Hartley Magazine

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October Overwintering

The drop in temperature has led Lia to move her more tender plants into the mini greenhouse

There has been a drop in temperature that has made me swiftly clear out the mini glasshouse ready for overwintering anything semi tender. In fact, we are going away, down to the south coast for a week to see out the real shift in season by the sea, but I can’t be sure that there wont be a frost while I’m away. I’m sure that in previous years the slide into autumn has been more gradual, but I don’t want to return to a mush of collapsed plants. When we have gone to the sea for this week away in the past we have swam in the sea and played on the beach in a last gasp of warmth, and convinced ourselves that the sea is still warm from a summer’s worth of sun. That doesn’t feel particularly appealing this year. And likewise I can’t take any risks with the plants at home as I might have in previous years. Into the greenhouse they go.

This is a mini greenhouse that we keep up near the house, the proximity allowing us to heat it gently with a propagation mat or a little greenhouse heater when the temperature really plummets. It is quite a different beast from the big greenhouse down at the end of the garden, good for tomatoes, aubergines and peppers in summer when it gets brilliantly hot and gets plenty of sun, but much less use when the temperature falls. It is all but impossible to heat, and also there is little need, our main crops having finished producing, and so gets cleared out in autumn, anything precious being moved up towards the house. None of that heating business is needed in the mini greenhouse for now though, and just being shifted up next to the walls and encased in glass should be all these plants need to keep them cosy, at least for the week we are away, and hopefully for another month or two.

Pelargoniums take up most of the space in there. I know that you can buy pelargoniums ten a penny in spring, but having found colours I love (salmons, corals and pinks) I’m keen to hang on to them; there’s nothing worse than buying new ones and getting them all planted up only to find that when they flower they are a jarring letter box red. That wont do at all… There are also aeoniums, which have done really well this year. Aeoniums don’t grow particularly fast for me so when I cut back me big Zwartkopf last year – it had got extremely top heavy, as they do, and was threatening to up its roots and tumble out of its pot, again, as they do – it stayed looking decidedly cut back for most of the summer, small florets of leaves appearing but never turning into much. This year it has fattened out and produced a beautiful fat head of leaves almost worthy of a Cornish garden, the lesson being to be brave with your aeonium pruning, but patient too. There are a few other of the hardier succulents too. But everything in there is on the edge, they are the sort of plants that do survive out of doors in cities in the south during mild years, and so they don’t need too much cosseting. All were picked over to get rid of dead leaves that might rot and cause a problem, and I scraped off the very top surface of the soil in case anything was lingering there ready to start munching into them. And now they just need to hunker down and get through this chilly autumn, nicely tucked away.