Introduction to Greenhouse Gardening
The hobby greenhouse in the back garden is everything you ever want to make it — productive, expensive, worrying, time-demanding, beautiful. But most of all it is a refuge! A refuge from what? — from everything that causes you annoyance – from endless telly to the yapping dog. It is a refuge in very much the same way as the local, the golf-course or fishing are means of getting away from it for your neighbours. In spite of rising costs your pastime of growing plants in a greenhouse will be much less expensive than any of the hobbies mentioned above and, for the lover of plants, there really is nothing to compare with the pleasant atmosphere that prevails in the warm and humid greenhouse, especially on a cold winter’s day.
As I have spent over forty years in the business of growing plants for my living, and a good many-years caring for the contents of the 12ft by 8ft (3.6m x 2.4m) greenhouse in the back garden, you will find that this website evolves around the two approaches to growing the best possible plants. You will find, for example, that there are few references to ideal temperatures of say, 50°F (10°C) for, because I know only too well that maintaining exact temperatures in the small house is almost impossible!
The first piece of advice to someone with a new greenhouse is to suggest that there should be no hurry whatsoever in stocking it with plants. Although the interior may seem a vast void, you can take it from me that in a very short space of time you will be standing in the middle of the greenhouse with a plant in each hand wondering where on earth you are going to put the blessed things. And the man with a new, shiny and empty-greenhouse is ever the target for the man with an established house that is filled with large, ugly and bug-ridden plants for which he is seeking a home. The policy should be to refuse all gifts at the outset and to be very selective about what you accept or purchase — one plant infested with red spider or mealy bug could well mean the new greenhouse being filled with pests almost before the business of growing has got under way. You will also find that growing on your own healthy young plants will give infinitely more satisfaction than caring for someone else’s cast-off plants that are long past their best.
The suggestion that someone may have green-fingers is often sneered at but, you know, even in the professional field there are those among us who are approvingly referred to as good growers. The professional good grower would look upon you with more than a little pity if you suggested that he had green fingers, but the only difference is in the words used as they simply mean that there are folk about who have a way with plants, a better understanding of their needs than most of us with the result that plants seem to do better for them. My boss of many years is one of those good growers with a nose for trouble, and an ability to see the signs of impending problems long before they materialize as disasters. This is a quality that you cannot be taught — it is something that, if you are lucky, you learn over the years and put to good use.
Although the opposite would seem to be the case in some, there are few plants that actually want to die, the majority are killed off for one reason or another! And a major reason for plant failure in the greenhouse can very often be traced to the compost in which the plant is growing. For survival the plant is almost totally dependent on the mixture that finds its way into the pot and around the roots, so it is essential that some care is exercised when mixing or purchasing. The magic name of John Innes potting mix is used frequently throughout this website, but I have in mind top quality compost made from the proper ingredients and not a sackful of badly mixed clay and gravel that may have been lying around for months or even years prior to purchase. Get prepared compost from a known reliable source, or enjoy the pleasure of carefully mixing your own and seeing how well your plants respond to that little extra effort on their behalf.
I often wonder why greenhouses are purchased in the first place, and what happens to the many millions that are dotted about in very average back gardens—some to flourish and others to become little more than bicycle stores. Whatever the reasons may be it should be realised that caring for a greenhouse takes time, and is almost equivalent to keeping chickens—you just cannot walk away and leave it; the chickens need feeding, and the greenhouse needs watering and a dozen other jobs throughout the year. And this is one. Reason why, when you start in the greenhouse business, you should purchase a small one just to see how you get on with it. There will always be time to expand when the great pleasure of growing nice things has really taken a hold.