Probably the most obvious answer to the question “why use a greenhouse?” is that it opens up the opportunity for the gardener to grow a much wider range of plants – and earlier – but it is not of course, unique in this respect. Cloches, cold frames, conservatories and old-fashioned sun-porches all share this, to a greater or lesser degree, though none of these offers quite the same amount of dedicated growing space as the true greenhouse. Never-the-less, if simply raising a few seeds or cutting is all you really want to do, any one of these could provide a suitable alternative. The greenhouse, however, has other things to offer.
A Place of Shelter
One of the most important things a greenhouse can do is to provide additional warmth and protection from the elements and there is one particular aspect of this role which can often be largely forgotten. While cold frames and mini-greenhouses manage this very effectively for plants, they offer the grower very little shelter. The opportunity to bring on plants in the grey, wet days of winter to steal a march on the spring garden is a very attractive idea, but not a particularly practical one without the chance to do it without having to stand out in the worst of the season’s icy blasts!
With the chance to shut the door behind you, pottering about and checking how things are coming on becomes a considerably more pleasant prospect and with power laid on, heat and light are readily available to extend the useful hours you can spend there. While staying warm and dry is obviously relevant to all of us, it may be of particular benefit to the elderly or the infirm. Nor is it just the grower alone who gains; if you have to be working with the cold frame open, the plants can get chilled – in the greenhouse they are always just as well-protected as you are.
The greenhouse too offers unparalleled opportunities to grow at least some of your own food as well as your own bedding plants. All manner of fruit and vegetables lend themselves to being grown even in unheated conditions – and the choice is not limited to tomatoes. Apart from those old greenhouse-favourites, strawberries, peppers, aubergines, peaches, nectarines and even grapes can all be raised and enjoyed very successfully if you select your variety wisely. With a little supplementary heat during the colder months, the choices become even wider.
A final aspect of the greenhouse which sometimes tends to get overlooked is the real contribution it can make to the garden as a whole. Not only does it make bringing on your own bedding plants, cuttings and food possible – at a fraction of the cost of buying them and with more satisfaction in the process – but a well arranged greenhouse can also provide an interesting and colourful display itself.
There are many very attractive types of greenhouse on the market, ranging from the handsome traditional red-cedar framed buildings to more modern and decidedly more quirky, such as pyramidal and geodesic dome designs. By choosing one of appropriate size and form, the greenhouse no longer need be a stark and functional wall of glass, but rather something which fits in and enhances the garden becoming a feature in its own right, no longer needing to be hidden away from view.
Perhaps most of the real benefits that the greenhouse brings come down to one simple thing; it makes all-year-round gardening possible. Unheated, cool or warm, there is always the chance to grow something in a greenhouse to provide a little splash of colour in the house or a modest contribution to the kitchen table. Why use one? Simple – because they work!