Growing Under Cover

I could easily have predicted that greenhouse gardening would become an obsession second time around. I owned my first greenhouse (rather a grand description for an aluminium frame covered with stiff opaque plastic) at the age of fourteen and was only parted from life under polythene when I went to university. Growing under cover exposed me to an exciting world of propagation, experimentation and new scents. I grew thousands, maybe millions of plants from seed, took hundreds of cuttings and spent precious hours with our beloved tabby cat, Bod. To this day, nothing is so comforting as being inside a greenhouse during a shower, breathing the scent of petrichor rising from the earth outside and listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops on thin glass. All that’s missing is Bod, even though she did go to sleep on whichever tray of seedlings offered her the warmest bed. Most plants don’t react well to that kind of feline attention.

Narcissus 'Paperwhite Ziva', Polegate Cottage, February 2016

Twenty five years on (can it really be that long?) I’ve had the opportunity to garden under glass again. My greenhouse is nothing grand, second-hand and certainly not a thing of beauty, but it keeps the elements out and the warmth in. Its days may be numbered if we realise the full extent of our building plans for Polegate Cottage, which will mean re-siting at best and removal altogether at worst. The prospect already pains me, but it’s the greenhouse or a new ‘wing’ comprising a garden room, cloakroom and bike shed for Him Indoors. It’s not a battle I am going to win. So for now I am enjoying finding out what can be achieved in an unheated greenhouse during a mildish winter. My paperwhites (Narcissus ‘Paperwhite Ziva’), whilst not in flower for Christmas, are the sturdiest I’ve ever grown, all the better for the high light levels a greenhouse offers compared to a windowsill indoors. The scent is overpowering and curiously ‘horsey’. Next in flower will be Narcissus ‘Cragford’, followed by Narcissus ‘Avalanche’, both better off for a little shelter. The delicate fragrance of Acacia dealbata ‘Gaulois Astier’, better known as mimosa, is completely drowned out, but I can still enjoy those perfect lemon yellow pom-poms without fear they may be pelted with rain or scattered by a winter gale.

Mimosa, Polegate Cottage, February 2016

Echiums, begonias, geraniums, aeoniums, fuchsias, watsonias, impatiens and plectranthus, many of which might have drowned, rotted or died of cold outside, have flourished in the benign atmosphere of the greenhouse. Provided we don’t encounter a seriously cold snap now, they will get away that little bit faster when the weather outside is clement enough to guarantee their future success. As for seed sowing, with the exception of sweet peas I am holding off until mid March so that I don’t end up with more seedlings than I have space for: always a danger when you stick a plantaholic in a greenhouse. This way the plants should be at just the right stage of development for our open days on August 20th and 21st.

Whilst the reality is that I could be without a greenhouse again by early summer, I know it won’t be another 20 years before I acquire the next one. Gardening is rewarding, but gardening under cover is the best kind of addiction.

I’d love to hear what’s looking good in your greenhouse right now and your top tips for gardening under glass.

Greenhouse, Polegate Cottage, February 2016

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32 thoughts on “Growing Under Cover

  1. Looking gorgeous!! My paper whites, not under glass, are just starting to poke their heads through…a little earlier than normal! Weird weather conditions.

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  2. Looks great, love the mimosa! I have had only a tiny one for 18 months to keep overwintering things like aeoniums, fuchsia and sarracenia and my baby tree fern, although possibly only the first on that list really needs it! I have a folding chair, 3 spaces with cushions for cats to sit on, a radio, clock, and solar dragonfly lights. I love spending time in there and have found it’s useful to keep various tools, potting mix and full watering can handy to save going into the main shed for them. A waste bin for the compost heap is helpful. Of course, don’t forget space for the wine!

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  3. Perhaps your next post should be, “How I keep my greenhouse looking so neat”. I don’t have a greenhouse (but dream constantly of the day), just a cold frame, which contains overwintering specimens of varying attractiveness ranging from a surprisingly handsome row of hebe cuttings to a pair of very ill-favoured penstemons that failed to find a home in the soil last year, plus various dead things I haven’t thrown out yet. I imagine in the future owning a greenhouse of elegance, a paragon of botanical vitality and organisation; I expect the reality, on that happy day, will be somewhat scruffier!

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    1. Well, we can all dream. My fantasy greenhouse is rather more Alitex or Gabriel Ash than the reality, but it seems to be doing the job. I am looking forward to a morning of potting and sowing tomorrow, followed by a late Sunday lunch. Bliss πŸ€“.

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  4. Mine is nearly ready! After 6 months of squelchy, uninviting miserable garden days, my wonderful octogenarian dad has the half batter kerb foundations and the frame in place, just the glass and bits to go; I can’t wait to move in to my very own glasshouse, I can’t WAIT! There’ll be cake, there’ll be fizz, there’ll be seed sowing on an industrial scale when I join you in the ranks of the glasshouse owners.

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    1. Dads are the best when it comes to these things aren’t they? I have a few jobs lined up for my septuagenarian dad when he visits in April. He will complete them better and in a fraction of the time I’d take. Look forward to hearing more about your lovely glasshouse πŸ€“.

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  5. I like the name you have given yourself – Plantaholic πŸ™‚
    Well,to tell the truth I envy you a little that small greenhouse. You have much more possibilities to experiment with the plants. I have never thought about having a greenhouse in my garden, though there would be enough room for it. I could perhaps keep my olive trees there – now they are in a cool cellar close to the windows but of course they miss the sunlight vey much…
    I have a question about your agapanthus – do you keep them in pots in your greenhouse too? Or have you ever? Mine is kept in a cool cellar from November till April / May and it does not want to bloom 😦 The plant is healthy and looks good even after “winter holidays” at home. What am I doing wrong? Too warm, too little light, too dry ( I don’t water it during winter months ) ? What’s your Plant Expert’s opinion?

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    1. Agapanthus. There’s a subject I could talk on for hours Paul. Mine are Agapanthus africanus and therefore evergreen and perhaps tender in colder climes. They stay outside all year round and have been snowed on, frosted and blown about. They don’t always like it, but they survive well. There are three secrets to getting them to flower. The first is ensuring they get lots of sun during the summer. If they are shaded at all (or you have a very dull summer) they will not form flowers for the following year. This happens in about September from what I have been told. I’d have thought Polish summers would be hotter and sunnier than English ones? What happens to the plants over winter should not affect them, but I wouldn’t recommend letting them dry out entirely. The second secret is to feed with a high potash feed to encourage flowering. Start in April and keep going until October. I use tomato food regularly, but growers here use a special soluble agapanthus food which I buy occasionally that has 5 times more potash. Do not use balanced fertilisers or you may just get leaves. I have recommended this to neighbours here and it’s worked. Finally, they flower better if tightly restricted in their root run. Don’t give them too much space to produce lots of root that will translate into more leaves. I keep mine very congested and they don’t mind at all.

      Agapanthus can also be highly variable in their flowering habits, so if a variety does not work for you, perhaps try a different one? Hope this helps!

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      1. Thanks a lot Dan for your advice. It seems I must have made a lot of mistakes with my agapanthus. The plant was placed in semi-shade last summer not in full sun, I gave it standard, balanced and long-working fertiliser, so there were beautiful green leaves but …no flowers. The other probable mistake was keeping the plant dry in winter. The only thing I have done right is a” tight pot ” – it is not too large as for the relatively large plant. Well, I will stick to your advice this year. First thing first I am going to ensure my agapanthus as much sun as possible which won’t be difficult in my place, as Polish summers are really hot and sunny . Then I am sure to feed it with good potash fertiliser and maybe I will finally succeed. Once more thanks for taking your time and your precious advice. πŸ™‚

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  6. I’ve already done what you have wisely avoided… run out of space. The hardiest characters have been handed eviction notices but there will still be an awful lot of shuttling to and fro if there are any more cold nights. There’s only one thing for it really. I need a bigger greenhouse.

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    1. Indeed, but you will fill it up in no time! My main issue is that I am not about every day to do the shuttling, so a plant is either in or out. To hedge my bets, if I have more than one of anything I might leave one outside, one in the greenhouse and bring one inside. That way at least one should survive!

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  7. I am very jealous of your little house of glass. I may cry when you take it down. At our little garden festival in Stratford I was eyeing up the greenhouse displays, but since I am coming to England in a few weeks I need to wait until a non travelling year to afford one. We have had an extremely mild winter, and now my crocuses are blooming a whole month early. I am down to one, yes only one Eranthis, sigh. Perhaps I should try a different location. With the mild winter I probably would have spent considerable time out in a greenhouse. Apparently I have a new goal for next year.

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    1. I may cry too Lisa! One day I would like a nice cedar greenhouse, or a posh aluminium one, but right now I am happy with my bog standard version. They are not cheap things and on balance I wouldn’t pass up opportunities to travel for a fancier glasshouse.

      Here some of the daffodils are over, but there are more to come. We are expecting warm weather at the weekend so tulips won’t be far behind. I hope you have a brilliant trip to England and that the sun has warmed our gardens up a bit so that you can enjoy them.

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  8. A greenhouse would be heaven, and I’d have to move it rather than get rid of it. Of course, that’s easy to say as I sit in my chair typing away. πŸ™‚ There isn’t one in my future because of the cold temperatures and snow weight. The only way one survives here is to have it heated and that puts you in a whole other financial hemisphere. Enjoy every moment. πŸ™‚

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  9. The most prominent thing in my little greenhouse (actually more like a shed with lots of windows) is my beloved tree fern. I’m pretty sure I waited too long to bring it inside, but I’m still anxiously scanning the trunk for any unfurling activity. I will be beyond furious with myself if my neglect killed it!

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  10. I have a couple of Hoya carnosa plants that I took from a 30 yr old parent. They have come through the winter as my lean-to glasshouse has one of those mini plastic greenhouses tucked in the corner – great protection. Ideal in a greenhouse or poly-tunnel for over-wintering. Useless outside in the wind-swept part of the West or Ireland where I live!!! Another brilliant article,

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