Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Greenhouse Evictees

The greenhouse is filling up alarmingly, and this is before I’ve started on the potting on. Sown seeds are a small, highly folded piece of paper and potting on is the unfolding of it. The volume doubles, then doubles again, then again. Pots balance upon pots, everything is crammed in and teetering, fighting for space, light, water and attention until the day when it is warm enough to finally be shipped outside and into the big wide allotment.

photo APRIL

So my task today has not been the potting on itself but the evicting of anything in the greenhouse that does not desperately need to be there. I need to make space on tables, under tables, anywhere. So anything that has been overwintering in a cosy corner is suddenly being looked at with newly impatient eyes: I want that cosy corner.

Last summer I took some cuttings of a few half-hardy salvias that I particularly love, ‘Silas Dyson’ a deep red salvia, and ‘La Luna’ a creamy white. These are funny creatures that are neither one thing nor another – not hardy, not tender – and it makes them a little tricky to deal with. But they are magnificent for flowering, churning out gorgeous little pin pricks of colour all summer and so I think they are worth persevering with. I have an added reason for lumping myself with extra of these troublesome plants and that is that there is actually a good chance that they might survive winters, if only they are given a good long summer to establish themselves first (and – I suppose – don’t get hit by a particularly chilly winter). Had I planted them out when they were first ready to go in autumn they would almost certainly have died in wet, cold winter soil, but after a summer of growing and creating a good root system they might just have the wherewithal to cope. They might well not, but in the meantime they will have been flowering away magnificently all summer long, so I reckon either way it was worth allotting them a corner of the greenhouse for the winter. The greenhouse isn’t heated at all, so that all they have had is a spot that is only very slightly warmer than the outside, but a whole lot dryer. It is true that this had been a spectacularly mild winter, and they may well have done ok out of doors this year, but the wet is usually as much of a culprit for winter plant deaths as the cold, sitting coldly around roots for weeks and rotting them slowly away. They were safer in their cosy corner.

It is perhaps a little early for this. It feels pretty warm, but there is a strong chance that the weather could change and we could still be due all manner of cold snaps. But while it is not actually the proper time to be planting these out, the space is required and that is that. So today out they went, and within a couple of months (late snow falls not withstanding) they will be clouds of tiny deep red flowers nestled among my tougher and perhaps less showy perennials in the back garden, and a haze of soft, creamy white flowers in the front garden, where most of the flowers are white or pale. Because they pump out flowers all summer they need plenty of sustenance, so I will give them a liquid comfrey feed – rich in potassium, the nutrient that encourages flowers – every couple of weeks. A little more trouble perhaps than many plants, but a lot more show, and I am was able to temporarily shelter them in the greenhouse.