Hartley Magazine

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Another year in the greenhouse calendar

Another year in the greenhouse calendar and the greenhouse owner, me included, starts to plan, plot and plant for the year ahead. If not in practice just yet, then in the mind’s eye at least. Despite the greenhouse being a haven from the prevailing weather, the very presence of inclement climes can restrict greenhouse activity for a variety of reasons. The snow has been a sobering event. Trapped in a block of deep snow, traversed by ice gripped paths and insulated from above in a thick layer of what resembles Christmas cake fondant icing, the greenhouse is currently out of reach and in essence, out of bounds. The very act of opening the door to enter in, lets any modicum of warmth escape and yet the still cold air and the lack of flow, threatens worse to the botanical inhabitants inside

The greenhouse itself forms a vital tool in plant survival, not just in terms of temperature. Granted even the most basic unheated greenhouse offers an environment a few degrees above the ambient outdoor temperature and the introduction of any form of heating, be it soil warming cables, propagators or indeed greenhouse heaters, can hugely extend the growing season at both ends. But when our garden plants and the seeds we grow hail from every continent imaginable, other factors come into play. We want to grow plants from arid climes, alpines from mountain scree slopes and Mediterranean or even sub tropical beauties, many of which hate to be water logged or wet under their collar of leaves. Winter wet is as damaging as winter cold. Overwintering corms and tubers need to be kept dry and protected in order to survive the British weather and can be repotted and nurtured back into growth in spring. Dahlias, cannas and other tender specimens were historically lifted and overwintered in boxes beneath the greenhouse bench. Today many gardeners leave them in situ and regard losses outside to be at a similar level to losses they experience when utilising greenhouse protection. Indeed there is some sense in not disturbing them unless necessary, rather protecting them from above with thick, rich layers of mulch, but given the very wet autumn and winter just passed and now the heavy snow, certainly in my neck of the woods greenhouse protection is the better option.

Plants in pots for whatever reason are housed safely within the glasshouse, protected from the torrential rain, storms and blizzards and nurtured within the warmer environs of the greenhouse. Pest control is a process of regular monitoring and swift action at the first sign of trouble. Forget chemical control, the garden, greenhouse and surrounding nature reserve is a haven free from chemicals and a precious forage site for beneficial insects, including my bees.

The earlier flowers resulting from greenhoused tubs of bulbs; snowdrops, crocus, hyacinths and greenhouse peach, all vital early fodder for the little buzzers searching for nectar and pollen when it is so scarce in the early months of the year. A simple system of moving the flowering contents of pots and planters out onto the patio outside during sunny daylight hours and back in before the icy fingers of Jack Frost strike, works well. The sight of the pretty pink peach flowers covered in bees of all kinds lifts my heart on the sunny winter days that light up the garden.

If I could move my beehives into the greenhouse for the winter months, my world would be a very happy place. While it is feasible, a move of yards rather than miles would cause confusion and possibly do more harm than good. Plus free and easy greenhouse access and exit for the bees would negate some of the weather protection I value and that the plants nurtured within need.