Practical advice on designing and building the right greenhouse for your garden

If you’re a keen gardener and grower, then having a greenhouse in your garden is probably a given.  I asked expert greenhouse company Alitex to put together some thoughts on the practicalities you need to consider if you’re contemplating taking the plunge but don’t know where to start.

The National Trust greenhouse

The Scotney from Alitex’s National Trust greenhouse collection

Some ideas and considerations about planning for your greenhouse from Alitex, a company which has been selling aluminium glass structures for over sixty years.
For the serious gardener a greenhouse is a must; we need somewhere to get ahead of the seasons, to display plant collections and somewhere to pootle around, protected from the elements.  Be it a smaller greenhouse stuffed to the rafters with plants or a larger greenhouse with temperate zones and space for entertaining, the structure should be a feature which complements your home and garden and be a source of enjoyment.

Positioning your greenhouse
Think about the size of your garden and how you want to use your greenhouse. Having it too far away from the home may not be practical. You may have an existing base, or a wall that you wish to attach to – which will give you your location already!
At Alitex, when starting from scratch, we suggest you site your greenhouse with the roofline running east to west and ideally with the door visible from the house. This makes the most of the light and ensures you have a good view of your investment. With a lobby entrance face the door towards the south – if the door is on the gable end, it will effectively be facing east or west. Putting blinds on the south elevation of the greenhouse will allow you to manage the light for optimum effect.

A bespoke greenhouse in an extensive walled garden

A bespoke greenhouse in an extensive walled garden

What services should I consider?
Electricity and water are useful and beneficial to have in your greenhouse, ensuring your gardening is not hampered by shortened winter days. It is also useful for plugging  in a heater or propagator to stimulate growth. Not forgetting a kettle or radio to add that touch of comfort!  If you want a more serious heating system in your greenhouse you will need a power and water supply in order to fit a ‘wet’ boiler run heating system.

Having mainline water makes cleaning  and upkeep easier and ensures your plants won’t suffer when the temperature increases.

watering cans

As with all services, get someone qualified to install them and do it at the same time as the building of the base, following ground plans for your greenhouse.

What style and size of greenhouse will work in my garden?

A bespoke double height greenhouse attached to the house

A bespoke double height greenhouse attached to the house

This is absolutely about what you want to grow, where it will be sited and what you like!  Taking our lead from the Victorians – the masters of greenhouse design – our own look is simple, classic and elegant.

Historically a greenhouse is often the centre piece in a walled garden, and today many of our greenhouses still attach to walls. There are several ways to achieve this depending on wall height, and what you want to grow. You can have a steep 45 degree roof, or a lower 30 degree and they can attach as a monopitch, ¾ span or full span to the wall (all easily demonstrated with images!)

Alternatively it may be freestanding, giving complete freedom of location, height and design. In this situation so far we have done hexagons, octagons, feature lobbies etc etc, but the size of the plot may determine complexity of design. If you want to grow a wide variety of plants, you may need to create partitions within your greenhouse that you can heat to varying temperatures to achieve this.

The final structure details such as finials, cresting and all important colour choice will make all the difference in how it blends and fits with your garden – and your style.
If you already have a greenhouse that has fallen into total disrepair, complete and authentic replication of an existing wooden decrepit greenhouse is perfectly achievable.

Why choose an aluminium greenhouse?
At Alitex we manufacture  virtually maintenance-free greenhouses, using aluminium to achieve this. Aluminium has all the beauty of wood – without the drawbacks, increasing your gardening time. It is light and easy to handle, yet strong, standing up to the extremes of worldwide weather. Aside from exceeding British standards, we build to the specifications dictated by location, be it the harsh winters of Russia or the windy flatlands of Norfolk.

Other than washing down the greenhouse with hot soapy water each year, there’s nothing else to do – there will be no rotting wood or stripping of paint – no deterioration in fact, in the quality of your greenhouse.

Alitex greenhouse at the Walled Garden, Cowdray

Alitex greenhouse at the Walled Garden, Cowdray

Will I need planning permission?
Increasingly gaining Planning Permission is an essential requirement for building a new greenhouse, although this will depend on the proposed size and location. As the greenhouse is a significant and long term development we (Alitex) think that gaining planning approval is prudent and good practice, and as such include it as part of our service with a 95% success rate.

Thanks so much to Alitex who make truly lovely (and top quality) greenhouses from their base just near Petersfield in Hampshire.

I’d add that of course if you are going to put a greenhouse in your garden you may well need to think about how you’re going to get there from the house. Do you need a proper path and garden lighting to make the route dry and safe at night or in winter?  Are you planning it as part of a kitchen garden with raised beds and areas to grow fruit?  If so, you may need an overall design plan for the whole area to make sure you get the layout right before steaming ahead and building a greenhouse only to find it’s in the wrong place or you can’t get around it for maintenance!

Greenhouses are often (like sheds) shoved in a corner of the garden where they can’t be seen, but nowadays there are so many attractive greenhouses on the market, they can become a real feature and focal point of the garden rather than something to hide from view.

If you’re interested in adding a greenhouse to your garden and would like some guidance or even help with the purchase (practically not financially I hasten to add!), then please get in touch.  We have contacts with numerous companies manufacturing and supplying a vast range of greenhouses to suit every style and budget, or we can work with experts such as Alitex to help you design a bespoke greenhouse which is perfect for your needs and a real asset for your garden.

Picture credits:  Alitex & Janet Bligh

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