Heart of glass: Anna Pavord finally has her own greenhouse

For years, I've been doodling greenhouses: lean-to greenhouses, three-quarter span greenhouses, free-standing greenhouses, greenhouses set up entirely for growing a peach or a nectarine, or tailored to bring on flowers for the house, or to extend the season for salads and tomatoes. Now, after a lifetime of doodling, I finally have the real thing and I'm dazed with delight.

It started with a disaster, when during a gale some sheets of corrugated Perspex blew off the roof of the long, south-facing wooden building that the previous owners of our house used as a studio. Standing in this space (roughly 4m wide by 2.65m long) with half the roof gone, I realised how light it was and, facing south and west, how ideally placed for keeping plants warm in winter.

The doodles started to get more serious. The north wall of the building was all concrete block. That could stay just as it was. So could the blocks (covered outside in timber cladding) that went half-way up the walls on the south and west sides. We could glaze the top half of those two walls and put glass rather than corrugated Perspex back on the roof. The existing inside wall, facing west, would be a perfect place to grow a fan-trained peach or nectarine.

So the greenhouse evolved from what was already in place, its dimensions set and to a great extent, its functions also. I've got more and more interested in growing plants in pots to bring into the house, but have been hampered until now by having few places to keep them while they are revving up for their performance. The south-facing side of this new space would be an ideal holding ground for potted plants.

I'd need a bit of a workbench too, I thought, though seed sowing, and general pottering of that nature would still go on in the workshop, at the opposite end of the same studio building. The solid block wall on the north side was the obvious place for a bench in the greenhouse, with a shelf above, right up against the glass roof, where I could put seedlings and cuttings to grow on without getting leggy. I'd spent years thinking about this space. When it all began to crystallise around me, I was pretty clear about the priorities, about what I wanted to do in it.

Since the whole long studio building is timber-clad, it was obvious that the framework of the greenhouse should be wood too. Hardwood or softwood? Time to call Colin, who has a unique ability to translate sketches on envelopes into buildings that work. He priced up the wood and although hardwood (cedar) was outrageously expensive, that's what we decided to get, on the basis that it would last a long time. Colin, who takes infinite care to get things right, shaped all the timber in his own workshop: strong uprights for the south- and west-facing sides, new beams for the roof (the old ones were riddled with woodworm), double doors to open out on the west side.

Ventilation, I knew, would be one of the most important things to get right. Everything I've read about greenhouses (and heard from those who own them) stresses that you've got to have plenty of air blowing through them. We think more, perhaps, about the business of heating them in winter, but even in our iffy summers, greenhouses can get hot. Stagnant air encourages disease. You've got to keep it moving.

So, on my sketch, the south-facing side of the new greenhouse was effectively all window, three of them, hinged at the top and held open when necessary, with old-fashioned stick fasteners. The double doors, opened and pinned back against the walls either side, would take care of ventilation on the west side. Breezes here come mostly from the south-west, so there'd be a good through-draught.

For the roof, I bought three Bayliss Autovents Mk 7 (£35.95 each), two for the south-facing slope of the roof, one for the north. They came via Two Wests and Elliott's extraordinary catalogue, 115 pages of things for a greenhouse, which for years I've read avidly as a kind of fix, a substitute for the real thing.

The vent area (says the catalogue) should be equal to a fifth of the floor area. Ours don't quite match that, but ventilation on the two sides is better than in most, so I reckoned three vents in the roof, each 80 x 80cm, would suffice. What you get is not the window vent itself (Colin made those) but a kind of hinged arm, to open and close it automatically. It works by way of a wax cylinder in the arm; as it heats up the wax expands, pushing the vent open; as it cools, it contracts. Excellent. I don't have to worry about plants cooking in my absence.

The glass in the roof as well as the south and west walls was to be held in vertical glazing bars roughly 215mm apart. The bars needed to be as narrow as possible, which was another good reason for using seasoned hardwood. It wouldn't warp. But how were we going to fix the glass? Should they be single sheets running from top to bottom? Should we introduce horizontal glazing bars? Or should the glass be fixed in overlapping panes?

At this point, I had a vision of fish-scale panes, cut with semicircular ends. You still see these kind of panes in old glasshouses, made not because they look good (which they do) but because the rounded end encourages water to run down the centre of each pane, rather than down the edges. Less leaks perhaps. A longer life for the wood.

The local glass cutter said there was a factory that cut glass like this, but that it would take three months or more before ours could be done. So Colin got all the glass cut to fit, then finished off the rounded ends himself. It took a long time and was an expensive option. Worth it though. I'm happy to live in hand-me-down jerseys for the next 10 years, in order to have those panes.

The rest of what happened was set-dressing. On three block pillars along the sunny south side of the greenhouse Colin set up a lead pig-salting trough 185cm long x 70cm wide. It came from a local junk yard (£80) and is now holding Haemanthus albiflos, veltheimia, pancratium, 14 pots of hippeastrum, 3 big pots of Ornithogalum arabicum, 5 pots of freesias and two tubs of cymbidium orchids.

Outside, we used Lindab's beautiful galvanised steel gutter and downpipe to channel rainwater into a galvanised trough. Lindab is a Swedish company and they make the guttering 100cm, 125cm, 150cm and 190cm wide. We've got the 150cm, with push-on end-stops and snap-on clips. It's beautiful stuff and unlike plastic, it doesn't fade, crack, expand or contract. The trough, for watering plants in the greenhouse, is set just to the right of the door and is 88cm long x 46cm wide x 40cm deep. It came from our local agricultural supplier and cost £77.52. The next thing in my sights is the peach or nectarine to set on that west-facing wall.

Two Wests & Elliott: 01246 451077, twowests.co.uk. Lindab's building products and suppliers: 0121 585 2780, lindab.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own