Ten good reasons why I love my greenhouse
Ihave a rickety old greenhouse. It is nothing fancy. I bought it from a neighbour for £100, dismantled it in his garden, and then spent several months frowning at it as I tried to piece it back together in mine. Despite not being the most deluxe of structures, it is one of my favourite places to be in the garden. There are a thousand reasons why I love it, but here are the top 10.
sweet, slug-free potatoes
The small degree of protection an unheated greenhouse affords can have a big effect on some plants. Potatoes are a case in point: I’ve pretty much given up growing them outside after such a slug and blight-ridden year as 2012, but in a pot in the greenhouse they pop up early, free of slug-holes, and are particularly tender and tasty.
Strawberries in May
Strawberries like a good chill over winter otherwise they are reluctant to flower, so you wouldn’t want to leave them in the greenhouse all winter long. Move them in during February or March, however, and it’s a different story. Post-chill, the plants leap into life. My indoor strawberries come a month earlier than my outdoor ones.
Who hasn’t had their heart broken by tomato blight? Blight spores travel on the wind and only tomatoes under cover had a hope of surviving last summer. The season was so bedraggled that even some greenhouse toms were afflicted, but at least they
stood a chance of escaping.
Big flowers in December
If you have a border in your greenhouse you can flower large, floppy-headed chrysanthemums right into December. Mine is paved, so I grow earlier- flowering types at the allotment and dig them up and overwinter them under glass, which still gives me flowers until early November. I like the single-stemmed ones above the smaller multi-headed spray types: voluptuous old-school glamour from your chilly winter greenhouse.
Tiny flowers in February
At the other end of the flower scale are the tiny spring bulbs that can be fooled into thinking it is spring in February. Plant miniature daffodils, scilla, crocuses, even roots of lily of the valley in autumn, and be treated to delicate blooms through late winter and early spring.
Year-round salad leaves
It is true that by choosing the right varieties you can grow salad leaves out of doors all winter. It is also true that those same leaves look utterly unappealing after being toughened up by cold, battered by hail and splattered in mud by winter downpours. Grow in the greenhouse and you still need to choose the hardiest of lettuces and other leaves, but they will reach the kitchen in beautiful condition: soft, mild and pockmark-free.
A back-up plan when the dog eats your homework
This past autumn there were a few wet weeks that put me off going to the allotment just as I should have been planting my garlic and broad beans. Instead I sat in the house and watched Ice Age 3 with the kids. I missed my slot. But all is not lost, because I have since been able to plant both crops into small pots and modules in the greenhouse. Here they will hopefully catch up, and may even make better plants than they would outdoors. I’ll transplant them outside in spring.
Aeoniums are the reason I have a greenhouse at all. I would go on holiday to Cornwall every summer and see their beautiful plump rosettes of leaves emerging from every crack in every wall and bring armfuls home, only to kill them off each winter. I soon found that I could kill them just as well with a greenhouse as without, but even just the heat from a propagation mat seems to be enough to keep them alive (and all manner of other tender exotics, should you fancy).
An outlet for unseasonal urges
We all get them. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s late autumn, or perhaps very early spring, and everything is snoozing under a blanket of chilly damp. Any seed sown direct into the ground would rot, freeze or both in a matter of hours, and yet along comes a sunny mild day, a whiff of spring, and the urge to sow becomes irresistible. In a greenhouse – especially if you have a little heated propagation mat upon which to place your seed trays – there is almost always something that can be sown. Perennial flowers, sweet peas, early peas, lettuces, all can be started at odd times of year under the refuge of your glass roof.
A place for tea and biscuits in the rain
Perhaps the most important function of the greenhouse: when the rest of the garden is too soggy to set foot in I can take my mug of tea and spend a couple of hours tidying plants, sowing seeds, or just listening to the rain on the roof.
People in glass houses: Lia enjoys early bulbs in her greenhouse, as well as early strawberries and an occasional cup of tea