Chartwell’s ‘green’ Greenhouses

The fully restored greenhouses at Chartwell from the outside with water-butt ready.

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!

Chartwell’s Greenhouses

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.

The Chartwell greenhouses looking rather sorry for themselves with broken glass, damaged wood and discoloured plastic
Chartwell greenhouses before restoration with damaged wood, discoloured plastic and broken glass
The Chartwell greenhouses looking rather sorry for themselves with broken glass, damaged wood and discoloured plastic

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.

Greenhouses from inside, all material removed ready for restoration to begin including the glass from the frames and all the plastic.

Ready for repair

Work gets underway in the Chartwell greenhouses, all material removed from inside, including the glass from the frames and all of the plastic.

The inside of the greenhouses at Chartwell repaired and ready for use once more

Restored!

With the glass back in place, all damaged wood fixed and the fixtures starting to be refitted, the Chartwell greenhouses are nearly ready to go.

Inside view of the greenhouses at Chartwell, potted plants back in place all lined up along the sides.

Back in action

After the project was finished, we were soon able to get them fully back up and running, potted plants soon in place and running better than ever.

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.

Low-energy bench targeted heat mats help us improve efficiency
Low-energy bench targeted heat mats in action showing the device at work in some of the potted plants in the greenhouses
Low-energy bench targeted heat mats help us improve efficiency

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.

Upcycling

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.

The Chartwell greenhouses restored once more, back in action and looking beautiful
The fully restored greenhouses at Chartwell from the outside with water-butt ready.
The Chartwell greenhouses restored once more, back in action and looking beautiful

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!

Daffodils growing in the gardens at Chartwell, a National Trust property in Kent

The Gardens 

To support government guidance on social distancing we have now taken the decision to close our gardens as well as the rest of the site, including carpark and toilets.