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Types of Greenhouse

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 12 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Span-roof Lean-to Geodesic Dome Pyramid

Greenhouses come in an array of styles, sizes, materials and colours so there is sure to be one to suit every garden and every gardener’s pocket. While many of these differences are largely a matter of cosmetic appeal or personal preference, a few can have a real bearing on making the all-important decision as to which one to buy.

Greenhouse Designs

Traditionally greenhouses tended to be either apex (or span) -roofed or lean-tos but a number of different designs have appeared over recent years, including circular, pyramidal and geodesic domes. Apex-roofed greenhouses are – in one form or another – the most common type of free-standing glasshouse. Looking like a glass version of the typical garden shed, they allow the greatest possible flexibility for growing plants. There are variations on this general theme – some having a low brick or wooden wall extending to the height of the staging, while others are glass floor-to-ceiling – and though the full glass version is widely seen as the most versatile, part-walled designs lose less heat. Most DIY stores have a version of this design for sale, usually of the fully glassed variety, which will meet the needs of the vast majority of gardeners.

Lean-to greenhouses make use of the wall they sit against, which will tend to retain heat for longer than glass and provide a degree of shelter from the worst of the elements. If the greenhouse is sited against a roughly south-facing wall, it offers unparalleled opportunities for growing peaches, nectarines or grapes – the plants being trained against the brickwork to get full benefit from the extra warmth. Aside of their novelty value, the circular, pyramid and dome designs provide a very good amount of useable space in a small footprint, so they are particularly valuable where space is at a premium.

Which to Chose?

Each kind has its place and to make a choice it is important to have a fairly good idea at the outset what sort of thing that you intend to be doing in your greenhouse. Although this may change with time, of course, it is an important element to get right – at least in as much as you can. Other aspects which play a part in the decision making process include the size of your garden, how large the greenhouse is in relation to it – and therefore how much it will dominate the view – and whether the site is particularly windy or exposed.

The choice of material largely comes down to personal preference and cost. Cedar wood greenhouses look superb in any garden, require little maintenance and are naturally rot-resistant, but aluminium framed houses are in widespread successful use and are often more easily available from non-specialist outlets such as DIY stores than wooden ones.

If you look at a few different types before you buy, you will see that the old maxim about “getting what you pay for” certainly applies to greenhouses – a strongly-framed building, glazed with toughened glass can cost four or five times as much as its cheaper counterparts. If you live in a particularly windy spot, it may be worth considering such a robust and substantial design, since many of the cheaper versions use spring clips to hold the glass in place, which are not known for their resistance to high winds!

Aside of cost, the single most limiting factor is space and it may not always be possible to have the greenhouse of your dreams in the confines of a modern home’s garden. As a general rule, you should always think about buying as large a greenhouse as you can accommodate in both footprint and finance terms – and in any case, almost always one size bigger than you think you are going to need. The typical 6ft x 4ft “starter” has a habit of being outgrown fairly quickly and even one twice that size is likely to be pushed for space fairly soon.

Inevitably when choosing your greenhouse, much of the choice rests on the site, the plants to be grown, your own preferences and the amount of hard-earned cash you are willing to spend. While some aspects are always true – toughened glass is always safer than horticultural glass, for instance – many more are purely personal. In the end, the trick is to buy a greenhouse that you can live with, suits your garden and allows you to do at least most of the things you want to in it, without too much trouble.

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