You can tell a gardener’s character from the state of the greenhouse. Is everything neat, clean and tidy, with lots of properly labelled seed trays? Or is there a clutter of half-used compost bags, broken flower pots and unhappy pot plants? You can tell the bracket I fall into:Despite what the picture suggests, I’m quite pleased with my greenhouse, which I designed to suit my needs. It fits neatly into an angle of the house, with a door leading into it from the kitchen. It is traditional glass and wood construction, except for the roof, which is a kind of perspex sandwich. For much of the year, it is used to provide some colour to cheer me up over the morning coffee. When the garden is grey and bleak. It is full of pots containing pelargonium, agapanthus, petunia (why are only the dark purple ones scented?), pansies, polyanthus, scented geraniums and amaryllis (although the amaryllis all got frosted in the extreme conditions of last winter).The greenhouse is unheated, and with the first frosts approaching, it is now time to move the pots into the house, dislodge the spiders and clear the decks.The staging is cedar, which does not rot. Underneath, the floor slopes to a central drain, meaning that I can water, and forget about the surplus. To the left of the door is a tap with one of those crinkly hoses attached which can reach anywhere that is in need of dousing. There is also a jasminum officionale in a pot, which threatens to take over the whole place – but is just a little too tender to grow outside. Now that the pot plants have gone, cuttings will take their place over winter.Rather than mess around with ten-year-old hormone powder, I largely confine myself to taking hardwood or semi-soft cuttings of plants that happily root themselves outdoors in any event. Dogwoods (cornus), and brambles (rubus) are obvious candidates, although the red-stemmed Cornus alba ‘Westonbirt’ seen here is less accommodating than its relatives. I need more Rubus ‘Tridel’ – which is the loveliest of the ornamental brambles, so I have stuck in a few of those. Philadelphus usually responds well too – though not from semi-soft cuttings. Vigorous climbing roses on their own roots often come away from cuttings, and I have taken a few from ‘New Dawn’ and my very favourite – ‘Albertine’. They will all sit here over winter (largely to stop the rabbits eating them) and I shall see what happens in Spring.The Acer palmatum dissectum on the ruin is now at its very best, and for a few days will act as a lighthouse for the whole garden. If you look closely, the vivid orange is in truth a subtle combination of red, yellow and green.Acers don’t do well on clay, and this one is only good because it is sitting in a gap between two stones which is entirely filled with ericiaceous compost. For many years, we used to have an Acer palmatum atropurpureum which turned a glorious colour in AutumnThis picture was taken in 2006. In 2008 the tree just gave up the ghost and died. Such is often the fate of acers in this part of the world. What do you do when the centrepiece of your garden is gone? I replaced as much of the soil as I could – in case it was a fungal disease, waited two years – and replanted. But I won’t see it looking like this again…..maybe someone else will, though.
The hardwood cuttings haven’t done too badly. All three of the ‘New Dawn’ have taken and two of ‘Albertine’. So that’s five roses I shall have to find space for. None of the philadelphus or the Westonbirt dogwood consented to grow, but I have one rubus ‘Tridel’ to plant out in spring, a couple of common yellow brooms and some jasmine officionalis – which I shall give away, as I have no space for it. Here are the cuttings, all ready to over-winter in their pots: