Visit beautiful Keppel Croft Gardens in Grey County, Ontario.
After the initial success of our first pit greenhouse, we foolishly thought we would construct a series of pit greenhouses and raise plants for sale. We came to our senses after the first season of use with our big pit greenhouse. We discovered that we much preferred to be out in the garden, not tied to the needs of seedlings and potted plants in the greenhouse. The rest of that plan was scrapped and now we enjoy the use of our greenhouses for raising some seedlings in the spring, and for housing all the plants that need winter protection.
Our original pit greenhouse was built over thirty years ago and follows a design favoured by Victorian gardeners. A wide trench was dug by a backhoe and then lined with concrete blocks. The top wooden portion of the greenhouse was built on this base. Recycled glass was used for the slanted windows on the south side. The soil from the trench was pulled up over the roof and plantings of sempervivums made in a berm-like area. Inside, the planting benches full of soil line the southern side of the greenhouse. A heavily insulated door opens from inside a porch area into the greenhouse. There is a window on the eastern end which can be opened for ventilation.
The original pit greenhouse has been overtaken by the shade of trees in the woodland garden.
We heat this greenhouse through the winter with one 100 watt light bulb. The plants we winter over include agapanthus, geraniums and cymbidium orchids. We also winter over our goldfish population in a large aquarium in this greenhouse.
In the autumn we stockpile containers of water. In early spring, before the water system is hooked up for the season, we can easily water the plants. The trees in the woodland garden now shade the greenhouse from late spring through into autumn. This summer we hope to renovate this greenhouse.
In April this pit greenhouse still shelters the olive trees, formium tenax and other frost tender plants, as well as newly potted seedlings.
The newer and bigger pit greenhouse is used from early spring for our seedlings. Bill constructed the greenhouse so that its floor is four feet below ground level to make use of the ambient heat of the earth. The sun is the only other heat source. The woodstove never gets used. The floor is just gravel. Last year we planted our two fig trees into the greenhouse floor. The trees are espaliered along the north wall. We winter over pots of phormium tenax, geraniums, cordylines, a Clematis montana and our three olive trees in this greenhouse.
Just south of the pit greenhouse we have our plunge beds where our plant stock is placed once the need for greenhouse housing is over. The beds are made with a frame of barnboards in 4' by 12' rectangles. We put sawdust inside the frames and "plunge" or sink the pots of plants into this material.
Each plunge bed has removable lids which are made of smaller frames of 1x1 pine with shade cloth stapled over the top. At the beginning of the season these shade covers aren't needed. Later in the season plants are sorted so that the sun lovers are together in one area that does not have to have the shade covers while plants that require shade are adequately sheltered by these lids.
We don't bother to shade the Sempervivums and sedums .
We don't have enough room in the plunge beds for the sedums and sempervivums. Their pots are in plastic trays, sitting on sawdust covered carpet and newspaper. Unfortunately, this area has no winter protection from the voles who seem to have developed quite a taste for sempervivums.
In winter, the plunge beds are used as storage places for plant stock. We used to fill the plunge frames with raked leaves so that the plants were all covered for the cold season. We don't bother to do this any longer and the plants seem to survive just as well. Cleaning up the pots of plants in spring is much easier without all that leaf mulch to remove! Now, if we could just find a way to eliminate all the voles who also spend winter in this area, we would be very happy.
At the south end of Bill's workshop we have a greenhouse which is heated by a wood stove. At the end of the gardening season we squeeze a huge collection of potted plants into this space. Plants placed in this greenhouse need more warmth than is provided in the pit greenhouses - citrus, fuschias, Bill's collection of tender succulents and agaves, oleanders and tender bulbs.
Squeezing an ever increasing collection of succulents into the workshop greenhouse is becoming a challenge.
Another winter storage areas for plants includes an addition which Bill and our friend, Rob Ockenden, built on to our home. For want of a better name, we call it the Green Room. There is no heating in the room though some warmth comes through the french doors from the living room. The winter sun warms the room surprisingly, especially in late winter. This is a delightful place to sit with a cup of coffee amidst the greenery, looking out on the winter landscape in the woodland garden.
In the floor of this room, there is a soil filled garden bed. In this bed we have planted a permanent assortment of temperate plants. Passion flowers, jasmine and potato vines twine around some birch trees which were cut down and then placed in the bed. Bamboo and nandina do well here. A few exotics such as the kowhai trees from New Zealand are also housed here for winter. Plantings of gerbera and begonias, daffodils and ivy fill up the bed and provide us with colour early in the gardening season.
In winter we store our bamboo plants in this addition to our house.
On the tiled area of the Green Room we have pots of plants that will be outside on the patio in warmer weather. We are able to winter over large patio pots of bamboo. The clivias blossom beautifully in the late winter. These pots sit in the shade of some birch trees for the summer and look luxuriant with their long straplike leaves. There are hanging pots of cactus which bloom at Christmas time and in early spring. We hang these pots in an old apple tree for the summer.
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Site Revisions made April 2013