Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The life of a mini tunnel.

The garden has dried out a little and we have some sun today. The first narcissus are blooming well along with the early primulas, snowdrops and crocus so I am almost tempted to believe that Spring has arrived but, although the weather is meant to be more settled, there is already more rain forecast.

About twelve years ago I invested in a mini-tunnel greenhouse which has once been re-covered but is now getting to the end of its useful life. When I first bought it electricity was no where near as expensive as today so I lined it with bubble wrap and put in a small heater as well as a light.

For the first few years the tunnel was used for raising plants from seed or growing on from plugs, some cuttings, and overwintering some of the more tender subjects. It also provided an excellent "brew hut" during the winter months. Below are a few of my favourites which were raised and/or overwintered in my heated tunnel.

Abutilon Large Flowered Hybrids
 These are half-hardy perennials for growing in containers, as I did, or in a sunny border, the flowers can be obscured as they tend to face downward. Easy from seed, they will flower in the first year but keep taking the tops out to encourage bushiness as they tend to have a very leggy habit. Feed a general liquid feed during the growing season, protect from frost in winter. Can be used as an annual bedding plant from very early sowings.   

Trailing Begonias and Lobelia 2005

 Both these trailing begonias and 'Busy Lizzies' were bought as plugs and are particularly useful in my garden as they don't mind shade. Unfortunately 'Busy Lizzies' are no longer an option and this is another reason why I have now almost stopped using bedding plants completely.
Impatiens 2006
 Dahlia 'Bishop's Children'
 Raised from seed, one of my firm favourites 'Bishop's Children' the good old 'Bishop of Llandaff' fathered a fine family. I have tried quite a few of the smaller strains as fillers but always come back to 'Bishop's Children', you can't beat the dark foliage and variation of bright colours.
Brugmansia suaveolens
  I grew these wonderful plants for years, over-wintering them as stock plants or rooted cuttings depending on how much space I had available. All parts are poisonous!

Datura meteloides 'Evening Fragrance'
 In case you were wondering Brugmansia flowers hang down and Datura flowers are held upright.
Echium Wildpretii x pininana
These plants are truly my nemesis, no matter which species I grow, no matter what I do I can not get them to flower or for that matter survive more than one winter. They are dead easy from seed so there are always plenty of plants to go at but despite this I have never had any success.

Echium flower spike just coming to an end with more to come.
 To add insult to injury this picture was taken in Inverness, definitely not one for my conditions.

 This is probably the last year when I actually laid on heat right through the winter primarily for overwintering and growing on plugs. Note the chair for mid-winter R&R.

Lobelia tupa

 I only managed to obtain one seedling from the sowing I made but they root so readily from cuttings I had several large plants scattered about the garden until the severe winters and lack of protection eventually saw them off. They can grow to 8' but mine just about made five; a stunning plant nevertheless.

Spring 2011
 No longer heated with one end open all winter, for the last couple of years the tunnel has been used for the protection of a few primulas and young plants, and for seed raising. All the pots that can be seen will contain society seed.

Last week.
 Both ends open all winter, the tunnel is now used mainly for overwintering primula stock plants as a back up for those planted out in the garden last year. There are still some pots containing seeds including a few which have been sown recently, growing some perennials from seed needs a great deal of patience!  Amongst the plants which are being afforded some winter protection are rosemary, abutilon, hellebores, geraniums and meconopsis.

This is what should start to happen in a few weeks time as the first of the primulas come into flower and colour returns.
After trying to grow the more exotic genera in difficult conditions for a while, I have now gone back to a policy of tough love............if it does not grow well in my garden there is no second chance. There are so many beautiful plants particularly amongst the primulas and meconopsis along with the vast array of other hardy perennials available, that I no longer feel that it is worth the cost and effort that it takes to run a heated facility.


  1. Rick, glad you cleared that up. For some time now I have been saying they have changed the name of Datura to Brugmansia. I must say, your mini tunnel has served you well. We also used to have Impatiens in the borders of the front garden every year giving an amazing show. Even when I found out about the problem I persevered with them for a couple more years before giving up.

    1. As far as I know Alistair, Datura and Brugmansia are still separate genera although with the speed that the nomenclature of plants is updated these days one never knows for certain and there has been some movement from Datura to Brugmansia. I have just spotted some supposedly mildew resistant Impatiens Divine in the paper which I know come from Parkers of Manchester so I have ordered some to try.................nothing ventured, nothing gained!

    2. Think I will also give them a go Rick.

  2. Hi Rick, Your greenhouse looks a cosy spot to spend time on a cold winter's day, with comfy chair, surrounded by lovely flowers. As you can probably tell, I 've not had experience with greenhouses, we don't really need them because the weather never gets that cold. But I think some people have them, it enables them to grow strawberries and tomatoes and stuff like that in winter. Your primulas are looking very healthy and pretty.

    1. Hi Sue, The greenhouse itself is not much of a big deal as it is always a good thing to be able to offer protection to some plants which are at risk particularly from the damp, its the cost of the heating which really kills it. I must admit it was lovely and snug during the winter but if you tried to work in a standing position the roof is slightly too low and I always finished up with an aching back, good excuse for another sit down with a cup of tea!

  3. Your greenhouse looks great, seems spacious, I wish I had room for a greenhouse in my garden but it is just nowhere to put it. I have always wanted a Brugmansia, I know some people simply grow them as annuals, buying a new plant from a nursery every year - or down here in London they grow certain varieties that can survive our winters. This winter I probably could have had most types as I still haven’t had any frost. I haven’t got room or one in the ground though so it would have to be a container grown.

    I used to grow Lobelia tupa, but I had mine in a huge container and it died during the drought we had in 2006, it dried out too many times and then probably got too stressed – it was simply not enough to water it once a day. I still miss it. Are you replacing your tunnel with a new one when this one eventually goes?

    1. Hi Helene, although it looks spacious it is in fact a 3x2M so it is quite cramped with me inside it as well. I have been looking at the possibility of getting another tunnel which is higher and has the vents at the top rather than the sides because I should really strip everything out and clean the benches and replace the gravel this year but I may see if the current one will last another winter. Decisions, decisions......................................

  4. How I wish I had room for something like this in my garden - one day, when I retire I intend to make room! I don't care what has to go.
    Your poly tunnel has served you well Rick. The cost of heating is a topic that comes up regularly and I don't think you are alone in the fact that you stopped it.

    1. There is no doubt that some form of glasshouse is very useful to have even if it is just somewhere where you can grow on or protect plants particularly with vegetables although I have never used mine for this. The other main advantage is that it gives you somewhere to work or have a cuppa but still feel that you are in touch with the garden when the weather is not so good.

  5. Enjoyed your post Rick and am impressed how long your polytunnel has lasted. I made the mistake of buying a relatively low cost one and the hoops buckled under the weight of the snow in 2010. I bit the bullet and had a lean to greenhouse built which is great, but I always loved that polytunnel! Shame energy costs are too prohibitive to keep heat on in winter as you managed to overwinter some stunners ! I agree about 'Bishop's children', they are on my list every year and I love them. easy, colourful, lovely foliage ... they tick all the boxes. Comparable only to Cosmos, I think.

    1. Glad you liked my post Jane, unfortunately the cover of my tunnel greenhouse is coming to an end and replacements are no longer available. As it is about a foot away from a privet hedge on one side and about the same from a mature birch on the other it is not really practical to cover with polythene sheet so I am looking at a new tunnel of approximately the same dimensions to fit the bill. My all time favourite Cosmos is 'Purity', it is a strong grower and notable for its, well.............purity!