Gardening without a glasshouse

I have had a dilemma for many years, can I afford to give up space to a glasshouse or polytunnel? I would love the sheltered growing opportunities, but I have so little garden space to work with. The most suitable location would be where the vegetable beds are, outside the kitchen door in a relatively level and sunny situation, while there is a gentle but perceptible slope on the rest of the garden. So far, I have decided to manage without this luxury.

Windowsill-tomatoes

I miss a glasshouse most in the early spring and during the winter months, spring when new seeds are germinating and plants cannot be put outdoors until all threat of frost has passed, and in winter for over-wintering tender plants. I have to come up with alternative solutions for these times.

Tender plants are not an option if they need over-winter shelter, unless they’re privileged enough to be brought into the house. Some plants spend the winter in the garden shed, this works most years but if we get a cold blast it can kill off everything. Tender Fuchsias take refuge in the shed, but some small plants grown from cuttings have taken up residence on the bedroom window.

Springtime is when I need the most innovative solutions as I sow seeds and have small delicate new plants coming up. The shelves of the growhouse can accommodate a lot of plant trays, but it is susceptible to frost and slugs can get in and cause devastation overnight. I use a plastic storage box as a cold frame, but it too is prone to frost and slug attack.

Kitchen-space

Window sills and a low table in the kitchen remain the best options for lettuce, tomatoes and new seedlings, but these spaces fill up very quickly. I have had to rethink sowing early seed of courgette and runner beans indoors, the plants get very large very quickly and are soft and fragile, they suffer badly when put outdoors. Now I tend to wait until May and sow beans directly into the vegetable bed and try to protect the emerging leaves from predators, and sow courgettes in hanging baskets until they’re big enough to take their chances in the ground.

If we decide to take a break or a holiday in the spring tomato and lettuce plants retire to the bath where they can stay watered, and out of direct sunlight. This allows them to tick over until we return.

This year the window sills are already overflowing and once again I think longingly of a glasshouse.

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Gardeners’ holidays

Can there be a good time for a gardener to enjoy a holiday away from home? How long can we afford to stay away? Before we had our garden we could book a holiday at any time of the year. Now it needs to be carefully worked out. The bleakest months of November to March seem to be the best options!

Our first year in the garden I blithely booked a holiday for early May, only then did it occur to me that all our tomato plants would be still indoors and could not be placed outside yet, and many other little seeds would be just emerging. An elaborate survival plan had to be prepared. Our bath tub became the temporary home for all the tender plants, placed together in the relative shade of the bathroom, with a common store of water. The seeds were placed in trays of water out of direct sunlight. I figured too much water was better than too little. The plan worked reasonably well but the tomatoes became a bit leggy and some of the seeds were lost.

Autumn seemed like a better choice, next time out we chose September, no problem with seeds or tender plants we decided. However, the garden was laden with produce: tomatoes, onions and courgettes, lettuce and radish. Before we could leave, all ripe and ripening fruits and vegetables were picked and I made pots of cooked tomatoes and courgettes for the freezer.

Duration of holidays has become another issue, can we really stay away for two weeks? Or should we shorten our trips? Watering is the biggest problem, in a country where it rains most days this should not be a problem, but it’s surprising how drying winds or a couple of sunny days can cause a localized drought. Enlisting the help of neighbours or friends is usually recommended, but this is quite a chore to impose on elderly neighbours, or the young families nearby.

This year we opted for April and I held off planting seeds of annuals until I returned. The bath tub was pressed into service again for tomatoes, and all vulnerable pots outside were watered well. As it turned out we got the driest April in years and we had some casualties outdoors and many other plants, particularly lettuce and radish, had bolted and gone to seed.