The greenhouse is always a haven

The tomato harvest. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
The tomato harvest. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
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Frustrating though it is when rain falls incessantly and you can’t walk on the land, let alone dig, there are always other aspects of gardening we can turn to.

I found myself listing them during a recent deluge and came up with three key activities that help maintain my sanity — inspecting the winter greens, working in the greenhouse and browsing catalogues.

I’d be lost without the greenhouse.

When a winter storm wrecked the old one a few years ago there was no questioning whether it would be replaced, only how quickly could the job be done.

We wrapped the old Madeleine Angevine vine in bubble film and it stood like a mummy in the frost for several weeks. It’s never failed to crop heavily since.

Taking a leaf from Noah’s Ark, we also salvaged just enough material from each plant collection, streptocarpus especially, to ensure it could be propagated and saved.

The conservatory turned into an emergency hospital that winter.

The greenhouse is presently a lovely safe haven with enough enjoyable ongoing tasks to keep us occupied.

The vines have been pruned into single long rods, which run the whole length. Each is bristling with short side shoots, from which the new growths, flowers and fruits will develop.

Some of these so-called spurs are overcrowded, as they do with age, and need to be thinned out.

Pests, greenfly especially, overwinter as eggs. They can be found under the flaky bark of vines, on plants, or the greenhouse structure.

Taking a stiff wire brush to the rough bark of a vine certainly helps if you have the time, and winter offers the best opportunity to clean all glass, benches and containers.

The propagating frame is unheated at present and holds rooted cuttings of several plants.

They demand a daily check for mildew, and will have to be moved soon to make way for early seed sowings and stem cuttings that boxed chrysanthemum stools produce.

Keeping ornamental plants ticking over whilst starting a new generation from seed can be challenging, but is quite possible in a cold greenhouse. Having lightweight protective fleece ready to drape over potted subjects helps.

I sow seeds, for example peas and beans, that do not demand too high a temperature to germinate, into small pots or plug trays, which stand in the enclosed propagating case.

Domed plastic tops that fit onto standard seed trays conserve moisture and warmth.

At a cost of only £2 they can make the difference between success and failure.