Gardening: A house for all seasons

Workshop: It's a waste to use a greenhouse simply as a storage hut. At least that is what the Fullers felt... Anna Pavord advises on how to turn a potting shed into a festival of flowers
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The Independent Online
I have an octagonal, metal-framed greenhouse with no integral heating, though we do have two paraffin heaters. For three to four months in spring and early summer, the greenhouse is full to bursting with boxes of flower and vegetable seedlings. For the rest of the year it is used only sporadically for plants, and mainly for storing pots and garden tools. This seems rather a waste, and I wonder if you could suggest ways in which I could use it all the year round?

Gillian and Malcolm Fuller's greenhouse stands at the apex of their triangular garden, and is in full sun now that a neighbouring fir tree has been felled. The influx of light was metaphorical as well as practical. After eight years of using the greenhouse for little more than raising tomato plants and summer bedding, Mrs Fuller suddenly saw other possibilities.

It is small - no more than 6ft across - but it sits in its space comfortably, with a ceremonial path leading up to it, flanked by 'Ballerina' apple trees. But the ceremony needs to end in something more uplifting than stacks of old plastic pots and seed trays. "No problem," said Mrs Fuller swiftly. There would be plenty of room to store those in the garage.

The greenhouse (made by Waytogrow) has an aluminium frame and glass panes. One side of the octagon forms the door, and there is reasonable ventilation both high and low. Aluminium shelves run round five sides of the house at two levels, about 2ft apart. The house is set on concrete slabs, which is a pity, as the solid base gives no opportunity to plant shading climbers either side of the entrance, where the shelving stops.

The Fullers haven't been heating the greenhouse since the wick burned out on their paraffin stove, but were prepared to do so if the results justified it. The stove would certainly be enough to heat a space as small as this, though an electric heater, controlled by a thermostat, would be a simpler way to keep the place frost free during winter. That would mean running a cable under the lawn, to provide a power supply. It's the kind of project that to me seems monumental, but Mr Fuller, a practical man, took it in his stride.

In a greenhouse as small as this, bulbs are the simplest way of providing interest and colour through the year, but the greenhouse must be frost free. There is no space to cultivate climbers such as bougainvillaea and plumbago, and anyway you wouldn't want plants that grow too large. But by planting a succession of hardy and tender bulbs and tubers, such as achimenes, acidanthera, amaryllis, anemone, begonia, chincherinchee, freesia, ixia, ranunculus, sparaxis and tigridia, you could provide a non-stop flow of flowers to bring into the house from January to the end of September.

Planted in batches between August and December, pots of sweet-smelling freesias would provide colour from January to April. Fat, blowsy amaryllis would flower through February and March, while anemones of the de Caen kind can be planted in pots in the autumn to explode in bunches of blue, purple and scarlet throughout March and April.

Turban-headed ranunculus in pots could follow on in May and June from a September or October planting, and achimenes, planted in batches like the freesias, would provide flowers from July to September. So would showy tigridia (though they shouldn't be planted till April). Elegant, scented acidanthera and fat white chincherinchee would both flower in late August and September from an April planting.

Then you might turn to cyclamen and, later, poinsettia. Both are thought of as house plants, but the cyclamen would relish regular breaks in a cool greenhouse. They hate central heating, and by bringing in relays of cyclamen (preferably the small, white, scented ones) you could keep each pot for no more than a week in the house before "resting" and rejuvenating it for a week in the cooler greenhouse.

In the first three months of the year, as well as the scented freesia you would have bowls of gently forced bulbs - hyacinths, dwarf iris, crocus, early tulips, brought in in batches from a plunge bed and forced gently in the well-lit, protected atmosphere of the greenhouse before being brought, again in relays, into the sitting-room of the Fullers' house.

Calendar for the greenhouse

January Use as frost-free rest house to revive plants such as begonia and cyclamen. Bring small batches of tulips, narcissi, hyacinth, iris in from plunge beds to flower in succession. Take root cuttings of Oriental poppy, anchusa, verbascum, Romneya coulteri. Sow salad crops such as saladini. Set out potatoes to sprout. Sow sweet peas. Start begonia and gloxinia into growth.

February Start off achimenes. Sow broad beans and early lettuces. Plant anemone and ranunculus in pots. Sow half hardy annuals such as ageratum, snapdragon, nicotiana. Start dahlia tubers into growth for cuttings. Pot up gloxinia, and begonia.

March Repot overwintered succulents such as aeonium and echeveria. Start cannas and dahlias into growth.

April Sow Primula obconica to flower in greenhouse in winter.

May Shade begonia and gloxinia (under shelf). Pot on cuttings of fuchsia and geranium. Rest nerine, freesia and lachenalia by putting them in sunniest spot; they will not need water (wake them up by watering again in July or August). Sow cineraria. Pot up begonia, gloxinia and streptocarpus.

June Repot auricula. Sow calceolaria.

July Prick off or pot on primula, calceolaria and cineraria.

August Reduce watering of earliest batches of achimenes, begonia and gloxinia. Sow Brompton stocks for late spring. Plant freesias for early flowering (. Pot lachenalia. Start cyclamen into growth by syringing repotted corms every day with tepid water. Sow schizanthus for spring flowering.

September Pot up lilies, setting bulbs singly in 6-7in pots. Continue to pot up freesias. Leave outside until November, then bring in to flower from late winter to early spring. Plant anemones for early flowering.

October Pot up a last batch of freesias for spring. Bring early batches of freesia and lachenalia in. Pot June sown primula and calceolaria into final pots.

November Bring pots of Indian azaleas in for gentle forcing. Start to bring pots of bulbs from plunge beds into the greenhouse.

December Bring more batches of bulbs. Rest cyclamen, cineraria and primula regularly in the cool, damp conditions here.

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