Many of us dream of creating our own edible garden – an alfresco larder to pluck some tomatoes for a salad or some herbs for your summer cocktail – but the unpredictability and extremes of British weather can often be a stumbling block.
Installing a greenhouse in the garden can take away a lot of that weather-related stress, providing a safe microclimate for your crops to grow and thrive.
Flooded with natural light and keeping out wind and rain, greenhouses are an ideal space to start off hardy vegetable plants such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and leeks as well as more tender runner and French beans and for nurturing tender crops through the summer months, such as tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and chillies. You can be adventurous and throw some exotic edibles into the mix with some melons, sweet potatoes and okra – and perhaps even a lemon, lime or orange tree. Into autumn you sow salads to enjoy over winter, and pot up herbs such as parsley or mint to snip from in the colder months. You could even try your hand at microgreens.
And greenhouses don't have to be those rickety little glasshouses – often with a missing pane or two – that spring to mind. They can be a stylish and lush garden room for relaxing in after a busy day of planting your edible oasis.
Choosing the right greenhouse
Every garden will have slightly different growing conditions and a different aspect and layout. This means that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to greenhouses, but Alitex have plenty of options available for every garden.
Alitex at Chelsea
The perfect example of how to use your greenhouse to grow an edible oasis was demonstrated by Alitex at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2022. The company celebrated their 60th year at Chelsea and certainly put on a display worthy of such a milestone. In collaboration with Pennard Plants, who grow one of the largest selections of edible plants in the UK, Alitex created a productive display of herbs, fruit and veg in one of their beautiful glasshouses. Using Victorian greenhouses from their National Trust Collection, Alitex was also collaborating with THE PIG, famed for their beautiful kitchen gardens and plot to plate ethos. Their Chelsea display was a great way to pick up tips and inspiration for making the most of growing in your greenhouse at home.
What to grow in a greenhouse
Greenhouse growing by season
Here are a few of our suggestions for things that you can grow in the greenhouse over the course of the year, to ensure that you have fresh produce year-round.
Late winter to early spring
This is the best time of year for starting off hardy plants like leeks, Brussel sprouts, cabbages and onions. You can plant them outdoors when the warmer weather arrives but planting them in the greenhouse first will give you a head start. Late winter is also the ideal time to start early sowings of carrots and spinach and for chitting potatoes. Tomatoes, chillies and aubergines can also be started at this time of year with the help of a heated propagator.
There is always lots that can be sown come spring. In the greenhouse you can start planting tender plants like courgettes and squashes as well as cucumbers, French beans and melons. Herbs such as basil can also be started in the greenhouse in spring. Towards late spring, you will also want to be thinking about supporting any plants that will continue to be grown indoors, such as tomatoes and aubergines. At this time, you can also start off kale seedlings in the greenhouse to prepare for winter harvests.
Harvest! Summer is generally a time for harvesting your crops. But you can also keep sowing herbs like basil for continual harvests from the greenhouse. In late summer, it is a good idea to sow lettuces and salad leaves indoors. This will prolong your harvesting season by making the most of the autumn light levels. It is also wise to sow seeds of winter lettuces in mid-summer in the greenhouse as well as chard for planting out for autumn harvests. Remember to keep your greenhouse well ventilated as the stronger sun at this time of year can cause it to overheat.
Remove spent summer crops and give the greenhouse a tidy. You can sow broad beans and peas to over-winter now as well as hardy lettuces and pea shoots. If you want to prolong the season, bring pots of herbs such as coriander and parsley inside now. From Autumn onwards you might want to start thinking about giving the greenhouse a clean. To keep growing conditions at optimal levels, you might consider opting for a cleaning service. Alitex offers greenhouse cleaning, and with their expertise and professional equipment they will have your growing space looking spick and span in no time.
At the start of winter, you can try growing some microgreens of beetroot, coriander, peas and rocket. As mid-winter draws in, using a propagator, you can also start sowing tomatoes, chillies and aubergines. Now is the perfect time to give the greenhouse a clean and prep for the year ahead.
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The Alitex greenhouses to invest in
With its Victorian-inspired aesthetic and solid construction, the Mottisfont greenhouse from Alitex is a beautiful example of a greenhouse designed with style and function in mind. The Mottisfont is one of eight Victorian-style greenhouses designed in partnership with the National Trust – an award-winning range that went down a storm at the Chelsea Flower Show 2022.
The Mottisfont comes fitted with toughened safety glass and both automatic and manual ventilation, and you can tailor the interior and exterior design of the greenhouse to suit your needs. You can have benches fitted for potting, a designated space for overwintering plants or beds in the ground to grow a tree or a climber. There can even be room for a seating area so you can wind down and enjoy your lush surroundings.
The Ickworth is another fine example of a National Trust greenhouse designed to be an organised and efficient growing space as well as a place to unwind and entertain, but on a larger scale than the Mottisfont. With its roomy extended lobbies the Ickworth doubled as a botanical cocktail bar at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, so why not take inspiration and grow some zingy botanicals and citrus fruit for you to wow your guests at your next garden party?
Molly is the Gardens Illustrated's editorial and digital assistant. She has a roof garden and has her RHS level 2.
Abigail is a freelance writer and editor based in Hereford.