January is not the best month in the greenhouse. We’re at that stage of the year where everything’s gone into stasis, hunkered down, head low, waiting for the bad stuff to go ‘way until spring comes around again.
Unless, of course, you sowed lots and lots of salad in your greenhouse borders back in October or so. In that case, you have reason to be cheerful in the greenhouse: in fact it’s a haven of greenery in a world turned sepia brown and definitely twiggy.
My salad plugs have not worked well: I think I probably planted them a bit too late and they have Sulked. The chards aren’t looking too bad, but they’re refusing to grow: entire clumps have been devoured by slugs despite my best efforts with the pellets.
I have a large hole which appears as if by magic every so often in the soil at the side – it’s around mouse-sized – and I suspect this may be partly to blame for the failure of nearly every nearby clump of salad seedlings.
I can’t think the little whiskered ones are actually enjoying eating salad, so I think they’re probably having a nibble out of curiosity while basking in the unexpected warmth and dryness. I have taken to pouring half a watering-can’s worth of ice-cold water down the hole every time it appears, just so they don’t get too comfortable. They retreat for a while, but inevitably the hole appears again. Luckily this is not the seed-sowing greenhouse so trapping won’t (I hope) be necessary.
But just look at my pak choi! These I sowed in around September, when you’re supposed to, and they were a lovely hefty seedling size by the time I uprooted the aubergines and planted them in the greenhouse borders. They’re now the picture of health, along with the single survivor of my ill-fated ‘Merveille de Quat’ Saisons’ sowing last autumn, and ready to pick. Yet more excuse to venture into the greenhouse at every possible opportunity.
In the other greenhouse all is subdued: shrouded in bubble-wrap, heater set to 5°C to keep the frost off. We’re in an unusually cold snap for Somerset; it is dipping down to -3°C at night, the lowest it’s been for over two years. I had to search for the greenhouse heater where it had settled under a load of other stuff in the shed and coax it back into life after its long spell of redundancy.
In here are the frost-tender plants: an eclectic mix of scented-leaf pelargoniums, a prickly pear cactus (I nurse optimistic hopes that one day I’ll get this to fruit outside – tried them in Italy once, and they’re hardier than you think), Musa basjoo (hardy banana) and a lovely but frost-tender pure white nerine – Nerine sarniensis ‘Blanchefleur’ – which I came by some years ago, I forget how, but has suddenly started flowering each autumn with a heartbreakingly beautiful white blossom. I know I’m supposed to be a fruit’n'veg girl all the way, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to chuck this one out.
Sadly the Ensete ventricosa - purple banana – is looking a little grey around the edges and I wouldn’t rate its chances of seeing this March too highly. I’ve never yet managed to overwinter one successfully. This greenhouse is also home to my spectacular tree chilli (Capsicum pubescens) which I’m hoping will make it into a third year this year, though heaven knows what I’m going to do when the branches get even bigger – they’re already knocking the greenhouse roof.
I keep trying to wean myself off tender plants which need overwintering, but they’re such a special bunch and make my gardening life such fun I can’t really bring myself to stick to good old British toughies. Sometimes a little light indulgence – including the slightly guilty use of greenhouse heaters – is necessary, if only to put a smile on your face whenever you go outside.