When it comes to cleaning glasshouses, the gardeners at West Dean Gardens take a deep breath and get stuck in. This is an annual task and it’s perhaps one of the least attractive in horticulture being cold, wet, tedious and repetitive in equal measure. However despite all that it’s a necessary one. I know I’m not selling it to you but glass is best cleaned each year to let in the light and scrubbing walls with soapy water helps to dislodge plant pests and diseases- all good horticultural practice. However with any luck you’ll have a lovely small glasshouse which is easy to clean in half a day so please don’t be daunted by these words! There’s no magic to cleaning just graft and the pay back for us is a collection of gleaming clean houses ready for another season. Hoorah!
Before we start on the 13 Victorian glasshouses at West Dean, we prioritise the order in which we clean them as plants will have to be moved to another house before the cleaners move in. For us this is also the time to sort through plant collections ditching the worst plants and keeping the best for future use. While we are doing this we like to contemplate the changes that might be made in the following year’s displays and make plans.
Because of the amount of work all this involves we start re-potting in the New Year which is counter intuitive but there is a lot of potting to be done and it takes a lot of time so we can’t really wait until spring which is more suitable. Our warmer glasshouses nurture the newly potted plants and we are especially careful with watering- just enough but not too much until the plants are well established. In the propagation house young plants live the life of Riley as not only are they cossetted with a heated mat to see them through colder weather, but they also have grow-lights to keep the young plants strong and sturdy. Talk about the Costa del West Dean!