There is nothing quite like an old-fashioned lean-to greenhouse. Positioned against a warm south-facing wall, crammed with tomatoes and sometimes over-wintering geraniums, these are the greenhouses of childhood memory. Anyone who has ever spent lingering hours in a traditional Victorian timber and brick lean-to will remember the verdant scents and the delectable taste of peaches warmed by the sun.
So much, so lyrical. But what are the practical benefits of a lean-to versus a freestanding greenhouse? Firstly, space. A lean-to greenhouse allows you to have a greenhouse when a shortage of space would otherwise dictate you must cruelly go without. A lean-to can be as tiny as the Gabriel Ash Baby Lean To, which measures just 4×6 feet. These miniature growing spaces can slot conveniently into even the tiniest city garden, and make the most of any house or courtyard wall available. Even if you have no suitable wall, lean to greenhouses often have the option of coming with cedarwood back panels, so no wall does not mean no greenhouse! Instead you could site it flat against a fence.
Because lean-to greenhouses can be sited right up against the house, they really feel like an extension of your home. This is where house and garden really fuse and become one. Your greenhouse plants are easily accessible, so there is no trudging out in wellies across the garden to tend your seedlings on a cold rainy night. A lean-to enables you to schlep around in your slippers, watering can in one hand, coffee in another. The easier it is to access your plants, the better you will attend to them.
The other obvious benefit of the greenhouse being sited right up against the house is that it will be warmer and more efficient, as it will benefit with heat from the interior. This will mean that in winter you will make huge savings, as there will be no need to install and power heating equipment.
As well as being better insulated due to proximity to the house, lean-to greenhouses can make the most of utilities like water and electricity. Instead of having to specially install supplies to far flung areas of the garden as with a freestanding greenhouse, a lean-to makes the most of what is already available. Again, this will save you time and money. If you want, you can even have the luxury of warm water inside your lean-to, meaning you can wash your hands without having to brace yourself. You can wash equipment and pots out there, too. Electricity is a major bonus as it means you can light your greenhouse, therefore giving yourself the enjoyable option of pottering in there at night. You can also use soil cables if you want to grow real exotics like melons and pineapples or get a serious and organised headstart on your seedlings with a heated propagator.
Not only will your lean-to greenhouse save you effort and money in all the ways listed above, it will be cheaper to construct in the first place, as you are using fewer components and timbers. So right from the beginning, a lean-to greenhouse speaks for itself.
Yet despite all its wonderful practicalities, it is the poetry of the lean-to that brings people back to it time and time again. A large one can really seem like part of the home, almost a conservatory, really, only with much, much more charm. Fill it with grapes, tomatoes, chillies, even a banana tree! A few Lloyd Loom chairs, a glass topped coffee table, a trug or two and several newspapers and you are only a moustache away from an episode of Poirot.