How to get the most out of your winter greenhouse


1. Make a Christmas terrarium

London designer Isabelle Palmer specializes in packing plants in smaller spaces – and she loves using microgreens as a substitute for terrariums. She collects inexpensive starter plants from garden centers, specializing in Christmas conifers like dwarf conifers, ivy, and Muehlenbeckia complexa, as well as winter-flowering violas. Then she gets creative.

Start with a layer of gravel in a deep pan the same size as the base of the greenhouse. Cover with peat-free compost, then plant your miniature forest. Water, then add moss, pieces of wood, pebbles, pine cones or even small figurines to conjure up a Christmas scene.

“Creating these mini-worlds is such a pretty thing to do,” says Isabelle. “And they don’t have to be on the windowsill – you can move them around on your table for dinner as well.”

2. Plant a winter herb garden

Dig up mint, marjoram, French tarragon and chives to pot them and shelter them in a balcony greenhouse and they will stay green for weeks after those outside have set in. are shrunk in the cold.

Sprout a pinch of coriander, chervil, parsley or Greek basil seeds sown directly in pots in a grow house on the windowsill and they should also be able to be cut in early spring.

3. Start a micro-shoot farm

You can grow your own winter salad even on balconies and window sills: mini greenhouses take tray after tray of microgreens, sown every few weeks for a flow of nutrient-rich vegetable seedlings to add to sandwiches, salads and stir-fries. Isabelle Palmer’s favorites are bright burgundy ‘Bull’s Blood’ beetroot, spicy radish and collard greens.

“It’s the perfect way to use a small greenhouse with shelves,” she says. “I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was.”

Most vegetables make good microgreens: try arugula, basil, Swiss chard, calabria, and even sunflower for punchy flavors. Just avoid parsnips (they are poisonous as a seedling) and buy organic products to avoid artificial seed treatments.

Half-fill shallow trays (take-out trays work well) with peat-free compost and sow abundantly on top. Cover with more compost, water, enter the greenhouse and that’s it. In less than 10 days, your small green forest will be about 2 inches high and ready to be cut.

4. An alpine house with balcony

You only really appreciate the tiny alpine plants when you are face to face with their delicate flowers and filigree foliage: not always practical (or easy on the knees) when they grow in the ground, but a delight when they are at eye level in balcony greenhouses.

Alpine mini-homes aren’t just for summer, however. Many alpines look great all year round: weave a colorful tapestry from smoky purple sempervivums strung with delicate evergreen ferns such as Blechnum penna-marina or Adiantum aleuticum, measuring only 2 inches tall and evergreen when ‘they are safe. Then add a sprinkle of miniature winter flowers. In the cool shelter under glass, autumn stars such as gentian (Gentiana sino-ornata) bloom until late fall.

The Moroccan silver-leaved daisy, Rhodanthemum hosmariense, and the small Cyclamen coum bloom all winter, with elegant Iris reticulata and snowdrops for early spring.

Arrange choice specimens theatrically in matching ceramic containers or create mini gardens in shallow gravelly compost bins.

5. Winterize your peppers

Instead of ditching your chili plants at the end of the season, convert them to ersatz houseplants. Berry peppers like ‘NuMex Twilight’ and fiercely hot bird’s eye peppers are easier to coax in low light levels, especially in a cozy mini greenhouse indoors.

Keep them dry and don’t worry if they lose their leaves – they just hibernate. Once they stir again in the spring, water and feed normally and they will bounce back to burn your mouth for another year.

6. Create more houseplants

Greenhouses really make a living when you use them to make new plants for free. New houseplants can put you down on the price of a pub crawl these days – so keep your cash in your pocket and use your mini greenhouse to take cuttings instead. Double up on your own favorites or loot friends’ collections (offering a new plant in return usually does the trick).

All you need is a growing shoot cut just below a leaf joint to create new cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa), rubber plants (Ficus elastica), and philodendrons.

A single leaf, plucked with the stem attached, will give you young African violets (Saintpaulia) or peperomias.

Dip into gravelly compost pots, water, then dip into your mini greenhouse to root.

Six of the best mini greenhouses

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