20 February 2013 By Sarah Wain
With such a great turnout last night of around fifty society members and friends (including past Alitex customers) we were delighted to find so many active gardeners supporting the evening. It is really heartening to find such an active society who extended their hospitality and a warm welcome to us. You may be wondering how this all came about...
Last year the society visited a newly created walled garden in their neighbourhood and had an enjoyable day out. A highlight of the day had been the enthusiasm of the head gardener and the delight he shared with the society in gardening in the new Alitex greenhouse Demand to have more of the same kind of event led Maggie Johnson, the society social secretary, to approach Alitex. We in turn asked our friend Sarah Wain from West Dean Walled Gardens to present a talk about growing under glass; the event was set!
Our own Chris Sawyer introduced Sarah, acknowledging that whilst Alitex has learned so much about greenhouses and their design and manufacture over 60 years, we actually don’t know that much about growing plants under glass. However for 2013 this has become a company initiative with everyone determined to find out more – what better place to start than with The Hawkley Society?
Sarah was able to talk about her work at West Dean – as gardens supervisor she has a wide remit. Each glass house in the West Dean Walled Kitchen Garden is wooden and it is one man's job to maintain them. Every four years they need repainting which is on top of annual repairs, then every twenty years a greenhouse needs replacing – there is one in need this year.
Sarah discussed having salad crops for 365 days of the year by sowing in the cold frames, which sounds very enviable! She also explained how difficult it is to get healthy vines growing under glass – realistically they take nine months out of every twelve to maintain.
Of course Sarah must consider the needs of the college based at West Dean as well as the gardens, so has developed the aesthetic ideal that “veg can be beautiful too.” Carrots can be grown architecturally in separate terracotta pots then displayed as a set. Growing produce with an idea of how they will all sit together visually as well as horticulturally gives the veg patch more appeal.
At West Dean, Sarah and her team have to hand pollinate flowers and veg grown under glass as there are insufficient insects to do it for themselves. In practise this means dusting the flowers with a rabbit tail (or you could just use a paint-brush) distributing pollen around. I don’t think this is the kind of brush-stroke that West Dean with all its art courses is known for, but interesting to know it has to be performed.
Sarah is a great cleaner of greenhouses, very meticulous and methodical. She shared her expertise with the audience.
Questions from the audience were focussed on horticultural problems and challenges and Sarah was able to answer comprehensively – thank goodness for expertise!
We very much enjoyed the enthusiasm of the event and the opportunity to meet Alitex past customers- thank you for inviting us!
It is always a pleasure finding out how you are getting on in your greenhouse and your plans for the next growing season. If you have any news and images to share, please do drop us a line.
For more information on West Dean click here.