’re about to throw them out,” he said. “I usually pay about $1 each. I really stock up.”
He has about 50 orchids in the greenhouse and at least a half-dozen bromeliads hanging from the ceiling. Pots peek out from glass ledges with breathtaking blooms hanging from them.
“I don’t consider myself cheap, but I am frugal,” he said. “My grandfather, who passed away a couple of years ago, had a great impact on my life. When he had something that broke, he fixed it, instead of replacing it. I try not to throw anything away. I can always find some use for it.”
When Estes wasn’t busy with his greenhouse, he was working on his yard. He’s built a large fish pond, a deck, two cedar arbors, fences, and several flower beds filled with pass-along daylilies and hostas, and Knockout roses he bought on clearance for $2 each.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen several neighbors begin to clean up their yards,” he said. “People are coming into the neighborhood and buying old houses and fixing them up. It’s looking up, for sure.”