Greenhouse Gardening: Introduction
If, not so long ago, someone had predicted that greenhouse gardening would become one of the top hobbies, it would have been met with as much scorn as the idea of man on the moon once was — yet this is just what has happened.
The vagaries of the weather have finally impressed upon the home gardener the many advantages of using protected cultivation, whether a small cloche, frame, or full size greenhouse. Each can have its own individual and special applications.
Although in the past wise gardeners may have employed cloches or a frame or two, and perhaps have yearned for a greenhouse, a structure of any considerable size was not very easily acquired. This was owing to the unavailability of suitable designs, erection difficulties, and especially to financial problems. Today, with the mass production of simply erected, prefabricated greenhouses and the introduction of plastics, and with firms springing up everywhere to supply them at reasonable cost, a greenhouse in every home garden will soon be accepted as part of the routine of life — along with the television, refrigerator, and car.
The rise of greenhouse gardening as a hobby is not really difficult to understand. A gardener entering the world of the greenhouse encounters a land of enchantment, fascination, and delight. The Victorians appreciated this fully and those who could afford them would not be without their, which were sometimes very spacious and grand indeed. For them, fuel costs, its supply, and enough servants to look after the work, were no problem, and most prominent households had their `tropical paradise’.
The years following the Victorian age saw a decline in greenhouse gardening, and it was for a long time still regarded as an expensive, rather ‘highbrow’ hobby. However, the more recent ‘boom’ has again made the idea of afeasible — this time for most people. It’s now more modest in most cases, and takes the form of a sun lounge, garden room, or , as well as the more conventional glass, lean-to greenhouse. These structures often tend to become the favourite parts of the home because of the restful and relaxing effect an environment of plants and greenery can have.
By keeping a greenhouse frost free or slightly heated in winter you can enjoy growing plants from almost the world over. You can look forward to as much colour in winter as in summer, and you can have a wealth of pot plants and cut flowers for the home. Aesthetic considerations aside, there are many culinary pleasures too: fresh salads the year round, luscious fruits such as grapes, melons, figs, and nectarines, and earlier or better vegetable plants for the kitchen garden. If you think heating may overburden your budget, there are numerous uses for an unheated greenhouse. It can be regarded as a covered garden in which to grow to perfection, unblemished by the weather, most outdoor hardy plants.
A greenhouse, frame, or cloches, can greatly influence household costs. Both food and decorative plants for rooms or garden are hardly cheap. Any structure enabling you to grow your own, soon pays for itself.
A greenhouse or a few frames can make an enormous difference to your outdoor garden. You can enjoy the new varieties and seed novelties introduced each year, and protect and save your more tender garden plants over winter. Today, a frame or small greenhouse used for bedding plant production only, will quickly recover its cost. Many superb house plants, and pot plants for gifts, can be raised very cheaply, yet they are extremely expensive to buy in florists.
An often overlooked aspect of greenhouse gardening is its value as an ideal hobby for the disabled, infirm, or not-so-young. It is frequently pleasant to have weather protection for ourselves as well as our plants. Flower show enthusiasts and floral art lovers will also find the greenhouse has much to offer.
You don’t have to be an experienced outdoor gardener to embark on greenhouse gardening. Remember that greenhouses can be erected on paving or asphalt, in yards, and even on flat roofs and balconies, where there may be no soil for miles. A greenhouse with no ground soil is, in some ways, an advantage — it eliminates the temptation to use it! Except where the greenhouse is portable as already mentioned, the ground soil in a permanent greenhouse can lead to trouble if grown in. Its use is a common beginner’s mistake. The lure of the ground soil is of course greater if you have been used to outdoor gardening. Under cover, soil may give good results the first year and then soon deteriorate. This is called ‘soil sickness’: a vague term denoting a build up of unbalanced fertilizer salts, waste products from plants and other chemical substances, and possibly pests and disease organisms. Outdoors a plot intensively cultivated can get ‘sick’ too, hence the practice of rotation, but the effect is delayed by washing out by rains, the action of frost and the sterilizing effect of ultra violet light from the sun (which does not penetrate glass), and natural pest and disease predators. In any case, far more reliable and certain results are obtained by growing in containers of one or other of the specially designed potting composts, and sowing seeds in proper seed composts.
Dirty water such as collected fromor stored in filthy open tanks and butts, must not be used for irrigation — this is a frequent common mistake! What is the point of employing clean sterilized seed and potting composts if you do. Clean tap water is much safer even if it is limey. Dirty rainwater can be a ‘soup’ of infection.
A frequent mistake is to buy a greenhouse that ultimately proves too small. The more capacious the greenhouse the easier it is to maintain a steady environment. In a tiny greenhouse, for example, the temperature can fluctuate alarmingly with changes in the sun’s power during the day. Plants rarely enjoy this. Reasonable room also makes working easier and more comfortable, and there is more scope for growing and arranging plants.
A final hint, left last so that it remains well remembered, is to pay great care to summer shading and ventilation. Far too many beginners lose a whole greenhouse of plants in a matter of hours because shading is overlooked and vents are left closed on a sunny day. When this happens the temperature absolutely rockets up, and even tropical plants can get boiled or baked to death.