Greenhouse dreams

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The restored greenhouse is my favourite place on my property.

It was originally built to support a thriving flower bulb business  Once the flower farmers left, however, the greenhouse fell into disuse and gradually deteriorated. The original glass had been removed or broken and only a few small shards clung to the frame as a reminder of its former glory.

The greenhouse stood upon a concrete slab and nobody had bothered to restore it.  Trees were planted on either side to hide its rusting frame and inside a basketball hoop hung from a beam to create an alternative use for the space.

The structure languished beside a disused well which had been built by a man on the north west coast some 70 years earlier. Apparently, he dug wells for various farmers and only used a spade and a pick to complete the job. It is impossible to imagine someone manually digging a well these days.

When I bought the property I was determined that the well and the greenhouse would function again.

Covering the greenhouse required work, which had deterred previous owners, and it is no longer economically viable to use glass. A material called solar weave is a cheaper and equally effective cover and is used all over Australia.

It took several days to reinforce the frame, drill holes and place the solar weave across its length. Then we built a series of garden beds using old bits of wood and had a truckload of soil delivered. It took nearly as long to shove dirt into wheelbarrows and onto the garden beds as it did to cover the greenhouse.

I planted all sorts of vegetables, berries and herbs the first year, including pumpkins, beans, lettuce, corn, basil, zucchini, carrots and strawberries. Unfortunately, I was still ignorant about maintaining consistent temperatures and air ventilation, so most of the plants rotted, overheated or didn’t grow at all.

I decided to try propagating seedlings rather than grow them to maturity. Most of the first lot  were eaten by rodents so I planted the next batch in little pots and covered them with plastic.

When the shoots emerged, I uncovered and transferred them to the outside vegetable patch. The seedlings thrived in the greenhouse but became stunted once relocated outside and didn’t grow well at all.

Another time I managed to successfully cultivate flowers and vegetables only to have them all eaten by the sheep when I forgot to lock the greenhouse door.

Through trial and error I discovered that herbs, berries, beans, eggplant, peppers and lettuce do well in the greenhouse. For the rest I plant them straight into the soil outside at the start of spring.

The pleasure I get from the greenhouse, though, is not only found in the food it produces. On cold, wet days I love to potter around in there.The dogs accompany me and sit and watch while I weed the beds and plant seeds. The greenhouse offers a warmth that has nothing to do with the temperature; it seems to come from the plants themselves and is good for the soul.

Greenhouses were popular in the 19th century in wealthy European households as an area in which to entertain guests. Afternoon tea would be served while people gossiped and lounged around in comfortable chairs surrounded by luscious, exotic plants.

Perhaps I could revive the tradition of greenhouse dining, particularly in this era of sustainability. At the moment, though, the greenhouse is doing its job, cultivating and nurturing little seedlings as they begin a new life.

Author: Sue Bell
Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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