I’ve been the lucky owner of an Alitex glasshouse for some 10 years now.
It’s actually bolted onto the back of our kitchen and is used as much for entertaining and relaxing as for gardening, so it always needs to have something attractive growing as a point of interest, with an added bonus if it’s scented.
I’ve experimented over the years and here is my list of the top 10 plants you can grow in a just frost-free glasshouse, spanning the whole 12 months of the year.
Yes, that’s the very common one you can buy as an indoor houseplant at almost any garden centre, especially as a gift at Christmas. Move it into a big pot or better still into a planting hole in a greenhouse border. It will reward you with three months of heavenly scent starting in late winter when you need it most (the Christmas gifts will have been forced on a bit, the following year it won’t start flowering until late January). It just needs shearing back after flowering and that’s it.
Another lax climber that just gets on with things. Plumbago flowers from midsummer right through to late autumn so is a great partner to grow alongside jasmine as it gets going just after you’ve cut the jasmine back. It doesn’t have the same strength of scent but the slate blue flowers are deeply arresting.
I’ve tried several different passion flowers over the years: the common one P. caerulea sulked in the heat, others became too rampant. The excellent Tynings Climbers recommended ‘Amethyst’ as one of the best hybrids to grow under glass and they weren’t wrong!
There is nothing nicer than picking a fresh lemon off your own tree: period. Add to this the delicious scent from their waxy flowers and the sharp aromatic smell from a crushed leaf and this is a shrub that satisfies so many senses. It seems to both flower and fruit simultaneously throughout the year. They should be kept frost free under glass in winter but can stand outside from Easter to Halloween. I don’t feed mine very much, so it looks a bit scruffy, but I find that growing them ‘hard’ produces much more blossom and fruit.
I don’t know the full botanical name of my specimen as I bought it in the reject bin of my local supermarket about 20 years ago simply labelled ‘Angels Trumpet – Pink’. This shrub needs richer living than the lemon tree and the more you feed and water it, the better it performs. I stand it outside in high summer as it is prone to red spider but come early autumn I bring it in so we can experience the wonderfully exotic aniseed perfume that suffuses the glasshouse as the trumpets flare open after dark in the autumn months.
Again, I don’t know which species of glory bush mine is (it was a cutting from a friend) but after years of faithful service it definitely doesn’t owe me anything, budding up in late summer and opening it’s rich purple flowers all winter long. Again, I stand my plant outside in the summer and bring it in before the first frosts.
Okay, so this enormous geranium is a bit of a project and can take up more space than you have to offer but it adds a fantastic tropical feel with its muscular stems and architectural leaves. It can take up to three years to produce its one and only inflorescence, but it’s worth waiting for and will drop viable seeds afterwards. So you can start the cycle of growth and anticipation all over again.
Elaine always gives a little shudder whenever I recommend any plant from the Proteaceae family. Coming mainly from hot, dry areas of Australia and South Africa the banksias, proteas and grevilleas all have a leathery, spiky toughness that is at odds with Elaine’s vision of soft cottage garden loveliness. But if you had a glasshouse that was hot and dry then these plants might give you an alternative to cacti or succulents, and personally I admire their gritty beauty.
Anyone who has grown this bulb outside knows that it needs a long hot summer to coax it into anything but a few grudging flowers but grow it under glass and it is transformed. The flower spikes can be three foot tall and the classy white and maroon blooms pump out a delicious scent for several weeks in September and October.
I had pretty much given up on hyacinths. Ungainly in an outdoor spring border, hopelessly floppy in a warm kitchen. Now I plant them in pots and leave them outside until some colour starts to show in late winter. Then I bring the pots in under glass to enjoy that unique, evocative scent as the flower stalks grow slowly and sturdily in the cool bright light and the flowers last for ages. My favourite is the purple ‘Woodstock’. A trick I learnt from a Sarah Raven blog is to pair them with some of the dwarf tulips that have purple striated leaves, decapitating the bright red flower so that you only have the foliage to complement the colour of the hyacinths. Elaine & Caroline are horrified at this brutality, but you don’t see them turning down a cup of tea amongst these beauties when they visit.
Written by Laura Warren
I write a weekly garden blog with my two sisters, Elaine and Caroline, known as The3Growbags. Collectively we garden in Sussex, Normandy and the Scottish Highlands, so there is plenty of scope for different approaches, disagreements and family banter. Our blog also has a small on-line shop, so do have a browse.
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