I start off with good intentions. Each spring, I determine to keep the greenhouse tidy. By September, all manner of clutter- bits of string, old labels, empty plant pots and dead plants- trip me up. It looks a mess. So this weekend I’ve emptied all the plants and swept right through. Phew. It doesn’t get any easier. It’s a 20 foot Alton cedar greenhouse, bought second hand and painted black. First I take out all the pelargoniums. The one above is called Tomcat. It’s like burgundy velvet. It flowers non stop from March through to November. In a mild winter it carries on flowering for 12 months. This year, I’ve decided to cut everything back and keep all the plants as cuttings in 9cm pots. The mother plants, several years old and getting leggy, have been composted. It’s hard to do. I tend to hang on to plants even when they are past their best.
There’s still a lot of colour, but the cooler temperatures and damp atmosphere creates mould. Botrytis is a killer of tender plants such as pelargoniums. Cutting them back and reducing the watering helps to combat the problem.
I’ve got an ancient wood and metal garden nursery trolley which I station outside the greenhouse doors to hold the plants temporarily.
Luckily, it’s a beautiful sunny day with temperatures around 21C. We’ve had one night of frost, but no damage so far. Night time temperatures are dipping into single figures though, so there’s no time to waste.
I quickly snip off 3″ cuttings from non-flowering shoots and pile them in my trug. To take cuttings, I cut above a pair of leaves to start with. Then I use a sharp knife to cut below a leaf joint where there’s a concentration of hormones to aid rooting. I use my fingers to snap off all but three leaves at the top. Any large leaves are cut in two to reduce moisture loss. The soft, tiny winged growth on the stems is rubbed off as they attract mould. I gently rub over the leaves to check for aphids.
I fill 9cm pots with 50% peat-free multi-purpose compost and 50% grit or perlite for drainage. Tap the pots on the table to settle the compost. Cuttings need air as well as moisture to grow, so I don’t squash the compost down.
It’s still warm enough to work in the potting shed. There’s a robin in the eaves, quietly twittering away. Sometimes robins can be incredibly loud, at other times its almost a whisper. It’s as if they are singing to comfort themselves. It comforts me as well to have such calm and joyful company.
All potted up, I water them once and set them somewhere cool, bright and frost free to root. The west-facing potting shed window will do for now, out of direct sunshine. They will spend their winter in the greenhouse though with a fan heater set at 6C. Next spring, I’ll tip them out and pot them into individual 9cm pots.
Back in the greenhouse, all the staging is cleared and jet washed down. Any spiders are relocated to the poly tunnel. I can’t kill anything. Slugs and snails go into a dry ditch beyond the boundary hedge. Food for other creatures, I hope.
When I’ve cleaned the glass and repaired the sliding door mechanism, I’ll push the citrus trees back in for the winter. It’s been a good summer for lemons and oranges. A few lemon cakes and orange marmalade might be in order….
Winter salads and micro veg are springing up in shallow terracotta pans. There will be more room now I’ve cleared out the huge pelargonium pots.
Luckily, there’s a few pots of colour left. This orange gerbera has been flowering for months. And my purple bougainvillea usually flowers into December. I haven’t quite finished polishing the glass, or replacing the comfy armchair, the biscuit tin and the radio. That will be tomorrow’s finishing touches. For today, after all that work, I’m collapsing in the summerhouse with a nice cup of tea and mulling over the autumn and winter season to come. I’m ready for anything the weather might throw at us.
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