Garden engine room

Zwena McCullough, Hydro Farm Allotments, Tower, Blarney, with a first crop of kiwi fruit grown in a home-made polytunnel.

Polytunnels and glasshouses open up a whole new world for gardeners in the winter.

THE smallest of gardens can accommodate a small glasshouse, even a ‘lean to’ against a wall. The tightest of spaces can be very productive, if designed right.

There is something timeless about a glasshouse in the garden and it can become a garden feature all in its own, depending on size and design.

Glasshouses in the main are quite expensive, whereas polytunnels are a relatively inexpensive addition to the garden. Whilst they may look like a poor relation of the more ornate glasshouse, once you get used to one or the other, you will wonder how your garden ever functioned without this engine room.

Polytunnels and glasshouses open up a new world of possibilities allowing us to start seeds during the winter and early spring. The comfort of the higher temperatures helps germination and establishment over winter. Watch as your non-tunnel-owning friends look on jealously as your sweet pea are developing and strengthening over winter while they have yet to sow their annual beauties. But don’t think for one second that these are just functional additions, they are so much more.

A place of refuge for the gardener from the inclement winter weather and a place to while away the hours alone with one’s thoughts, at this time of the year I can lose myself dividing perennials and potting on plants, safe from the wind and rain, happy away to myself.

That’s another thing about gardening, you really do need to be content with your own company.

If you have enough space in which to erect a polytunnel then consider yourself fortunate, and if you have yet to discover the benefits of one of these hothouses, then I urge you to wait no longer as a treat is in store and your gardening will change forever.

Their popularity with the ‘grow it yourself ’ and kitchen-gardening brigade would have many of us think that it is unforgivable to waste a greenhouse/ polytunnel on stuff that won’t end up on the kitchen table. Using covered space, protected from the frost, for mere ornamental plants will be sacrilege to some, but not this gardener. Many of the tender specimens that we enjoy in full bloom during the summer need to come in and be protected from the worst of the winter weather.

Plants such as geraniums, frost tender Fuchsias, Heliotropes, many Abutilons and Aeoniums among many others will thrive year after year provided you bring them into the comfort of a frost-free environment.

Geraniums and Fuchsias brought in now should be cut back and repotted; remove spent flower stems and shorten all the stems, making sure you leave some foliage on the geraniums. This wont be necessary with the Fuchsias as they are deciduous. Pot them into bigger pots using a good quality compost, like Celtic Gold, which is probiotic with added wormcasts.

This job can wait til spring, but if you have time now then beat the rush as in February and March the jobs will be mounting up thick and fast.

Any self respecting polytunnel will have an ICU area for plants that are on the high dependency list. I just can’t throw plants out, so if one needs a bit of TLC then this is where it will end up being nursed back to health.

Fresh salads and potatoes can be enjoyed on Christmas Day with good use of this protected space. Seeds of lettuce, rocket and most salad leaves sown now will be good to harvest in about 8 weeks, so again, with good organisation you can enjoy fresh salads throughout the winter.

PLANNING AHEAD

THIS time of the year is a great time to look at the skeleton of your garden and plan a revamp. It’s the ideal season to design a new garden or to rework an existing garden. Time to change an overgrown area that you’ve been meaning to get around to — but where to start?

Designers and horticultural consultants are a good first port of call. Do you know someone who is thinking of designing or revamping their garden? Then why not give them a helping hand this Christmas with a gift of a consultation or a complete garden design? A great and practical present.

How many times have you arrived home with a car full of plants only to ask yourself the question: ‘Where am I going to squeeze these in?’ Time and money spent on getting a good plant list will not only ensure that you get the right plants for your individual space, but will stop you from making costly mistakes.


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