The crazy season is well and truly upon us. The time of year that sees gardeners up and down the country engaged in a frenzy of seed sowing, pricking out, potting on. Tales of germination success and failure, lost plant labels, the dreaded Running Out of Pots the Right Size… The time when greenhouse shelving groans under the weight of seed trays and pots, and panic starts to set in. Too many seeds, too little time, too little room, no pots the right size. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. All compounded, in my case, by the tension of whether we will get the small greenhouse relocated in time to plant out the tomatoes.

The good news is, the aluminium greenhouse now only needs the glass put in to be ready. Oh, and a path built inside, though I could manage without it if necessary.

Photo of aluminium greenhouse in its new position.

It is perfectly level, thanks to TNG’s hard work, and firmly concreted in, again thanks to TNG. We really like the new position, it’s a little like when the fence in the front garden blew down in the wind. If it hadn’t, we may never have realised that we had a wonderful view of the sea available to us. With the greenhouse, having put it in the obvious position, we really didn’t give much thought as to wether somewhere else would be better. This keeps all the plant-rearing areas together, and really opens up the entrance to the back garden. But more of that in a another post. On Tuesday I will order the glass, and soon, very soon, I will be back to the luxury of two greenhouses.

In the mean time, the wooden greenhouse is full, but not disastrously so.

Photo of Right hand side of wooden greenhouse

The tricky bit will come when all those currently innocuous little seed trays on the shelf are full of seedlings that suddenly really, really need to be pricked out. I’m quite proud of myself for being so comparatively restrained this year, I plan to sow more perennials later on and of course biennials in the summer, but I have worked hard to keep things under control. Though I am also aware that where the little coir pellets take up very little room they too will soon require potting up. I am in a race to harden off the hardy annuals so that I can plant them up as they are. But that means having the next section of the cutting garden done. Which means marking out the new paths… Same old same old, one thing depending on a long list of other things!

Photo of the left hand side of the wooden greenhouse

The other side of the greenhouse houses the edibles that would normally be in the aluminium greenhouse, together with the autumn sown perennials and some plug plants I am growing on. I have to admit that I could only sow the sweetcorn by planting out some aquilegias to free up enough pots! I really must mark out, dig over and plant up more of the wall border in the front garden, I have Stachys, grasses and agastache that will shortly be bursting out of their pots, and those pots will soon be required elsewhere. The crazy dance of Spring in my garden.

Two things are different this year. I bought my dahlias from Peter Nyssen instead of Sarah Raven, as I have done in the past. I was so impressed by the quality and value of the bulbs I bought from Peter Nyssen that I decided to give it a go, and I must say that I was delighted with the size and quality of the tubers when they arrived, and more reasonably priced too. Plus I have had more than a few incidences of ordering one thing from Sarah Raven and receiving quite another. I didn’t want to risk the dahlias throwing up surprises as unexpected as the tulips (pale pink instead of a mix of Doll’s Minuet and Ballerina…). The first signs of growth are just starting to appear, so I look forward to seeing what the plants are like in due course.

Photo of a new shoot from a dahlia tuber

The other difference is in the potting compost I am using. I asked Sue Beesley from Bluebell Cottage Gardens nursery what compost she was using, as she had been commenting on twitter at how good it was. I knew she used peat free compost in her nursery, and am always on the look out for another option. Not that I haven’t had good results from the New Horizon peat free compost I have been using for years now, but it can be a little on the heavy side for small seeds and for cuttings. Anyway, turns out she uses Melcourt’s Sylvamix peat free growing media, which until recently has only been available to the trade. Happily that has now all changed, and even us ordinary bods can biuy it – I got mine from Plantify for a very reasonable price, and although it is early days I have to say I really like it. It is more free draining than the New Horizon compost, feels really nice, and I am getting great germination rates with it. Touch wood… I do love Twitter – and the generous and helpful nature of the gardeners, professional and otherwise, who use it.

Tomorrow the near-manic dance of pots and seedlings will move on again, as the coldframe gets emptied out ready for the next round of hardening off. Once I find strong latches, that will withstand the winds we get sometimes, I will set up the second frame too. For now though the dream of having a sunny evening cocktail hour seating area has taken a back seat to a plant area. Again. And there are more all over the patio…

Photo of coldframe and plants on platform

I am more than ever convinced that you get the best use out of a greenhouse if you can also use a coldframe. So much easier than continually having to take things in and out of the greenhouse, plus it frees up space. My coldframe is currently full of things to go out into the kitchen garden, the sooner the better. Goldensweet mange tout and Oskar early peas, Stereo broad beans, sorrel (buckler leaf and red), mizuna, mustard, spring onions. Next up, hardy annuals destined for the cutting garden.

Photo of the coldframe in mid April

Have you got a greenhouse? What do you use yours for? I know Helen didn’t intend to start up a new meme, but I am sort of joining in anyway, and I am not the only one – check out Helen’s immaculate greenhouse full of succulents and interesting seedlings.

The next bit is for me, though any geeks amongst you might also be interested in my greenhouse audit! A mixed bag, so far as germination rates have gone, where I only have 3 or 5 it is usually – bit not always – because I was exercising spectacular restraint and only sowing a small number due to the small amount of space I have. Things like the phlomis, however, are a real disappointment, I have struggled to get them to germinate at all, likewise cephelaria (of any kind) and Aster turbinalis. But I am restraining myself from sowing more perennials until the kitchen garden is properly up and going and I have more space…

Pots and coir pellets – perennials

  • Knautia macedonica x 5
  • Salvia ‘ostfriesland’ x 4
  • Salvia ‘Swan Lake’ x 3
  • Phlomis russeliana x 3
  • Euphorbia corallioides x 4
  • Euphorbia myrsinites x 6
  • Echinacea ‘White Swan’ x 5
  • Selinum tenuifolium x 7

Pots and coir pellets – Hardy and Half-hardy Annuals

  • Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Burgundy Beau’ x 5
  • ‘White Scabious’ – no real idea… But I have lots of them, 8 to be precise
  • Ammi majus x 5
  • Ammi visgna ‘Casablanca’ x 3
  • Cornflower ‘Black Ball’
  • Dark blue larkspur x 2
  • Mid blue larkspur x 3
  • marigolds x 4
  • Zinnia ‘Jazz Mix’ x 10, but rather floppy looking

Waiting to be pricked out

If no numbers, it means lots…

  • Aster turbinalis x 1 :-(
  • Cephelaria leucantha
  • Verbena rigida ‘Polaris’ x 3
  • Salvia nemerosa x 3
  • Selinum tenuifolium x 4
  • Agastache rupestris x 7
  • Verbascum ‘Flush of white’
  • Verbascum ‘Violette
  • Pink poppy
  • Snapdragons – two sorts


  • Indigo Rose x 4
  • Irish Gardener’s Delight x 4
  • Jen’s Tangerine x 3
  • Latah x 3
  • Yellow Pear – this one’s your fault Caro! – x 4
  • Moneymaker x 3
  • Rosada x 3

I’m proud of how few (!) of each type of tomato I have grown this year, 100% germination and no massive over catering. A first. I also have various chillies, both sown this February and over wintered, and various sweet peppers, likewise. I am very intrigued to see the difference in growth and yield between the over wintered plants as compared to the ones sown this year. Some of the tomtatoes and all of the chillies and sweet peppers are still in the conservatory with the lemongrass, as the night time temperature doesn’t drop as low as it does in the greenhouse, though I do have a battle on my hands with red spide mite. Yuck…

47 thoughts on “April in the Greenhouse

  1. So, Janet, how do you manage the tomatoes as you have small numbers of lots of varieties ? Do you buy lots of varieties and just use a few seeds from each, or am I missing a trick ? I end up wit hundreds of plants of two or three varieties and end up giving most of them away! It would be really useful to buy a packet of mixed, named varieties, with, say, four seeds of each.
    have you been successful with Ammi ? I grew them last year after reading rave reviews, and they were really rubbish!! Leggy, sulky, slow growing young plants which faded and died despite my best efforts!

    1. Hello Jane, I find that tomato seed lasts quite well from year to year, but I have a bit of a tomato seed vice, too, I can never resist trying new varieties, and although every year I set myself a limit of say three new and three favourites, I never stick to it. I do find sowing in coir pellets works really well to avoid wastage though, two seeds to a pellet, take out the weakest, no pricking out or agonising about not pricking them all out, which used to send me even more insane than I get at this time of year anyway.

      Ammi – variable! This year the plants look good and strong, last year most were sickly weaklings and I only got three decent plants from about 9. I did move them out to the greenhouse earlier, which I think helped stop them going leggy on me, but other than that, I sympathise, this year I seem to have struck lucky.

  2. Crikey Janet, you have been busy!
    I could do with moving the greenhouse too, it’s in totally the wrong place. Motivating the Mr is another matter entirely.
    I have cut back on the perennials grown this year in favour of veg, but I have managed to germinate a few Echinacea White Swan. Might just have enough for a drift on the bank. Have you grown them before? I’m guessing it will be next year for flowers..

    1. Hi Jessica, maybe let him finish the raised beds before you raise the idea of moving the greenhouse ;-) Though I really wish we had thought of it before and am delighted we were forced to bit the bullet.

      ‘White Swan’ was the first echinacea I ever grew, though those were bought from the garden centre. So beautiful. Last year’s plants were my first sown from seed, and they didn’t flower, hopefully this year, though apparently they can flower in their first year if sown early enough. Didn’t work for me last year despite being sown in February and put under a growlight, in fact they took ages to start growing away properly! Will be interesting to swap notes in a month or two, I crave drifts too, hence sowing more again this year.

  3. Wow you have been ultra busy it is all looking very organised I must say. I’m not having much luck with germination especially the veg seeds – just wondering if the potting compost is to blame or the seeds – I don’t usually have a problem – so frustrating. Looking forward to seeing your summer garden bursting full of colour and all by your own fair hand.

    1. Hi Elaine, I have to double check, but I think I have had markedly better germination in the sylvamix than I was getting from the New Horizon. I have found beans slow to get going this year, broad beans in particular, most strange. Might be worth trying a different compost just to check, this growing lark can be very frustrating at times.

  4. Oh what a busy spring this is! You are growing such a range of plants. I was interested to learn that Sylvamix is available is available for retail purchasers now. I love that stuff! Good luck with the dancing! My pots are doing more of an impersonation of people squeezed into a tube train… There’s always room for one more.

    1. H Sarah, crazy season isn’t it. I do like so very many plants, and with a new garden to fill, am trying to grow as many perennials from seed as I can to save money. Limits my options on plant choice, but I figure I can replace with posher varieties longer term, maybe by buying one and then propagating from it. Its a nice theory! Sylvamix is wonderful stuff, am really enjoying using it. Love the tube train analogy, hope there are no smelly armpits…

  5. The aluminium greenhouse looks good in its new spot! Busy period it is now but having those glass structures certainly helps. Btw well done on being able to make an audit of your greenhouse content, something that I wouldn’t even attempt at doing here….

    1. Thank you! I had to chuckle at the thought of you guys doing a greenhouse audit! For me it is the only way to make sure I don’t sow too much of something and nothing of something else important, and much easier with seedlings than with large and beautiful specimens. I find it hard to remember how I gardened pre greenhouse, will be really good to have two up and running again.

  6. We use New Horizon which has been OK but like other composts variable. I haven’t seen the Melcourts – I’ll look out for it.

    It will be interesting to compare conditions and results of growing in cedar and aluminium. As for pots I’m sure your supply will grow and grow.

    1. Hi Sue, it is only recently that I have begun to wonder whether New Horizon wasn’t as good as it used to be, because seeds I sow in the coir pellets seemed to do so much better. Mind you, I read that they have a new mix for this year, so it might be better again. The sylvamix does feel really good to use though, I have to say. I think I will use New Horizon for some potting on and for containers, but Sylvamix for sowing, cuttings, and small pots. WOnder if I will notice a difference between the two greenhouses for growing conditions?

  7. HI Janet,

    I don’t know how you manage with so many seeds/trays/pots! Sometimes I think it’s definitely a good thing that I don’t have a greenhouse… I’d become far too confused just trying to deal with it all. My brain cannot handle it lol. I didn’t sow any seeds at all last year and am thinking I really ought to sow some scabious for later in the year – if I’m still here, that is – but then, at work a manager mentioned one of the projects (Allotments) was getting a little behind and they hadn’t yet managed to sow anything. So I’ve ended up with about 20 pots with peas and beans for them. It’s only a small amount as they will need hundreds, but it’s a start.

    1. Hi Liz, this is restrained for me!! And I am sure you would cope just fine were you to get hold of a greenhouse, my major issue is always with labels, trying to save money making my own and then finding they are illegible thanks to fading in the sun… Your allotment project sounds rather fun! I can recommend coir pellets for seed sowing of larger seed, certainly for scabious, no pricking out, and you can plant the larger ones straight out, much easier. Any movement on the moving front?

  8. Phew! Sounds like a juggling game will be going on for a few weeks! Hope you can get lots planted out/up soon. I don’t have greenhouse, but do have a cold frame which is on my balcony this year for flowers I sowed a couple of weeks ago. Trying to keep things to a minimum this year so I have time to enjoy the garden as well as work in it!

    1. Hi Cathy, well in to May I think. Cold frames are invaluable, I had one of those tall think ones – sometimes called planthouses – and was amazed and how much I could do with it. I like your minimal approach, I am determined to spend more time playing this year, it all got a little much last year, I took on too much and didn’t spend enough time just being here,in the garden or on the sea! Enjoy your balcony coldframe, why don’t you post about it? I’m sure I am not the only one who would be interested to see how you use it.

  9. An enjoyable, and interesting, post despite the fact that I don’t have a greenhouse.
    It sure looks, and sounds, like you’ve been busy and will have lots to do later on when you prick out, repot and plant out. xx

    1. Thank you Flighty! I am always so impressed with what you manage to achieve without one, and mostly by direct sowing. Still no sign of my limnanthese germinating.

  10. Wow, congratulations Janet, it all looks great. I’m very impressed with your audit of everything you have in your greenhouse. As someone else wrote above, I would never be organized enough to do that in mine. But I think you will LOVE having a greenhouse….it has changed my gardening, that’s for sure. Here is to a great growing season and fabulous tomatoes–god only knows you deserve it with the winter you had! Cheers, Susie

    1. Hi Susan, the audit is a bit geeky, I know, but I have to keep track of everything or I wind up sowing some things twice, and others not at all, and making plans with plants I don’t have enough of… I do indeed love having a greenhouse – and love having two even more! I find it hard to remember how I managed without for so long, though I have had the aluminium one for 5 years now. I have high hopes of my tomatoes this year, the plants are all looking nice and strong, fingers crossed…

  11. I am impressed that you have been so restrained with the no of seedlings of each type you have been nurturing – this is part of my learning curve this year although I have only sown half packets of a lot of things and I have given a large batch of seedlings to friends today. No idea how many I could usefully do with for myself. Compost is that tested and recommended by Which? Gardening (B&Q grow bag, believe it or not) which seems to be OK but my tomatoes have been especially slow so perhaps it doesn’t suit them. What on earth are Irish Gardeners Delight tomatoes like – green?! You are certainly a hive of activity in between those website crashes!

    1. Hi Cathy, I’m impressed with my restraint too! It was very hard – and I despair of actually managing to sow fine seed thinly. Quarter seed trays helps though, now I just have to conquer my tendency to feel I must prick out every germinated seed… Coir pellets are wonderful though, they save on compost, no pricking out, and the plants develop really strong root systems which never get distrubed.

      I read about the B&Q grow bags, sounded good, but they don’t deliver round here. I used pellets for my tomatoes and chillies, 100% germination and really strong growth. Irish Gardener’s delight are a strain of the original Real Seeds found growing in Ireland and persuded the “owner” to let them save seed and amass enough to sell. Meant to be even better than the original…

  12. Janet your miss coloured plants from Sarah Raven did you contact her to say? the yellow florindae primulas I bought from the primula nursery 1 was the orange so I e mailed them and they apologised, said it was the pollinators though they try to keep the plants separate and they sent replacements,
    you have lots of lovely healthy young plants, you have been very busy and made so many changes,
    I have greenhouse envy ;) Frances

    1. Hi Frances, yes I have contacted them, and I was also delighted to see the Dol’s Minuet bulbs starting to pop up today, so the pink ones were just mislabelled ‘Ballerina’. Sorry about the greenhouse envy, though with your location you would need an industrial polytunnel! I remember the envy, I hope you get to garden with one some day, perhaps with lots of sun too ;-)

  13. Wow, very impressive! You are very busy and so very organized. We just added a pop-up greenhouse this year, but it’s unheated. So, I’ve resorted to pulling the seed trays into the sunroom until we no longer have any danger of overnight frost or freezing. I planted the seeds two weeks ago, and still no sign of sprouts, so I’m getting a little impatient. Hmmmm… So, I’m happy to see posts from people who’ve been successful with seed-starting and greenhouses!

    1. Thanks, I never feel terribly organised! I remember that endless dance with trays of seedlings, taking them outside then bringing them in again. Very wearing! But those little pop-up greenhouses are really useful. I know what you mean about getting impatient. And to balance things up a little, I was horrified to see how many coir pellets I had piled up because nothing germinated in them. I need to look into it, as I have no idea why my germination rate was so low this year for various flower seed. My tomatoes, on the other hand, did really well, as did the chillies. Puzzling business, this growing from seed thing!

  14. I feel exhausted, and that is just with reading your post! Wow, you have been busy organising your greenhouses and all your little seedlings, its just like juggling buns in the oven to make sure they all get cooked properly! Your garden will certainly be full when all your perennial plants have grown to their proper size. My little efforts in the greenhouse fade by comparison, but a mouse, I think, has eaten my sweetcorn, had to sow it again!

    1. Sorry Pauline ;-) Its funny, I don’t feel as if I have spent nearly as much time on the seeds etc this year compared to normal, in fact I have been rather resenting all the other things that call me away from it all, but lots of them seem to have survived anyway. I really hope the perennials bulk up, because I have a lot of space to fill. Sorry about your sweetcorn, I am currently worrying about my courgettes, mainly because I haven’t even sown them yet. So much to do, so little time, so many weeds.

  15. You may not have had much time but you’ve been very busy.
    I’ve grown masses of tomato varieties this year too many of each too! Well done for keeping the sowing under control. Christina

    1. Its funny, I sowed so many of those seeds so long ago it is hard to remember being busy, mostly I am aware of how little time I am currently getting to add to them and fuss over them. Although, they don’t seem to mind. its really hard to stay sensible with tomatoes I find, so many fascinating varieties to grow. Probably just as well I don’t have a larger greenhouse or I would have the excuse to grow even more.

  16. Hi Janet
    Your greenhouses are virtually identical to the ones we had in Aberdeen. Ours were normally also packed at this time of year. I have to admit, we never really used them to the full advantage, as you do.

    1. Hi Alistair, that’s really funny! I think you are doing yourself a disservice, I am sure you made excellent use of your greenhouses with all the plants you grew yourselves. The thing I want to crack is using the greenhouses during the winter to keep the food production side going. Maybe this year…

  17. Your seedlings (I almost wrote fledglings) look so beautiful and healthy, Janet! I’m happy to see you’re growing Agastache rupestris — one of my favorite plants of all time. Hope it does well for you!

    I’m having the lazy kind of spring where I just sit in the Adirondack chair and enjoy the tulips. I’d kind of forgotten that was possible, and it’s surprisingly fun…

    1. Hello Stacy, I love the idea of calling them fledglings, it captures the intent that they should go out in to the world – or garden – and hold their own. I love the agastache, I grew a few from seed last year, and just had to sow more, the fragrance is wonderful, and the flowers are so subtle, I love them too.

      Enjoy your lazy spring, I need to factor in some hammock time, I am doing too much and am turning into a brain-dead shambling figure who is constantly yawning! I shall attempt to follow your example, but we have a new boat to play with, as well as it being spring, as well as me trying to do some work… Ah well!

  18. Restraint, restraint – what restraint Mrs although you have excelled yourself in the tomato stakes :) I hope that you report back in full on those varieties when they fruit. It looks full to brimming in there Janet and oh what fun you are going to have when the pricking out is done and the greenhouse shuffle starts in earnest. Great progress with the aluminium greenhouse. Most interested in your comments about the dahlia tubers. My poor greenhouse is looking positively bare in comparison and I would lend you space if you were nearer.

    1. What do you mean?! This is far better than the madness of last year, believe me, and I still have a patio strewn with pots of those plants because I have not yet managed to clear the next new border section in the front garden… I was eyeing the thick mass of poppy seedlings and feeling faintly panicky earlier today, I really need to learn how to sow thinly. I would love to live nearer to you, and not just to steal space in your greenhouse, but instead I will thank you for the sentiment!

  19. Your greenhouse is a busy place! The new greenhouse is looking good, too. That is very interesting about the compost you’re using; I’m using a peat-free, organic compost this year but I’m having mixed results with my seedlings, some are doing well and some look quite weedy. None of this is helped by the fact that (like Pauline) I must have a mouse in there – certain seedlings have vanished altogether! And I must prepare the coldframe, too!

    1. Hello Wendy, we are really happy with the new location of the aluminium greenhouse, and it looks as if we stand a good chance of being ready to put the tomatoes in there by the end of the month, so that is a relief, they are beginning to look a little impatient! I am so glad I don’t have to contend with mice in the greenhouse – or not that I know of anyway, such a pain. I find the variability of peat-free compost really irritating, but I certainly recommend the Sylvamix, it seems to be a favourite amongst quite a few professional growers, so they should know.

    1. Oh you would love to have a greenhouse! There is something really liberating about being able to grow your own perennials from seed, and it makes it so much more affordable to have large numbers of something, or to just experiment. I hope you manage to get one, you wouldn’t regret it.

  20. It is the pricking out stage that gets me every time. I think I’m coping then I realise how much space they will all take up. I’m trying to harden plants off and filter everything through the cold frame at the moment. Oh and more plug plants have just arrived this morning. *groans* Lovely to see the second greenhouse on the way to being ready. Will have to take a look at that compost. I had problems with NH last year and wouldn’t buy it again as I lost so many plants and had to spend quite a bit buying in plus and fully grown versions which is such a pity as I’ve used it for years. I love twitter for those reasons too.

    1. That’s it exactly! I was intrigued by the “pool table” approach idea, at least that way I would know they were never going to take up more room than they did at the start. I had more plug plants arrive yesterday, and more due tomorrow. TNG just laughed at me! I really need to get going with some planting, it is, after all, the idea… Sorry you lost plants last year, I don’t think I did, but I seem to have had more problems with seeds germinating. Mind you, most of my failures were in coir Jiffy pellets this year, which is making me wonder. Its never easy, is it! When do you blame your watering technique, when the compost, when is it seed quality, and when is it just tricky plants!

  21. Your relocated greenhouse looks great – no wonder you’re thrilled. I love when circumstances conspire with rather than against! And so many exciting sowings… I have the horrid feeling that the Teucrium Purple Tails that I raised from seed and carefully overwintered near the house before planting out early this year have been almost all weeded out by me subsequently, thinking their furry leaves were the deadnettle that spreads through out borders, doh!
    Our greenhouse is a little quieter than usual, given the distractions of the past couple of months but I do have some exciting things – including some Knautia macedonica seedlings too.
    I found the perennial scabious/cephalaria that I have sown have germinated well – cephalarea leucantha is a lovely plant, I have raised a few here.

    1. Oh your poot teucrium! Mind you, I was having a clear out yesterday, emptying pots of compost where plants had died, and noticed that some weren’t quite as dead. Were putting on new growth in fact. Rescued and repotted now, but no idea what they are!!

      Wonder if the jiffy pellets are the problem with my cephelaria, certainly seem to have had quite a few failures this year, but they work brilliantly for toms and chillies.

      Loving the greenhouse in its new location, and today we glazed it, so all set for toms now.

  22. As we say here, ‘holy smokes that is a lot of plants’. I wish for a greenhouse or even a cold frame…some day with the cold frame but wow you have quite the starter area.

    1. Bless you for commenting on all these posts Donna! I hope you get your greenhouse, you would love it, particularly now you have more time, somewhere sheltered to garden when winter is refusing to let go too.

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