Wednesday, 12 July 2017

DIY greenhouse!

A month of so ago my old fella and I were sitting on our swinging hammock, sipping coffee, listening to the birds, enjoying the sunshine and the feeling that all the major tasks we'd set ourselves for summer were over. I'd begun to toy with the idea of days out, walks on the beach, leisurely picnics ...

"I've had an idea," he says, jerking me from my dreaming. "I'm going to build you a better greenhouse."
"O - kaaaay," I said, interest piqued.
old teeny tiny greenhouse interior (see massive phormium behind)

When we moved I said I wouldn't need a greenhouse with such a comparitively small garden but that had quickly proved false and we soon realised we couldn't do without one. Luckily enough, early last year we purchased a small second hand one from a local swap shop. It was a snip at £20 and we only had to buy a few bits of glass to complete the glazing. I was thrilled with it but by spring it was bursting at the seams and I was deeply mourning the loss of my two good sized greenhouses we'd left behind. 
you can just about see the old greenhouse location here

John's lightbulb moment involved building a sturdy lean to frame along the back of the garden, taking the current greenhouse apart and using both sides to glaze the one long side of the new one (does that make sense? It didn't to me at first). This would double the floor place, at the same time opening up a sizeable area of garden for other use. Just one thing stood in the way: a beautiful rhodedendron and an oversized, quite ugly and intrusive green phormium. 

After much deliberation we decided to preserve the rhodedendron by building around it, and sacrificing the phormium. Within half an hour we had a notebook out, making drawings, and noting my 'must haves'. Our relaxing summer was forgotten as enthusiasm chased away our lethargy.

He is a very clever man, technically quite brilliant to my bedazzled eyes and I could envisage the finished building, see myself happily growing plants in my new, stylish greenhouse (complete with space for table and chair where I can write on chilly wet days).

The first thing to go was the phormium and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't sad to see it fall beneath the chain saw. Surprisingly the root dug out easily, leaving a heap of dry undernourished soil that hadn't seen light of day since Lord knows when. We then had to cart it to the tip, move the compost heap, the pile of tatty of slabs he'd been hoarding for some reason known only to him, and dig out a really pretty and very old rose that had been struggling for lack of light.

We did try to save it but it was too tricky to get out and in the end the root came away in pieces. In vain hope, I potted the root into a large pot and now a month on it is sprouting healthy vigorous shoots. I think I will get several plants from it. I shall let it grow on in the pot and plant it out in the spring. It is a pretty purple colour; a short rambler I think from its habit.

The site now clear we laid shallow foundations and John began to construct the frame. I'd like to take some credit for this but my only use was holding uprights in place and passing him screws and hammers and making cups of tea. The frame could have gone up quicker but we were held up by the demands of work and the odd rain shower but at last it was up and a polycarbonate roof in place.

Now for the glazing! John's careful measuring meant the glazing bars from the old greenhouse could be screwed in place easily and the glass inserted. We purchased a vent for the end wall. The back wall is made of board and weather proofed with roofing felt. I painted the frame to match the shed, a sage green that blends with the planting in a soft, easy on the eye manner.

With the greenhouse completed (almost) the outside was a mess but quickly solved by membrane and gravel. We wanted a flower bed along the fence which is the sunniest side of the garden but when we tried to dig we found buried concrete foundations, loads of tree roots so, to make life easier, we resorted to a raised bed and at last the plants I'd been hoarding in pots for too long had a home. We planted climbing roses, clematis, hollyhocks, poppies, liatris, campanula, fuschia, siberian iris, lupins, marigolds, dwarf rhodedenron and I am sure other things will find their way in (and out) as it matures. The gravel will soften as things self seed from other areas of the garden and the plants begin to cascade over the walls of the raised bed.
See how we built around the rhodedendron?

I would say all in all we have made 100% improvement to that end of the garden. It now resembles a courtyard garden, with places to sit, entertain, hoard more pots of plants; and inside the greenhouse I can work, overwinter plants, sow seed, grow plants on, and on rainy days sit and admire the garden from a brand new perspective.

It is our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary coming up at the end of July but we've been together for thirty two years - I think I made the right choice. I think he's a keeper.

Monday, 10 July 2017


The night before
It was late June, we'd had weeks of lovely mild weather, long afternoons and evenings of tender care had produced a joyful, tranquil effect.  I could barely tear myself away to go to bed. That night, smug and happy with my garden. I lay awake thinking of it, picturing it in my mind. Circling the pristine lawn, the roses were in full bloom, the foliage of the trees lush and green, diffusing the sunshine; the ornamental grasses swaying in the slight breeze, the giant daisies standing proud, the fuschias dancing in the late evening light. 
Miss Bateman (clematis) unknown Rose and Hardy Geranium

The next morning I stood, coffee in hand, in dismay as I watched it lashed by rain brought in on a ferocious north westerly wind. The trees dashed their arms like mad men, their leaves falling like confetti; the roses dripping wet, their petals swept away to stick fast to the patio windows. I could not bear to watch but I could not look away.
battered courgette

Fine sunny weather lures us into a sense of security. We come to believe it will last and last. It is only when the storm comes that we remember the precious plants we've neglected to tie securely, the lupins we should have staked, the daisies and hollyhocks that could really have done with some hidden support. We all need something to cling to in inclement weather btu as I stood at the window I thought my heart would break. For two days and one night the garden had to fend for itself.
flattened daisies

When it finally eased, I ventured outside and looked around at the lawn strewn with debris, plants blasted, some broken at the root, some fallen flat, beaten into the earth with their heart opened to view. It was a massacre but as I stood there with my trug bucket and rake,  I knew I could put it to rights. I could pick up the sticks and the litter, I could stake the plants (rather too late) tie them up, and dead head the now naked roses. It would come again. There was just one thing I couldn't put right. The worst damage was as yet invisible. I had to wait for it to show. Yet to come was the cruel burning of the salt that is carried off the sea in high coastal winds.
salt burn

It must have surprised the neighbours to see me, after such a  heavy deluge, hosing the shrubs and roses but it helps to wash off what salt you can. There was nothing to be done for the trees and taller shrubs however but watch them turn slowly from lush green to crispy brown, and then flutter down to be gathered up from the lawn. 


But this week as I dead head and fill my buckets with debris, new shoots are already emerging, the plants are beginning to straighten up and hold their heads to the sun again. I know the garden will come back and be lovely again, maybe not as fine and lush as before but it will recover and I will learn from it and be prepared next year.
Bucket one of debris
It isn't all gloom. I took the opportunity of pruning some of the roses, harder than I usually would in summer and I gave them the July feed a little earlier. They are already responding. There is nothing as cheering as a rose, so I can't be too downhearted. I am pinning my hopes on the second flush. Gardens are never perfect - I don't think they should be, but we always aspire to it. Now the greenhouse is almost up and running (I will blog about that next time) next year will be better than this and the year after that, better still.

Lady Emma Hamilton

Harlow Carr

Labelled Just Joey but I don't think it is so I just call it My How Pretty!

Olivia Jane Austin