Country diary: a creaky greenhouse makes a snug shelter from the downpour

During a break in the rain, I dashed down to the greenhouse at the bottom of the garden. I was seduced into lingering too long. A torrential downpour is hammering on the roof. It’s 70 paces back to the house, far enough away to be soaked to the skin: I’m trapped for a while.

This creaky, leaky 8ft-by-6ft house of glass and aluminium is 40 years old. In autumn last year, an overhanging branch crashed through the roof during a storm. The decision to repair or demolish was made on a coin toss: heads; the frame was bent back into shape and reglazed, in time to plant pots of bulbs whose flowers brightened this spring over the Covid-19 lockdown.

Despite the cacophony on the roof, and a dripping leak, it’s snug in here. There’s a pleasant aroma of damp earth, with a hint of rosemary and lavender fragrance from rooted cuttings. Shoots from the first of next spring’s daffodil bulbs are already poking through the soil in their pots. And some wildflower seedlings, from pinches of seed collected on autumn walks, are sprouting.

Flower of fox-and-cubs hawkweed, Pilosella aurantiaca.

Nothing in gardening is quite so satisfying as raising plants from seed, watching from the moment the embryonic root breaks through the seed coat to the unfurling of the first flower petals. Some wildflowers need winter’s chill to break their dormancy, but mignonette, agrimony and angelica are already through, their first leaves clasped like hands in prayer as they push up through the soil, then splaying wide to catch the brief daylight hours.

The star performer is fox-and-cubs hawkweed, Pilosella aurantiacum. Its fulvous flowers, like miniature dandelions, the colour of glowing embers, were the reason for collecting seeds, but now I can see that the emerging leaves have their own peculiar beauty. Each is protected, above and below, by stockades of tall, silvery hairs.

The sound of rain on the roof is fading, but I’m in no hurry to leave. Coaxing seedlings through the damp, cold winter months can be tricky; some will likely succumb to grey mould. But sowing them now, during lockdown, seemed like a small gesture of faith in the future, with the promise of brighter days to come.


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