Winter warmer; NOW'S THE TIME THE GREENHOUSE COMES INTO ITS OWN, SAYS HANNAH STEPHENSON.
WHILE many of us have turned up the central heating and closed the curtains over winter others will have been doing some serious pottering in the greenhouse, especially as the holiday weather has been so mild in most areas of the country through December and into early January..
The greenhouse - whether heated or unheated - can provide a haven for gardeners who can still plant and sow, reaping the rewards of both edible and ornamental plants during cooler months.
You can have a greenhouse bursting with ornamentals from autumn through to spring, grow a variety of crops and safeguard tender flowering plants and fruit trees if you plan carefully.
If your greenhouse is unheated, you will be more limited but it is still possible to have lush, green displays of feathery ferns, ivies, or scented shrubs which will give you a delicious waft of perfume every time you go in the greenhouse, and some wellchosen bulbs and alpines towards springtime.
Some evergreen foliage plants look stunning in a winter greenhouse.
A real showstopper is Fatsia japonica, with its exotic, glossy leaves, which could easily make a stand-alone specimen.
In addition shallow troughs of colourful alpines on waist-high staging, including cyclamen, chionodoxa, anemone, dwarf narcissi and primulas create a riot of colour in late winter and early spring.
Scented annuals can also be wonderful in the greenhouse. Plant heliotrope or mignonette in late summer, to bloom in the greenhouse in late winter. You can also be sowing and planting in the greenhouse over cooler months. Many plants can be grown earlier and produce crops earlier than would otherwise be achieved outside.
Salad leaves, particularly the cutand-come-again varieties, can be sown all year round, grow quickly and taste great when they are picked young. They are suitable for growing in pots, trays or soil borders.
In winter you can also sow broad beans and early peas if you have border space. You'll have more choice of what to grow if you have a greenhouse heater or at least a heated propagator to get tender veg off to a good start.
Popular greenhouse grown veg such as tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers and peppers, are usually planted in spring. But many might be surprised to know that you can sow greenhouse tomatoes in a heated propagator now, for growing on in a heated greenhouse.
You can also have fresh herbs throughout the winter months if you pot up clumps of mint, thyme or oregano grown in your garden over summer and put them in the greenhouse, or try sowing basil in a heated propagator in pots, nipping out shoots that threaten to flower.
Fruits can also do well in greenhouses and for some it's a necessity. Citrus fruits with their fragrant flowers and glossy leaves come into their own.
You may not harvest a lot of fruit, but seeing lemons growing conjures up a flavour of warmer climes.
Choose plants to suit the temperature and situation of your greenhouse and stagger the display to have different plants as the season progresses. And remember to give the whole greenhouse a thorough clean with hot water and garden disinfectant before a new season of use.
Even in mid-winter a garden greenhouse can still be a hive of activity, producing an array of crops, including early tomatoes (right)