The spring of 2019 will be the first one in which my new Alitex greenhouse will be fully tested. Signs of the first snowdrops in January should be a reassuring sign spring is on its way, but they sometimes make me apprehensive.
Am I ready for the new growing year? What will I grow and do I really know how? The opportunities my new greenhouse unlocks are somehow making the butterflies worse.
As the New Year approaches, I have been sitting in the deckchair in my greenhouse and it has settled my nerves. There, memories of gardens I have visited and things I have seen during 2018 have returned – to sharpen my ideas and plan how my greenhouse can help me achieve what I want.
My first task will be to bring more of the mountains to my garden in the Chiltern Hills. When I first approached Alitex to plan a new greenhouse they checked what I wanted to grow. They asked if I wanted grow alpines, as the ventilation requirements of an alpine house must be carefully considered.
I said no to alpines.
A year on and I’ve become hooked on alpines. Visits to the exquisitely curated alpine house at Kew and RHS Wisley piqued my interest in small, delightful rock chicks of the mountains. I have become a diarist for the Alpine Garden Society, writing about growing alpines as a beginner.
raising from seed
This year will see my first foray into growing alpines from seed. Members of the Alpine Garden Society can request 23 packets of alpine seed for £10 as part of what is thought to be the largest seed exchange scheme in the world.
Most of my chosen seed packets are suitable for beginners and do not need to be sown under glass but I will be experimenting this year with starting some off under glass as well as outside.
The spacious cold frames at the front of my greenhouse are already in use to help overwinter some alpines I bought last year. Alpines tend not to mind the cold but don’t like damp. Left fully open, the frames are cold but the lids provide sufficient shelter from the worst effects of heavy rain.
I suspect my cold frames will be well used as the many packets of alpine seed are sown between January and April, leaving bench space inside the greenhouse for other fruit and flower seedlings, including some new tropical plants.
My passion for growing tender plants is undimmed and I aim to expand my collection in 2019. Visits last year to the glasshouses at Kew as well as gardens in Cornwall, where the climate is well suited for less hardy varieties, has given me some new ideas of things to grow.
I planned my greenhouse with a small annexed zone, which could be heated. This zone brings so much potential for growing exciting new plants as the problems of overwintering have disappeared and good germination conditions can be created without the need to sow inside the house.
I aim to visit some plant fairs next year to find new varieties that catch my eye. Websites and mail-order provide access to many fantastic nurseries but visiting them at events such as those organised by Rare Plant Fairs give you a chance to see the plants and chat to the nursery owners as well as providing a great day out.
I also aim to raise some new things from seed, including several varieties bought from tropical plant specialist Mike Clifford, whose tropical garden and glasshouses are crammed with interesting plants from across the globe and featured last year on Gardener’s World.
I already grow some cannas, Hedychiums and Colocasia but am expanding my range using some of Mike’s seeds. I will also be experimenting with a stunning climber called Ipomea quamoclit, which should provide vertical interest in the greenhouse with its feathery foliage and cardinal red flowers.
More bromeliads and air plants will find their way into my greenhouse, inspired by the displays of Liverpool based nursery Every Picture Tells a Story, who I saw at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. Mounting onto wood and dangling them from greenhouse beams displays bromeliads and air plants to great effect and add interest wherever you look.
Many of my bromeliads have already produced babies, known cutely as ‘pups’, which I will separate from the parent plant this year to grown on in interesting displays.
Whilst I am excited about my new alpine and tropical endeavours I will not ignore the stalwart varieties of vegetable and cut flowers. There is no doubt that my larger greenhouse will act as a power house for growing from seed, tubur and cuttings this year and I will hope also to grow new varieties of sweet pea, dahlia and cut flowers and vegetables suitable for the show bench.
This year will be my fourth year of entering flowers and vegetables in the spring, summer and autumn shows of my local Horticultural Society. Online connections facilitated by Twitter have linked me to many other enthusiastic growers and given me ideas of varieties to try.
Eye catching varieties such as this Tomato called Indigo Blue Berries, which I saw growing at Barnsdale Gardens, may be worth a try on the show bench.
Inside my powerhouse greenhouse great things are possible and just like the optimistic snowdrops, I realise I can’t wait to start the New Year.
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