Hartley Magazine

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Sir Max Hastings Opened My Greenhouse

In The Greenhouse with Lila Das Gupta

I have just spent the most magical first day in my new greenhouse. The bulk of it was spent “feathering the nest”: sorties to the shed to bring in supplies of compost, propagator, labels, hand tools, trays, seeds, radio, riddle, watering can, seat. Then came the final moment when I could sit down and relax. Let the work begin.
I have to admit I have felt a sense of trepidation at the back of my mind I’m aware that greenhouses, if badly managed, can become a battleground full of pests, stressed plants and unthinkable horticultural disasters which I”ve been conjuring in my mind every time I find myself awake at 4am.

So glad to know that I was not alone. Helen Yemm “Thorny Problems” columnist in the Saturday Telegraph and author of “Gardening in Your Nightie”, says she too had the same worries but has been fine just using her common sense. I will follow her lead and use mine as well.
My husband did offer to smash a bottle of champagne against the greenhouse to launch her, but since it”s bad luck if they don”t break (the bottle, not the panes of glass), I decided I would get “Sir Max Hastings” to do the honours. The distinguished historian and former newspaper editor, duly obliged (courtesy of Kerton Sweet Peas) .

I did go a bit mad at the RHS Inner Temple show last year and bought masses of heritage sweet peas from Pennard Plants. I’m sure “Sir Max” would be delighted to know that he is seated next to “Lord Nelson” in the propagator.

Max Hastings with the sweet pea which has been named after him

Ideally sweet peas should be started in October or November, but with a greenhouse I”ll still make up for lost time and get a good show. Once the plants are an inch high I”ll take them out of the propagator and acclimatise them in the greenhouse. (For fool-proof guide on growing sweet peas click here).

The thing to watch is that they don’t put on too much top growth too quickly or they won’t develop a good set of roots. If they are getting straggly or leggy it may mean you have to move them to somewhere cooler like a cold frame in order to slow them down a bit. I never soak or score mine (there are different schools of thought on this) but I do pick out the biggest seed in the pack, as advised by Bernard R. Jones the sweet pea expert.

So, I shut the doors to my greenhouse when I”d got settled and lost myself in the pleasure of sowing seeds, feeling very glad to be alive.

I”ve been listening to John Martyn, the British singer who died today, a man who repeatedly pressed the self-destruct button while managing to bring so much pleasure to others. If you know him already, he needs no introduction (but I”ve never understood why no one in America seems to have heard of him). If you don’t, click here . My favourite album “No Little Boy” a re-working of songs from earlier years.

Bless the weather that brought you to me, curse the storm that takes you away