Autumn has come on fast this year, as if mocking our hopes for a morsel of late heat and sunlight to compensate for the shocking summer we’ve just endured (how many times have I heard people say ‘we are OWED an Indian summer…’? Nature, she don’t care…). Nights have turned quickly chill and I hear rumours of light frosts in the surrounding countryside. I’ve made an early switch from muesli to porridge, am ordering logs in for the fire, and having entirely non-ironic thoughts about long johns. It’s made me do a bit of a re-jig of my mini greenhouse.
And it is the time for such things: the main greenhouse at the end of the garden is looking manky as all hell, strewn with the season’s debris: bits of snapped tomato stem, those dried out and disappointed seedlings that never quite got planted out, seed trays and spiders webs. But as the tomatoes are only really just into full swing now (blame the weather, not my terrible gardening) I would really be tidying for tidiness’s sake. I plan to eke every last tomato out of those plants, as I’ve waited so very long for them, so the mess down there stays until the last fruit has been plucked. The mini greenhouse, up by the house, contained a mini version of the big mess: a few plants that nearly made it, some cuttings and – inexplicably – two mugs and a newspaper, as if the little people had been making use of it of a Sunday morning. A clear out, a scrub up and the removal of the top shelf and I had created the perfect space to pack away my tenderer things for the winter.
These are not properly tender things. I gave up on them (read: killed them) long ago. But aeoniums, pelargoniums, echeverias, half-hardy salvias, all of the sort of things that get parched and covered in red spider mite in the elongated central-heating desert of the winter home, and yet keel over after a few hard frosts if left outside. Even in the greenhouse these things die over winter, and the difference is that in the mini greenhouse, by the house, I can run an electricity cable to a very low-level heat mat, and keep them all warm enough to live but no so hot that they keep on growing and wear themselves out by next spring. So goes the theory. In fact the heat mat is really quite extremely low level, and by morning is usually stone cold. I have given it a little boost by placing it on an insulating double layer of bubble wrap, rather than the icy cold metal shelving it has been battling with all winter. Suddenly it is holding its own, making this little box of treasures feel almost cosy. We’ll see how it fares come proper cold though.
The other plants that I have moved in there are the peppers: our sweet peppers and chilli peppers have been so very slow to get going that they are only looking promising now. Now there are flowers and small, green fruits, just as the weather is telling them to pack it in for the year. Perhaps with the tiny amount of heat that the propagation mat can provide those currently green fruits may turn a little towards red, or the plants may even keep on producing. To be honest I’d be happy if all these plants just managed to limp through to spring without being engulfed by spider mite or frost, but sweet peppers for Christmas, pelargonium flowers at New Year: we can but dream.