There’s something truly magical about stepping into a greenhouse in a kitchen garden that’s as captivating as stepping into the kitchen garden itself. These gardens are often walled or tucked away behind tall hedges to keep them sheltered, hold in the heat and keep lettuce nibbling wildlife out. They are often entered through arched doorways with warm, wooden doors or we are enticed through twirly metal gates, down gravelled walkways flanked with fruit trees, sweet peas and other garden delights. A well placed garden bench provides the perfect place to sit for a while and savour the moment.
Each month has its own story to tell and its own atmosphere to carry. Through scent, warmth and flavour we can catalogue the seasons. August is heavy with the unmistakable heady fragrance of tomatoes and the heat in the greenhouse envelops you like a warm Saharan breeze. Everything is ripening and we gather basketful of produce; salads, beetroot, courgette, sweetcorn. It’s a time for feasting and watering!
July is full of promise. Just a few more weeks and everything will ripen, we teeter on the edge of glory and continue to pick armfuls of cut flowers for the house. Sweet peas, larkspur, calendula, antirrhiums and masses of dahlias.
June. I like June. Now that May is out we can cast the clout, or lay off the woolly jumpers and just in case hats. Most importantly we can cast out the tenderest of plants from the greenhouse to carry on their adventures in the great outdoors. Pumpkins, courgettes, outdoor tomatoes, cucumbers. Like a squash and a squeeze the greenhouse breathes a sigh of relief.
May is a funny month. Are the freak hailstorms over? Surely the ground frosts have passed? There’s still a coolness to the morning but it’s good, as the sun warms the air it carries the scent of the may flower and it is intoxicating. A sure sign that summer is on its way.
And here we are in April; a season of anticipation.
Hundreds of seedlings fill the greenhouses; coriander, basil, lettuce, salad leaves, peas, beetroot, chard, tomatoes, chillies, broccoli, purple sprouting broccoli, chives, spring onions, chervil, parsley, gherkins, cucumbers, pumpkins, courgettes, melons, sweet peas, ammi majus, larkspur, phlox because no kitchen garden should be without a cut flower border.
The weather forecast is watched intently, scrutinised. I take my chances because some greenhouses are not my own and I can’t be there 24/7 to cosset this seasons potentials. The days lurch from freezing cold mornings to high afternoon temperatures magnified by glass and I fret. Don’t fry in the heat and don’t rot in the damp. Seedlings of antirrhinums, broccoli, cosmos and parsley are so fine they can be lost in a riotous day. But all is well. I step through the door of the greenhouse and the calm surrounds me, the warmth washes over me, the atmosphere takes me. Frilly red lettuce and little gems are bountiful, almost ready to harvest. The French tarragon is loving the warmth and has grown way more than an inch and the coriander seedlings have surpassed themselves and are ready to be potted up in clumps. The kale plantlets are beside themselves and I choose to plant them out, half of them that is. If they don’t make it I have another crop to fall back on but they are hardy souls so, once again, I’ll be awash with leafy greens come harvest time. The sweetcorn I’ve potted up into bigger pots, if nothing else it gives me time to figure out this years method of protection from squirrels and mice and now the green parrots.
Some of you have asked, “Is it too late to start a vegetable garden?” The good news is, now is the perfect time to sow seeds of salads, peas, beans, beetroot, broccoli, courgette, kale, all manner of delicious things. Sow seeds in pots on a sunny windowsill or in a green house and, while they are germinating, build a veg planter or clear a bit of ground ready for your little seedlings.