Always Trust Your Instincts


This photograph represents a serious amongst of angst and irritation that I have experienced over the last few weeks.

I have had my small greenhouse (6′ x 4′) for probably 8 years and it has a small thermostatically controlled electric heater.  Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I use the greenhouse extensively throughout the year.  In recent years it has been home to a tender succulent collection which came through the recent cold winters, when we had temperatures down to -18C for days on end, unscathed.

I have never been tempted to use bubble-wrap. In fact the use of bubble-wrap seems so wrong to me as in my mind it could create condensation and this isn’t great for overwintering plants possibly leading to Botrytis cinerea. However, for some obscure reason I seem to have lost my ability to listen to my instincts, never a good thing, and I have started to doubt myself.  Having changed things around in the greenhouse so I can display my alpine collection I have been feeling all at sea and somewhat bewildered about using a sand plunge.  So no surprise that reading about others putting up bubble wrap I trotted off and bought a role along with the fiddly plastic widget things for attaching the plastic to the frame.

Now this blog might be called ‘The Patient Gardener” but I am not really a patient person especially when it comes to fiddly and tricky inanimate objects.  Over two weekends I have carefully cut panels of the wrap and painstakingly attached them to the sides of the greenhouse which worked reasonably well.  Then it was time for covering the roof. What a faff! It isn’t easy to hold up a sheet of bubble wrap while you try to push one of the tiny plastic widgets into the gully in the frame.

That was two weeks ago.  In a matter of days the panels on the roof started to droop and it was clear that the clips that are meant to hold the wrap on the side bars were coming off. More time was spent using more clips to secure the panels better but No! the panels were intent on coming adrift which defeated the whole object.  Then to make matters worse when I went in the greenhouse this weekend to sort out the problem I found myself in a slow cold shower.  My theory about the condensation had proved to be right and there was a constant drip drip of cold water on to my alpines – disaster.  The one thing alpines don’t like is winter wet so here I was creating an environment that was exactly what they, and to be honest me,  didn’t like.  I have also noticed that the light levels are reduced by the opaqueness of the wrap which isn’t what you want for plants growing and flowering over winter as it produces plants with long drawn out stems.

I have to be honest that at this point I had a complete sense of humour failure and the bubble wrap on the roof was removed in a matter of minutes with a lot of muttering and maybe a few profanities.  What a complete waste of time and money.  It has cost me more to buy the wrap and fixings than I would spend heating the greenhouse even in a very cold winter and I haven’t noticed any increase in the greenhouse’s temperature when the wrap was up.

I am so cross that I didn’t trust my instincts and allowed myself to be swayed by others’ views.  I am sure that if you have a large greenhouse then bubble wrap will have an impact your heating bills which will no doubt be much higher than mine.  I can also see it is good for partitioning off an area of the greenhouse which you want to keep warmer but it isn’t for me or my plants.

Interestingly on the day I had to dry my hair after getting so wet removing the loathed wrap I went to a lunch with my local Alpine Garden Society Committee and shared my tribulations with others.  The general consensus was that bubble wrap wasn’t ideal for alpines and that it would be better if I cover the pots with fleece if the temperatures drop and if I am really concerned then I can put a layer of bubble wrap on top of the fleece to provide a little more protection.

The lesson learnt is to trust my instincts and not follow everyone else blindly if it doesn’t make sense to me.

A refuge in a storm?


Well to be honest in a storm I wouldn’t be in the greenhouse but you get my meaning.  At this time of year when it is either raining or so cold that your fingers get frozen after about an hour in the garden, even with gloves, the greenhouse provides me with my much needed green therapy.

This weekend was the first time in about three weeks that I have had the chance to garden.  So having spent Saturday tidying the garden – I won’t bore you with pictures as it’s just earth and bare shrubs really – I spent an hour or so on Sunday in the greenhouse having a good  tidy up.  I hadn’t intended to tidy up the greenhouse but as it was full to the gunnels and I couldn’t physically get in there was no alternative!

So I cut back the dead foliage on the bigger tender plants in large pots which had been hesitantly shoved in the greenhouse when the weather suddenly turned at the start of December.  I have managed to get them all hidden away under the staging along with the Dahlia tubers which I had to move in to the greenhouse when I discovered they were being eaten by mice in the garage!

I then worked my way through the tender plants that spend half the year in the greenhouse.  Removing any dead leaves and giving a little water where needed.  All the Echiverias and Aeoniums are looking great which is good and probably a result of the electric heater which has been humming away for days.  It’s on a thermostat which I have set to keep the greenhouse frost-free but with the prolonged cold weather it seemed to be permanently on which will not be good for my electricity bill!!

On the other side of the greenhouse I have staging with gravel beds in.  I was given this last year for Christmas and I think the gravel beds are a real boon.  If you  keep  the gravel moist then it adds to the humidity levels and provides moisture which encourages the plants to put  roots down.  I have noticed that seedlings and plants seem much happier in this environment.  So much so that I had to pot up a number of plants whose roots had well and truly strayed into the gravel, sort of the opposite of being pot bound!  I have potted up some Watsonia seedlings which I grew from seed in 2010 and they have already made plants around a foot tall and a Callistemon seedling again sown in 2010 which is around a foot tall.

I was also ruthless and threw a number of plants that had seen better days including a couple of very tired orchids that I had neglected and forgotten.  The tidying and throwing has released one of the gravel beds ready for me to start sowing seeds soon.  I have a heat pad which fits into this bed and as soon as I have a reasonable number of seeds ready for sowing I will install it as last year it definitely speeded up germination – it’s also fab for getting cuttings to take.  However, everything is on hold at the moment as I am waiting for my new whizzy three tier cold frame to arrive, part of my Christmas present to myself this year, which will mean that I can move some of the less tender plants out  to make space for my veg seeds and some flower seeds. Then it is all systems GO!