Always site your glasshouse in your sunniest spot, goes the gardening wisdom, and quite rightly too. There is little point going to all the trouble of buying and erecting a structure perfectly designed to capture every ray of sunlight and drop of warmth if you then plonk it in the lee of a building or under a tree. But knowing the best thing to do and being able to do it are two very different things, and for me following this advice to the letter would have meant siting my greenhouse right outside my kitchen window, blocking light and view and – slightly more importantly – access to the rest of the garden. I have no acres to play with, and few options. In a city garden (and many others too for that matter) space is limited and compromises have to be made. And so when I first put up my glasshouse I was forced to put it in the slightly shadier end of the garden, next to my neighbour’s little ornamental cherry tree, and some other potential future problems – a little bay tree, some little hawthorn saplings. It wasn’t the sunniest spot but it was not bad, and for years I used the greenhouse as intended. Ten years on however and the cherry tree is huge and towering, stretching out over the roof, the bay tree big, dark and dense, and the hawthorn saplings hawthorn trees, and I have slowly realised that I am using the greenhouse in the autumn, winter and spring, and then abandoning it in summer as the thick leaf cover kicks in.
This has to change, and I have been setting about it. I love a leafy and green garden, a little overgrown and a little wild. I like the romance of it. It also brings with it a certain level of privacy and that feels precious in the city. But I am having to recognise that this wildness has started to interfere with the basic running of things. Green is beautiful, but it means gloom, and I notice that in addition to my greenhouse being abandoned for summer the roses and clematis are each producing just a few flowers each year, and that the quinces on my dwarf quince tree stay tiny or don’t ripen. So recently I started some serious hacking back. The big bay tree is coming down, the hawthorns have been cut back to hedge height, the tide of green is slowly but surely being pushed back and shipped off in car boot fulls to the dump. And – halleluja! – the neighbour recently asked me if I would mind if she had the cherry cut down. Already light floods in where i had forgotten it could, and once the tree surgeons get to work there will be so much more. I can also see others and be seen, and Im not too keen on that, preferring at heart to wander in my overgrown verdant glade, but the compromise had to be made.
The change will mean that as well as starting my own tomatoes, aubergines and chillies here in spring, I can grow and ripen a few here too, instead of taking them all up to the allotment polytunnel. The polytunnel is the ultimate ripening place, with full sun all day long, and not the tiniest possibility of a tree growing across it and casting shade. I sited the polytunnel well. But it is not outside my backdoor and so it can occasionally get a little neglected. It will be good to have my tomatoes back where I can really tend to and fuss over them, and I wont have to fight my way through a back garden jungle to reach them.