Hartley Magazine

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

Winter Greenhouse

There’s something magical about the cold stark winter light inside the greenhouse. It’s lit up with a skeletal beauty that shines and glows whenever the sun shines.

The recent mild weather and winter sun has been enhanced by the greenhouse glass and inside it has really pushed they spring flowering bulbs into growth. The greenhouse benches are stacked out with potted bulbs all peeking above the compost waiting for their chance to shine. The Paperwhite narcissi are already in flower filling the greenhouse with their beautiful fragrance and elegant beauty. Clusters of fat bulbs potted into rustic old Victorian terracotta pots, patterned with algae and the patina of years of weather just look fantastic and make lovely personal gifts for friends and family. A gift from the greenhouse is always well received and with a little effort and creativity you can transform a handful of bulbs into a thoughtful gift for any occasion. Paperwhites are so easy to grow and if you stagger the planting you can have some in flower through winter into spring, spanning that barren gap when there is little in flower and such a need to lift the spirits. I love their simply beauty and heady scent.

Bug Busting

The winter greenhouse is an interesting place. Every one will harbor a different collection of plants and accessories all bunched together to save space and ‘enjoy’ the greenhouse conditions. The trouble is that this close proximity can breed problems. Air flow is essential to keep fungal issues at bay and as the temperature drops and greenhouse plants die back the debris that collects is perfect fungi fodder, quickly acquiring that soft grey fluffy look that spells botrytis and other fungal problems. Then there’s the bugs that have either struck lucky and been born (or hatched) in the protected greenhouse environment, or been so clever to realise that the glazed garden structure is the perfect place to overwinter protected from the worst that the weather can throw. The winter greenhouse can become a hotbed for pests and disease.

I’ve never been very good at killing things. I’m the one that collects up slugs and snails and takes them out into the woods, I know they come back, but I can’t bear to actually kill them. I’ve also been known to relocate wasp nests (TOTALLY NOT to be recommended – Do NOT do this at home) wearing my bee suit; I felt I was safe – big mistake – now there’s a story for another day. I’m addicted to bees and I have an aversion to pesticides, especially insecticides. These chemicals are designed to kill insects and will pretty much kill any bug that’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and that includes the beneficial ones, the predators that eat garden pests and even our beautiful bees that innocently visit the garden flowers to collect nectar and pollen to feed their babies.
I so share the frustration with gardeners and growers when a newly germinated crop of seeds is razed to the ground by a munching monster. But pesticides are not the answer for me. Every living thing needs to eat too and more importantly every munching monster has something a bit bigger, in need of sustenance that preys on it too, so all these pests play a vital role in the food chain. Basically pretty much every bug is a meal for something and when there’s a glut of one type of bug, a population explosion of say, aphids, there’s normally a corresponding ‘plague’ of predators such as ladybirds that follows. If you take just one thing out of the food chain the whole system has a big wobble and try as they might even the great scientists and huge industry players, really can’t play god and fix it.

Constant vigilance and sensible precautions coupled with a bit of elbow grease and common sense usually keeps the worst at bay in the garden and greenhouse, but this winter I’ve got a new weapon in my bug defence. I’ve taken delivery of an n Electronic Steam Mop from Lakeland and the greenhouse nooks and crannies are on the hit list. I’m a little concerned that I’ll end up killing off the good as well as the bad, but at least the steam will be residue free and won’t affect my bees.

We need to get real. Gardeners have created artificial scenarios in gardens and greenhouses, integrating plants that wouldn’t naturally grow together often in forms so overbred and flamboyant that they don’t even offer our precious pollinating insects a feast of nectar or pollen. Fine for a few dramatic, flag waving specimens, but do we want gardens that are just for show? Without the movement and buzz of insects our gardens are a sterile place, devoid of nurture for insect eaters such as many bird species and lacking that precious fifth dimension that balanced spaces seem to acquire by magic. We can’t grow things and not expect to loose some of it to nature. Our garden plants are part of the food chain. If it’s a choice between a smaller harvest or no wildlife I know what I would choose.