Green­house know-how

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page -

While the in­hos­pitable weather makes gar­den­ing out­side dif­fi­cult, this is a good time to fo­cus on what you can grow un­der glass. West Dean Gar­dens, in West Sus­sex, has one of the coun­try’s finest kitchen gar­dens, in­clud­ing spec­tac­u­lar glasshouse dis­plays from early spring on­wards. The work that goes into th­ese starts long be­fore any­thing comes into flower.

“We have only just fin­ished clean­ing the glasshouses,” ex­plains Sarah Wain, who has run West Dean with her hus­band, Jim Buck­land, since 1991. “In­side and out, with soapy wa­ter and brushes. Pests like mealy bug can live on the struc­ture of the glass over win­ter. Also, if the out­side gets too dusty, that can af­fect the qual­ity of the light get­ting in. The whole clean­ing process takes around two months, with a team of three work­ing on it.

“The pots and trays need to be washed, too. That takes three or four months, with two peo­ple work­ing for an hour and a half a day.”

The heated glasshouses at West Dean mean that staff are al­ready start­ing to pot up dis­plays for the spring. They hope to be fin­ished by Fe­bru­ary, when the team will also be­gin to sow seed for early crops, un­der glass or cloches.

“I have been comb­ing through the RHS tri­als at Wis­ley,” says Sarah, “and I’ll be us­ing some of the win­ners of AGM awards, and grow­ing those for the pub­lic to see. Par­tic­u­larly with com­mon plants, such as basil or cour­gette, I think it is im­por­tant for peo­ple to see which va­ri­eties stand up well to the cli­mate, or have disease-re­sis­tance built into them.”

For gar­den­ers with­out the lux­ury of a heated green­house, she says, there are other good op­tions for win­ter dis­plays un­der glass.

“Many suc­cu­lents are cold­tol­er­ant, as long as they do not get too wet – ideal for grow­ing in un­heated glasshouses. There are plenty, for ex­am­ple, that are hardy down to five de­grees. Some prim­u­las can be good, too, for a re­ally at­trac­tive win­ter dis­play.

“Veg-wise, there are lots of sal­ads, herbs and small veg­eta­bles that are cold-tol­er­ant: co­rian­der, win­ter hardy let­tuce, corn salad. You just need to make sure that you have the grow­ing re­quire­ments for your va­ri­ety – eas­ily found on the in­ter­net now – and you’re off.”

Of course, Sarah’s prepa­ra­tions are af­fected by the weather. “We haven’t had a cold win­ter so far, but there has been plenty of rain. In De­cem­ber we had eight inches, when we usu­ally have four. If there is more rain and it stays rea­son­ably warm, then I would worry that it could be

bod­nan­tense

West Dean Gar­dens is open from Fe­bru­ary 1 (01243 811301; west­dean. org.uk). Lulling­stone Cas­tle & the World Gar­den is open from April (01322 862114; lulling­stonecas­tle.co.uk).

Wet-weather ac­tiv­i­ties: Sarah Wain at West Dean, and Tom Hart Dyke at Lulling­stone Cas­tle, have plenty to keep them oc­cu­pied

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