Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Greenhouse plug plants

Tender plants that will be planted into the greenhouse once the weather warms

The plug plants for the greenhouse have arrived and now it feels like the year is off to a proper start. Plug plants are a bit of a cheat, but a brilliant one. I know most gardeners love to sow seeds, and I do too, honest. I love the magic of seeing those shoots of green pop up, especially after a long, dull winter when it seemed like spring would never come. But I also know that sowing seeds is not easy, particularly at this time of year, before the greenhouse is really warm enough for the plants that most suit it: the tomatoes, aubergines melons and peppers. This isn’t quite right because the actual sowing is the easy bit, it’s everything that comes after that is problematic. Once they are big enough to need pricking out or potting on I find myself with an exponentially growing number of seedlings, a bit like the magic porridge pot, and nowhere to put them. It being that funny in-betweeny time of year they cannot go outside, of course, and I only have so many sunny windowsills (three, in fact, and one of those now belongs to a teenager and so isn’t sunny all that often…).

And so a couple of years ago I decided to start buying in some of the plants I needed. Last year I bought them from Simpson’s Seeds and they were excellent, so I have done so again. It being a particularly cold spring I am not at all keen to put them out into the (unheated) greenhouse just yet and so – yes, just like I complained of for seedlings – I am currently moving them all out in the mornings and bringing them in at night. The weather is just too cold at the moment to risk it. But I’m doing it for a few weeks with a limited number of plants so that feels ok. And more importantly they are all good and sturdy plants, having started off their lives in warm, bright greenhouses all along, and so didn’t get drawn up and unhealthy looking in the crucial days when the weather was even colder.

Along with a few home-sown plants – we are not total seed sowing refuseniks – we now have: Melons ‘Petit Gris de Rennes’, ‘Rich Sweetness’ and ‘Prescott Fond Blanc’; tomatoes ‘Tomande’, ‘Buffalo Steak’, ‘Costoluto Fiorentino’, ‘Yellow Mimi’, ‘Bottondoro’, cucumbers ‘Mini Munch’ and ‘Mini White’, Courgette ‘Verde Di Milano’ and grafted aubergine ‘Scorpio’. All but the courgettes and maybe the cucumbers will stay in the greenhouse all summer – as soon as we can get them in. It seems a pretty good start to me. Melons are a crop that we have so far had almost no success with…and yet we keep trying! Perhaps this year will be our year. The tomatoes are almost all beefsteak types, with a token cherry tomato – ‘Yellow Mimi’ – thrown in. I have realised that it is the big, dense, flavourful tomatoes that I love and so with only limited growing space I can’t really be doing with cherry tomatoes that you can buy just as easily from the shops. With cucumbers we have gone the other way and only really grow the little baby-sized ones as they are so easy and plentiful. The grafted aubergines are a reaction to last year’s aubergine growing. We decided to be experimental and try out a few beautiful and different varieties and got two whole aubergines for our who summer’s trouble. So this year we are growing brilliantly dependable grafted plants. I see home-grown baba ganoush in my future, and I am delighted that I have got the greenhouse year started.