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.
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.
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.