There’s so much to be done in the greenhouse at the moment. The enticing rattle of all those new seed packets and the irresistible pull of the sunshine has the wheels of progress turning. Pots and trays are being washed. Shelving racks are being cleaned. Slabs are being swept. Ah, the spring cleaning of the little plants’ domain!
Back in the autumn, you may remember, I planted a few things in my “greenhouses within a greenhouse”. So far I have had mixed fortunes, but on the whole I’m pleased. It’s been a very cloudy winter here, but thankfully, we did not have anywhere near as much as wind as we did in the winter of 2013/2014. Though there have only been a few flurries of snow and not much in the way of hoary frosts, temperatures have hovered around just above freezing, just below freezing, sometimes on the nail, and a number of times so close I thought it would freeze but then it didn’t. So many late afternoons, and now early evenings, I’ve been popping out to the greenhouse to tuck my plants up for the night.
The “greenhouses in a greenhouse” became “greenhouses in a greenhouse in a greenhouse” – with brass knobs on! I mean, with fleece on. Garden fleece, that is. At my disposal was a small greenhouse-shaped metal frame with a plastic cover. I placed all my fledgling plants inside it for the winter, zipping the cover up apart from when I checked on or watered the plants. When sunshine built heat up I’d unzip the cover for a couple of hours or so. All the while this mini greenhouse sat inside my actual greenhouse. On the coldest or potentially coldest nights, I covered the mini greenhouse with a layer of garden fleece, which I’d then take off during the day. I’m glad to say that during the winter the vast majority of plants have come along well.
The seeds that grew have long since shed their freezer bag “greenhouses”. Yesterday, when the sun was shining, I took the plants out and stood them on the newly cleaned racking until late afternoon. Then they went back into their mini greenhouse, and early evening, because an early frost was forecast, I covered the mini greenhouse with fleece again.
Originally, I planted some Papaver, Strawberry Mignonette, Meconopsis violet and mint seeds, and a couple of potential confusions. But my first mix up that I was aware of came with my labelling. Thinking the condensation would obliterate any written labels and make them peel off the pots and trays, and not wanting to stick any labels inside the pots because I tied the bags around them quite tightly at first, I drew a chart of what I’d planted in which pots. It worked for a while. Even when I moved the pots with seedlings in from the shelving rack to the mini greenhouse I remembered to keep the pots in their formation. But then one day I rearranged the contents of the mini greenhouse, forgot about my chart, and realised too late that I now had no idea what was growing in four of my smallest pots. Genius!
Four pots but all muddled up, what could be in them? Well, I narrowed it down to the following: the Papaver, Strawberry Mignonette, lavender or Meconopsis. The seeds that I had ordered as Passionflower but arrived labelled Sweet Passion Fruit, had shown no signs of appearing. So that was one controversy-in-the-waiting out the window.
Now four pots imply seedlings had appeared in four out of six of my small pots. This is not strictly true. Three pots had made some of their contents decisively known quite early on, so were promoted to the mini greenhouse once it was installed. Then, through the steam of condensation in the freezer bag, I spied a tiny bit of green in the soil in a fourth. With squeals of delight, I promoted this pot to the mini greenhouse, also. What a shame that it took me probably the best part of a week to realise the green was just a little bit of moss, spreading moss. Genius again! (A swift demotion back to the racking followed.)
There were three green bottles hanging on the wall…I mean, there were three pots. But there were still four potential plants to be surprised by. As time went by I felt pretty confident that the leaves on one of the tiny forming plants were emerging in the prickly shape of those found on a strawberry plant.
Then came what I like to call the “Mesembryanthemum Mix- up”, after the emergence of some very attractive flowers with multiple petals, that reminded me of bike wheel spokes, caused my eyebrows to rise. They didn’t look very violet- or poppy-like, loosely speaking, so that discounted Papaver or Meconopsis. But neither were they lavender. When my Mum saw them and said they are Mesembryanthemums, it was then that it dawned on me what had probably been written on the foil inside the lavender packet. The Mesembryanthemums are very pretty. Originating from southern Africa, their name means “midday flowering”, and they certainly do open in the middle of the day and close up again quite early. As far as I’m concerned, their appearance is a happy accident, a lovely surprise.
That means there is just one unidentified mass of little plants in a small pot now. Will they turn out to be Papaver, Meconopsis violet, or something else entirely? Who knows? But I look forward to finding out. I’ve had to thin them out a bit and I can see there are still some dead leaves I need to get rid of. They desperately need transplanting now, as soon as conditions are conducive, as do most of the little plants that have surged through the winter.
In slightly larger pots I have a selection of sweet peas. Some have grown from seeds I planted in the autumn, but some are self-sown from what had been in a large outdoor pot over the previous two summers. Among them were some imposters. Firstly, a presumptuous thistle which had sprawled out and hogged quite a percentage of the compost – I have since cut it out with a knife, roots and all. Secondly, some very creepy, crawly, bindy, strangly weed, which I extricated carefully until I had victoriously got shot of its roots, too. And then there is the friendly little self-sown pansy, cropping up like a timid character in a novel who, to everyone’s surprise later becomes the heroine! I’ve had to prune some dead leaves from the sweet peas. Only now do I realise how cramped they’ve been getting. They desperately need some little canes to climb up too, as they’re getting taller and more clingy, but with frosts still being forecast this week they are still likely to be going in and out of the mini greenhouse where there is not a lot of space for manoeuvring canes.
She is by no means a lonely pansy. In two seed trays I planted winter pansy seeds last autumn. The first group of seeds were left to fend for themselves without the aid of a freezer bag greenhouse, unlike the second group which I planted several weeks later. The difference between the contents of the two trays is very obvious…we were talking “cress” versus “lettuce”. Though a bit of recent sunshine has brought the first pansy gang along a little from what they were.
The only other seed tray contains “Tini’s Lucky Dip” – a random collection of dried seeds and blossoms a friend sent me last year. The idea was that I was to sow them and see what happened. So far I’ve got quite a mixture of shapes and sizes coming through. It’s going to be very interesting to see what they turn into.
As yet there has been no sign of the ginger, so I think I’ll try again with some fresh when it’s warmer. The lupins died very early on, unfortunately. I think that covers everything I planted in the autumn.
There is one more experiment going on, however. When the Christmas tree came down I saved some bits of branches and mini fir cones and popped them into compost in pots. It may be a pointless exercise, but I would dearly love to grow a fir tree or few, so I thought I’d give this idea a go. You never know.
Now if only I could get all those pots washed up so I can plant some of my new seeds!