The city dweller looks upon the countryside as a slow moving and laid-back place where most things change only slowly. Ask a farmer and you’re likely to get a very different answer. Surviving in farming is very much about constant change – the changing of the seasons, the markets, the crops and the land-use.
When you realise this it’s not surprising that one of the main differences between domestic and commercial greenhouses is that the latter are usually temporary structures, made of lightweight and economical materials, often modular in design so they can be extended or dismantled and relocated. Although most farmers are even more passionate about growing than amateur enthusiasts are, farming is necessarily a commercial operation, so there is neither sense nor budget for making greenhouses more robust or beautiful than necessary.
This doesn’t mean a commercial greenhouse is a cheap investment. The commercial grower has every reason to invest in climate control beyond the resources of the typical domestic greenhouse buyer. In farming, planning is absolutely everything. One cannot simply plant and wait for nature to do the rest – especially in a greenhouse that must pay for its self. Each crop must be ready exactly when it is scheduled to be ready – to make way for the next one – so commercial greenhouses will invest heavily in fans, heaters and humidifiers. It is not unusual for the climate to be micromanaged by computer to ensure the exact yield is attained at just the right moment. Some greenhouses are even hermetically sealed so that an enriched high carbon dioxide atmosphere can assist plant growth, and others will introduce and protect their own pollinating insects.
None of this means that commercial greenhouse produce is in any way “unnatural”. In fact greenhouses are often relied upon to ensure their crops can qualify for organic certification protecting their crop from both insects and wind-blown insecticides from elsewhere.
The typical garden greenhouse, by contrast, provides fewer luxuries for the plants but more for human beings. A greenhouse can be a terrific place to get away from it all or relax in the sun even on days when there is a nip in the breeze. For domestic greenhouses cedar and brickwork are sensible investments for their longevity, low maintenance and good looks. When choosing or designing your domestic greenhouse remember to consider these fun factors and, unlike our restless bustling rural cousins, design it for your long-term enjoyment and appreciation.
This is not to say you should forget your plants entirely and just fill it with deckchairs, sun-loungers and the lawn mower. The single most important difference between the domestic and commercial greenhouse are the plants you decide to grow in it. Having your own greenhouse is an opportunity to grow varieties of plants you simply cannot buy in the shops. As well as exotic flowers and shrubbery, there are countless neglected varieties of fruit and vegetable with flavours and aromas long since lost from commercial varieties that have long been selected just for their yield, appearance and shelf-life.
So do your nose and taste buds a favour, and be sure to host in your garden greenhouse all the plants and varieties that commercial growers have forgotten.