Book Review: The Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual

greenhouse book

As a gardener who uses their greenhouse for more than tomatoes and annual seedlings I was interested to receive a review copy of The Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual by Roger Marshall from Timber Press.  There aren’t many books on greenhouse gardening and in fact they rarely appear in the media so I thought it would be interesting to see if the author brought a different approach.

The book is fairly accessible and covers all the aspects of having a greenhouse you would expect – different types, where to locate, how to heat, ventilate, and water and recommendations on what equipment or layout you should consider.  I have one quibble with the recommendations on staging which proposes slatted benches as the best option.  I dispute this as my experience is that you have to be very careful what you put under the slats.  If like me you have trays of seedlings you are trying to accommodate in a tiny space then having an area where any seed trays will be subject to large plops of runoff from the shelf above is not great.  Although, of course, the author has a very large greenhouse so this isn’t such a consideration.

However what I found more interesting than the run of the mill setting up your greenhouse stuff and the propagation advice was the sections on the different uses you can put your greenhouse to.  There is the expected vegetable and fruit growing uses but also a significant section on using your space for growing orchids which is fascinating especially to someone, like me, who is incapable of making even Moth Orchids reflower.  Also interesting were the cactus and succulents and bromeliads.  I wasn’t so convinced by the section on herbs as I was surprised at the idea of growing rosemary and bay in the greenhouse but I suppose if you are in certain parts of the US with very long winters then this might be more normal to you.  What was very unusual and unexpected was a section on growing plants without soil, hydroponics, which goes into enough detail to give any one interested in this a good start.

The section that really interested me were the ornamentals, either flower or foliage, and a good selection were included ranging from bulbs through to shrubs such as Gardenias.  The range of plants included and the advice on looking after them under glass would make this an interesting book for someone who wanted to use their conservatory for plants.

As you would expect there is a section at the back of the book on pests and diseases, some of which are illustrated although personally I would l have liked to see more photographs of these as they are quite hard to identify for the novice.

Overall I think this is a good book for someone who is thinking about investing in a greenhouse but even more so for someone who already has a greenhouse which seems to sit empty for a significant part of the year when the tomatoes have gone over.  The range and diversity of plants that can be grown and give you something to enjoy during the winter, whether edible or ornamental, is often underestimated. The Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual certainly makes you consider alternatives and is well worth a read.

My Garden This Weekend – 27th July 2014

Dahlia Con Amore

Dahlia Con Amore

My friend Victoria has recently said on her blog it is good to get away from your garden for a week or so as when you return you see it with fresh eyes.  I think she is right. Having been away from home for a week and then feeling unwell when I finally got into the garden, even though it was ridiculously hot and not my kind of weather, I didn’t feel the same dis-interest as I did a month ago.  I do find this time of year hard in the garden.  I am more of a do-er so I prefer the Spring and Autumn when there are lots to do; I even don’t mind Winter as I can potter in the greenhouse or make plans.  But Summer I struggle with.  As I sit in the garden I seem to only see what needs doing and what isn’t working well and this is always a sign that I need to get away for a while.

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While I have been away the dahlia have started to flower. This year they are all planted out in large pots as I filled their previous home with other plants.  They seem to be doing very well this year, even better than last year.  I have been following John Massey, of Ashwood Nurseries, advice and putting a little feed in whenever I water the pots.

It has been too hot to do much but I am known in my family for fidgeting so I decided to give the patio table and chairs a make-over.  They, like so much else, has been neglected 2014_07270008for the last year or two and were looking pale and dry.  So I have sanded them down and applied numerous coats of teak oil.  It was satisfying to do as the results are quite quick and I do like the smell of teak oil!  The wood has been given a new lease of life and looks, in my opinion, better than when I first bought them, as you can see the grain etc better.

So now the table has had a face lift the Table of Delights has been re-instated.  I have to admit that it was for most of Spring covered in seed trays but these are now all sorted or accommodated elsewhere and I am going to try very hard to keep it looking nice!  The current residents are: Eucomis autumalis, Aeonium ‘Cornish Tribute’ and Allium flavum.

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I’m conscious that I need to start re-potting my bulb collection but in order to do this I needed to sort out the chaos that had taken over part of the greenhouse.  This morning when it was cool this seemed like a good idea but this afternoon the temperatures have soared again much higher than they forecast.  Anyway,  I have soldiered on and I am pleased with the result.  A number of aloe seedlings and other smaller succulents, surplus to requirement, have been potted up ready to donate to the local horticultural show in a couple of weeks. All the other greenhouse residents have had a once over and where needed repotted – some borderline plants have been planted out and told they need to toughen up and take their chances!!

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The result has cheered me up and I feel as though I have some handle on things – well that is until I go up the garden and see the various brambles that need to come out and the dead acer that needs removing, and….. well you could go on for ever but this is what I enjoy about gardening; there is always something new to interest or challenge you.

 

Taking the Plunge

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I decided finally the other week that I wanted to use the greenhouse more for my alpine and bulbs.  I have lots of pots of bulbs and they are currently stored under the staging in the greenhouse with the aim of them drying out over the summer.  However, I have read that plunging the pots in sand is very beneficial.  It is particularly good for plants that don’t like their roots too wet.

The new staging arrived the other day sooner than I expected which meant a chaotic couple of hours which the staging was assembled and plants moved around.  I hadn’t really thought about such simple things as how you fill the plunges but strangely it turned out to be more involved than I had thought.

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If you just tip the sand into the plunge it really doesn’t work and you don’t get the neat appearance you see in alpine houses.  It turns out you have to fill the plunge with a few inches of sand and then compact it with something like a brick.  Then you carry on doing this layer by layer until the plunge is full. This makes the sand bind together and means that when you cut the holes out for the pots the sand doesn’t collapse.  Having typed this it does sound a little OCD but it does work and it is strangely satisfying!

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I have struggled to find information about setting up a plunge bed; no doubt the audience is a little limited.  However, I came across a wonderful resource on the Alpine Garden Society website – The Wisley Diary.  This was written from 2007 – 2012 by Paul Cumbleton the head of the Alpine section at Wisley.  Of course reading such articles is like signing up to the council of perfection but I suppose it’s a starting point.  Paul advocated laying out your pots in advance so they aren’t crowded and it looks neat.  Anyway, it was quite entertaining a bit like making sand castles but in reverse.

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Of course having filled the plunge with my alpines I realised that part of the plan was to accommodate the pots of bulbs! So these are still in the trays under the staging but the plan is now to move them into the plunge as they are coming into flower.

I have no idea if I am doing things right but it seems to me that the only way to learn is to have a go and see what happens.  Seeing the plunge full of alpines makes me smile and I have a suspicion that this is the beginning of a slippery slope.  The only obstacle is space for more frames, although there is a plan fermenting in my mind.

The Greenhouse Year – June 2014

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This side of the greenhouse looks quite good.  I have spent an hour or so this evening moving the last of the succulents out onto the outside staging and moving all the pots of bulbs into the greenhouse.  They are stored under the staging and on the back shelves with the intention they will dry out in the summer.

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This side is slightly more disorganised.  There are seedlings which need looking after, young aloes that need potting up and other pots that need a new home.

They need a new home as I have decided to replace the slatted staging with some plunge propagation staging.  I will then fill this with sand and use it for my alpines and bulbs.  I have been umming and arhing about this for months thinking there was no way I could accommodate all my interests and where would I sow seeds etc.  However, I have realised this year that my interest in growing annuals is more or less non-existent and most of the plants I grow from seed need the cold to germinate.

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It will take some careful organising and balancing of the needs of different types of plants but I think it will work.  I should also have room to overwinter my pelargoniums and other tender plants.  Hopefully by the time I write the July Greenhouse Year post the new staging will be in place.

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The tall bulbous plants are Peruvian daffodils (Hymenocallis festalis).  This is their second year and I am hoping that the flowers are as wonderful as last year.  I only saw them as they were going over as they flowered when I was away in San Francisco.

So that’s my greenhouse mid June still full and busy and not a tomato plant in sight!

 

 

The Greenhouse Year – May 2014

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I am a few days late with the Greenhouse Year post but I have been distracted with the RHS Chelsea Flower show.  Whilst inspiring in many ways not least the plant quality it is a little dismaying to come home and see my paltry efforts.

Anyway, the greenhouse house has been through another significant transition this last weekend.  The dahlias and pelargoniums that were occupying the floor and lower parts of the staging have come out and are now on the patio waiting to be planted out or potted up.

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I have still to move the tender succulents out but there is enough chaos on the patio at the moment so they will have to wait.  I am also not in desperate need for greenhouse space so the sense of urgency that I normally have in terms of the greenhouse isn’t present.  This is because this is the first year since I have had the greenhouse that I haven’t grown tomatoes or cucumbers.  The last few years it has been a struggle to get the tomatoes past blight and last year I just grew cucumbers which were fine but there are only so many you can eat.  To be honest my heart just isn’t in growing edibles and I neglect the plants and then feel bad.

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I’m not sure what will occupy the greenhouse over the summer months now that I have no vegetable plants to accommodate.  There are some Peruvian Daffodils (Hymenocallis) which will flower in July and I might spread the succulents out a bit more.  There are a few other tender plants which I might now have room to show off better.

I have been moving the pots of spring bulbs into the greenhouse once the leaves have died so that the bulbs can rest and benefit from the heat.  I’m not sure if this is the right approach but I know alpine growers do this with alpine houses so I can’t really see the difference.  We will have to wait and see.

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So there is my greenhouse in May.  The weather is warming up now so the door is left open most of the time.  I don’t tend to bother with any shading as I don’t think it helps with good strong plant growth plus as soon as I put shading on the weather changes and we have a grey and damp summer!  I think air circulation is more important and the small electric heater can also be used as a fan to circulate air. I also wet the ground down quite a bit to keep humidity levels up and the gravel beds also help with this.

As I have said before I didn’t start this monthly post with the intention of hosting a meme but if you would like to use it as an excuse to show us your greenhouse that would be great as I think greenhouses are poorly covered in the media and blogs.

The Greenhouse Year – April 2014

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2014_04190015Another month has passed and the greenhouse is full to bursting although the winter occupants are beginning to move out and the new spring tenants are starting to move in.  There has been a slight swop over with the succulents moving across the greenhouse to the slatted benching and the seedling trays moving to the gravel beds.  I think the seed trays do better with the humidity around them.  I really need to move the succulents out to make room for seedlings etc but I think it will be another few weeks before I can risk the weather.

The new shelves on the back wall are proving to be a wonderful investment.  They are freeing up some space and the agaves, aloes and pelargoniums on the top shelf seem to really like the heat.  Other

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occupants include Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos flavidus) which I have grown from seed and a bulbine frutescens also grown from seed.

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Seedlings are beginning to appear but I haven’t really started my sowing yet so you can see why I need more space.  The majority of seeds sown to date germinate well in the outside cold-frame but tomorrow I am planning to sow some tender annuals.  The grassy seedlings are white/cream camassias grown from seed collected from the garden last year.  I am quite pleased with them.

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The lower shelves are crammed full of pelargoniums, dahlia tubers and chrysanthemums.  They could all do with more light but with some regular moving around they will be fine until its warm enough for them to go outside.

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The small floor space is rather crowded with the plants that are too heavy or tall to go on the racking.  I think the Salvia involucrata boutin can be planted out on the slope soon. The Aeonium is in serious need of chopping so I might do that tomorrow.

So that’s my tiny greenhouse this month – I hope you enjoyed the tour.

The Greenhouse Year – March 2014

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Here we are in March and my greenhouse is at capacity and I haven’t really started.  I have to start by showing you the two shelves my sons gave me for my birthday which are at the end of the greenhouse and are wonderful.  I have to be careful what I put on the top one as it is so close to the top of the house but the aloes and pelargoniums seem to like basking in the sunshine.  I have put gravel on the shelves which helps maintain the humidity. The second shelf is more shady benefitting from the one above.  It is currently home to some Kangaroo Paw seedlings which have had a rough ride through the winter with the leaves going black – I’m not sure if they are meant to do that but new fresh leaves are appearing which is a relief.  There are also some cyclamen, pelargonium and Fritillaria rubra seedlings and most satisfying of all some Camassia leichtlinii semi-plena seedlings grown from seed collected from the garden.

Camassia leichtlinii semi-plena

Camassia leichtlinii semi-plena

2014_03160056As you can see I have been busy sowing seeds.  These are predominately seeds of perennial plants such as Aquilegia as well as some hardy annuals.  It may be a little too early especially as the temperatures are meant to dip again this weekend but I think they will recover fairly quickly and I have to do these jobs when I have the time.

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The succulent collection hasn’t changed much since last month but it continues to please me.  I really must find some time to repot some of them.

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Finally as you can see at the end of the day the greenhouse floor is full.  This is because I have received a number of perennial start plants to review for Plant Me Now which I have potted up.  Although they have spent the day on the patio they are residing in the greenhouse overnight for a while until they have bulked up a little.  I will do a proper review next week.  The heater is on a thermostat and is set to keep the greenhouse frost-free, I find it a fairly effective approach and the succulents seem to be happy.

Oh and the large pots are home to some Agapanthus which are just showing shoots and a bottle brush that I grew from seed a few years back and I haven’t had the courage to plant outside yet.

I suspect that by this time in April the greenhouse will be bursting at the seams and hopefully there will be more trays of seedlings to admire.