Chartwell’s ‘green’ Greenhouses
In December 2018, the greenhouse restoration project here at Chartwell was completed. Over the space of 14 weeks, we were able to completely renovate the greenhouses, improving efficiency and sustainability as we went to truly make our greenhouses green!
Greenhouses have always been located in the gardens here at Chartwell, playing a vital role right from the start.
Originally found on the terrace above the Golden Rose Avenue until the 1960s, the greenhouses were used – as they still are today – to keep Chartwell filled with the displays of white flowers favoured by Clementine Churchill. Later Clementine had the greenhouses moved to the far side of the Walled Garden as a more hidden location and where they are now best placed to take full advantage of the sun-trap that is the south side of the estate.
Before the much-needed restoration took place, Chartwell had a traditional cold frame design greenhouse which recently had seen the glass replaced with the modern alternative of plastic. Unfortunately, this plastic had turned milky and distorted over the years, severely impacting on the light transmission into the plant holding area.
Where the glass remained, it was broken in places allowing heat to easily escape. This meant use was limited as we could not maintain a reliable temperature.
The wood making up the traditional frame design was also getting old by 2018, susceptible to rot due to its age and vulnerability from being so exposed to the elements by nature and location. At points, the rot had set in so much that windows could not be opened.
From the rot and broken glass, safety became a desperate issue, to the point we could not use the greenhouses at all during times of high winds as they simply were not safe enough to enter.
Although the decision was made to keep the cold frame design to retain the period-look, there was still much work to be done that would help us raise the quality of plants produced and improve our impact on the environment.
This project was funded by money raised onsite. From entry prices, retail and even coffee sales, your support has helped us to undertake crucial restoration such as the greenhouses. In coffee alone, 88,000 lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites went in to helping us get the work underway.
Even greener greenhouses
Previously, our greenhouses had used oil heating to bring them up to temperature, so when it came to restoring them last year, this was one clear area to improve. Electricity via low-energy bench targeted heat mats are now used, allowing us to heat targeted areas rather than the entire greenhouse.
The use of these mats drastically reduces our energy usage as we are no longer heating the whole run, whilst also allowing us flexibility in temperature control. Through this system, we can specify individual areas to the right temperature for the right plants, letting us grow what we want, when we want and increasing output.
As part of the restoration, the environmental management system was given a full servicing. This controls the shade netting and automatic opening of the vents, allowing us to create the perfect environment for the propagation of seeds and cuttings. Whilst the system had been included in the greenhouses since the early 2000’s, it was in need of some TLC.
Without this careful environmental management, many plants would simply either die or not be able to start growing at all, as it helps create a constant for the plants during their vulnerable stages. In direct sun, seedlings will scorch and so giving them this stable, constant heat is much better for them. It extends the range of plants we can grow here at Chartwell as opposed to buying them in and helps us to extend the season to a certain degree.
We have also improved our small-scale water harvesting with water butts set up to receive rain water from the roof and gutters of the greenhouse. We then use this to water hardened off plants in the cold frames.
LED lighting was then added with presence sensors to even further reduce our energy usage and carbon footprint.
The work involved a lot of upcycling where we were able to reuse as much of the materials and components of the previous greenhouses as we could. In total, 80% of the existing glass was saved, cleaned and reinstalled into the structure, allowing us to both keep costs down and also preserve some of the history of these greenhouses.
Original fixtures and fittings such as brass door handles and period gutting were used as well as several existing doors. When we did need to craft new sections, such as where the rot had unfortunately become a problem, FSC (Forest Stewardship Certified) wood was used, ensuring we were resourcing only from sustainably managed forests to make our repairs.
In the end, the project took 14 weeks to complete due to the extensive nature of restoration taking place. In the months since, however, we are already seeing results beyond improved environmental impact.
In June-July 2019 as part of a partnership with greenhouse designer, Alitex, the Chartwell garden team headed over to RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, assembling a greenhouse bursting with flowers and laced with snippets of Churchill history. Thanks to the restoration work and the quality of plants we can now grow, the greenhouse was awarded the 5 Star Tradestand Award – an incredible achievement for our garden team!