In choosing a greenhouse (much the same as looking at any particular structure in the garden) and primarily this refers to polytunnels – it is important to make sure that the product that you ultimately choose, fits your needs. It is a considerable outlay and therefore it has to fit, not only the location that you are looking to site your greenhouse, but also what you want to achieve from your greenhouse – whether it be growing your own produce, or re-stocking the garden by growing plants from seeds and cuttings through to operating a “cold house” or an “alpine house” to meet whatever particular interests you may have in the garden.
A greenhouse provides a fantastic environment for raising seedlings and overwintering various tender plants as well as growing crops, such as tomatoes, that need protection all year round. It offers a wonderful place to spend hours in the garden, but protected from inclement weather and if using with a small paraffin heater in the coldest parts of winter, it can be extremely homely and relaxing. However this does have the downside that in the height of the summer – it can get a little toasty in the greenhouse!
So, you have decided upon a greenhouse and now we have to look at how it is going to fulfil your requirements. It is important to establish where you are going to site your greenhouse. This is to make sure that whatever structure you end up with, sits well and can actually be built in the area in which it is sited. Also, do not forget that you do need to build a solid base. This does not necessarily need to be solid all the way through the greenhouse, but certainly the foundations will need to have some considerable structure to them. Therefore, unless it is a small greenhouse where you take your pickaxe and shovel to dig down a couple of feet, the access must be available to allow a small piece of machinery in to assist with any construction work.
Do I go for a Wood or Aluminium Greenhouse?
Initially the big choice is whether to choose wood or aluminium. Again, this can depend upon budget, as aluminium tends to be cheaper than wood. Wood however gives you a wonderful structure that is extremely pleasing on the eye. Aluminium greenhouses these days however do have a variety of benefits and can now be powder coated in various colours. The disparity between the wood effect and traditional silver based aluminium is now considerably less. Therefore, I think it is certainly worthwhile considering this – even if you are a steadfast wood greenhouse person.
Aluminium does not need much upkeep, apart from the annual “spruce up”. It does not suffer so much from the ravages of the weather in that, as a metal structure it does not expand and contract, and indeed, with the reduced width of the super stretcher frame, it offers a greater amount of light into the greenhouse itself.
Wooden greenhouses can be extremely attractive, and of course have a traditional feel to them. They were developed in their heyday in the Victorian period. Constructions of the vast greenhouses of this era can still be seen in large gardens, and a variety of National Trust properties throughout the Country. They are no doubt beautiful – but of course this beauty comes with considerable expense! Therefore with the bulkier frames, the greater expense, and also the effects of weathering, looking onwards it will need considerable upkeep on a regular basis. However, you ultimately need to decide how much work and cost you wish to spend.
Greenhouse Shape and Size
There are a vast array of shapes and sizes in relation to greenhouses. With structures fitted with glass, they can come in all forms of construction, such as:-
- High eaves
- High ridge height
- Large rectangular
- Double width
The list above (to be perfectly honest) can be endless. A number of greenhouse manufacturers also provide a bespoke service, where they will design and fit any greenhouse to any given environment. Again, this does come with a price, but if you do have sufficient funds and it does not matter whether the greenhouse is made with aluminium or wood, this can be a fantastic option – certainly if you have either a difficult area, or you have a specific requirement.
A Glass or Plastic Greenhouse?
By far – the best glazing material is always going to be glass. You can now get extremely effective horticultural or commercial glass which, if it breaks, will break in a way that is not dangerous to animals, young children or to yourself. However, glass is glass! If there is any form of outward pressure, such as from a falling branch, or a stone kicked up from some machinery in your garden, then it can cause damage and ultimately lead to the replacement of panes. This can however be easily rectified by holding a small stock of panes of glass. If you do not hold any panes of glass, then of course the majority of manufacturers will usually do one-off deliveries, or you can even go to a glazing manufacturer based near to where you live and get them to make a pane for you.
Polycarbonate sheeting has one benefit over glass – in that it does not break. However (from experience) it is a product that does not look particularly nice as it is fiddly to install, and due to the type of product it does not generally get sold with heavy duty greenhouses, but more of a lightweight greenhouse. Therefore, there is movement in the structure which in turn causes stability issues. These types of greenhouses do not need as much construction work in anchoring them to the ground with a solid foundation, but I would not look at choosing this particular type of greenhouse if over, say 6 or 7 feet in length, as you are storing up a whole host of problems and ultimately you want to feel comfortable in the greenhouse that you are in.
The best way of choosing which type of greenhouse is best for you is to firstly look at establishing where your site is going to be, and how big the site is going to be. Most people (and I do not disagree with this) say that any greenhouse or polytunnel you have, should be as big as possible in order to maximise the surface area where you grow your produce. However (specifically with greenhouses) this does come at a cost. This is because not only does the greenhouse have to be bought and paid for, but the foundations must also be built. Greenhouses, for me, should either be for small sites, in which case they are just a nice working environment and they look good. Due to the fact that it is on a small site, the looking good for a neighbouring property is also important, and the cost is not necessarily that great – as not only is the base smaller, but also the construction itself. Therefore for £1,500 or £2,000, an extremely well-built greenhouse can be sited up to 10 feet in length and 8 to 10 feet in width. In addition to this, you have to consider the costs element and what you need your greenhouse for.
As I have always said – I am a huge polytunnel fan, but this is mainly due to finance. If I could put a 30 foot long wooden Victorian greenhouse in its situ, then I would do so. However, short of coming up on the National Lottery, this is not going to happen. So therefore, being realistic and achieving what I want to achieve (which will ironically probably be greater results than with a greenhouse) a polytunnel is best for me.