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.
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.
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.