Hartley Magazine

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Lia’s pelargoniums made it through the cold snap, and now they are being joined by new sowings

It all seemed to be going so well in the greenhouse. It had been a pretty mild winter and I could see that my aeoniums and pelargoniums had made it through the darkest days with no problems. I have had a small heated propagator matt in the mini greenhouse with them, which keeps off the worst of the cold, and the whole thing is tucked in next to the house, and altogether that seemed to have done the trick. I wasn’t even sure the propagator matt was needed, it had been so mild. And then along came March. On the first day of meteorological spring the snow started falling in Bristol, like it has rarely fallen before, kept company by icy arctic winds. Just as by poor precious ones were looking forward to light and air, and possibly even considering putting on a little growth, they were back into the depth of winter. I threw a blanket over the mini greenhouse (it’s really only little), and then a rug, both of which were soon topped with a thick blanket of snow, and waited it out.

The thaw came almost as quickly as the snowfall, and I have been outside checking out the damage. And we seem to have got away with it. Perhaps it was that thick layer of snow, which once it has fallen can act as an insulator itself. Or perhaps it was my slightly haphazard emergency measures, or simply the fact that this is a little space and so easy to keep warm. But either way nothing has taken on that awful glassy look that lets you know that tissues have been burst and that the plant is holding it together more through habit than through dependable cell structure, and a mushy collapse is on its way. Some of them are even flowering!

While this is all good news it does mean the next little while is going to be a bit of a squeeze. This is one of the busiest times in the greenhouse, as we all have to start sowing annuals – which need serious acreage – but while still caring for the overwintering plants. It is too soon to put the tender things out even in a normal year, and this looks like being a particularly cold spring, with another cold snap being threatened already. Everything will just have to shove up. The mini greenhouse is quite well off for shelving, and it can be reconfigured to fit the few remaining tall overwintering plants in alongside the flat seed trays. The greenhouse is less well set up – there is a table and an improvised table and then – when things get really busy – the floor. The trick at this time of year is definitely shelving, nicely spaced and giving everything plenty of light, but improvisation will have to continue to be the name of the game for now.

There is so much to sow that it makes sense to get into a bit of a rhythm at this time of year. I don’t have a whole day to throw at it so I’ve got compost, seed trays and labels always at the ready and am on one or two packets a day, slowly working my way through, trying to leave space for all of the seedlings that will come up behind them. There’s nothing to be done for the bigger overwintering plants for now: later on they can be picked over and primped with new compost and got ready for the growing season, but for now just like all of their new companions they are still holding out for spring, albeit while sporting the odd unseasonal flower or two.