Behind the scenes tour of our Glasshouse

Kitchen Gardener Gabby McKenzie shows us what’s growing in our new indoor growing space. 

The Glasshouse is a new addition to our Kitchen Garden, coming back into our care having previously been used by a local restaurant.

The Glasshouse, July 2023. Image by Andre Pattenden

Bringing the Glasshouse back to life

In February 2023, we started to carry out renovations to repair the mechanical venting system, replace broken window panels and generally give the structure and interior some TLC. The glasshouse repairs have been made possible with the support of our specialist volunteers and repairs made to the doors were funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The whole garden team at Chiswick have been involved in bringing the Glasshouse back to life and we’ve also been supported by our amazing volunteers. Specialist volunteers have helped to mend the Glasshouse structure, our Kitchen Garden volunteers have been hands on planting, whilst our volunteer rangers have been busy sanding and protecting the woodwork. Thanks to this brilliant team we now have a productive space full of vegetable and fruit plants!

Veg growing in the Glasshouse, July 2023. Image by Andre Pattenden

What will the Glasshouse be used for?

Our aim for the Glasshouse is twofold. Firstly, we’re creating a productive space to enable us to sell our homegrown produce to our visitors and to donate at least half of what we grow to local food charities. Secondly, we are making a space that is safe and enjoyable for our school and community groups. We are currently piloting a project with the Hackney School of Food to develop a schools programme focused on nutrition and growing food.

Riana group in the Glasshouse, June 2023

What’s growing?

Most of our crops are grown vertically, where we wind the plants around ‘cordon’ strings up towards the roof. This allows us to maximise the space and gives easier access for plant care and harvest. Using this technique we’re currently growing tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers and melons.

Veg on cordons in the Glasshouse, July 2023. Image by Andre Pattenden

As well as this, we are trialling okra and sweet potatoes in the glasshouse with the hope that they will become high-yield crops in the future. Salad and leafy greens are also growing happily in the Glasshouse. So far this season, we have harvested more than 27kg (the equivalent of 200 salad bags!).

Salad leaves in the Glasshouse. Image by Gabby

We take a biodiverse balanced approach to plant health and pest management by growing ‘companion’ plants to encourage pollinators and good predators whilst deterring unwanted pests. Planted amongst our crops, you’ll find French marigolds, calendula, nasturtiums, basil, mint, oregano and dill. It is thought that some companion combinations can increase flavour and yield, and with that in mind we are growing dill with our cucumbers and basil with our tomatoes.

Cucumbers and dill in the Glasshouse, July 2023. Image by Andre Pattenden

How does growing in the glasshouse differ to outside cultivation?

The main difference is that a Glasshouse provides protection and warmth enabling us to extend our growing season and increase the diversity of what we grow. We can also better control elements of the environment. Through careful monitoring of temperature and humidity we can manually adjust ventilation and airflow to help to create the best growing conditions. We have installed an irrigation system that waters the plants at soil level reducing water waste and helping to reduce plant disease.

What happens with the produce you harvest?

In line with the wider Kitchen Garden harvest, we are committed to donating at least half of our produce to local charities (Surplus to Supper and The Felix Project) and so far we have donated lettuce, chard, komatsuna, mustards, rocket, pak choi and radishes from the glasshouse. We also sell our harvest on a fresh produce cart here at Chiswick House and Gardens on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The Glasshouse, July 2023. Image by Andre Pattenden.

What’s next?

Now that we’re into July, our cucumbers and tomatoes are starting to ripen, and we’re starting to plan our winter growing season. Thanks to the protection that a glasshouse offers, we will be able to plant vegetables over winter to harvest during the ‘hunger gap’ in April and May, providing healthy and hearty vegetables to our local charity partners.

Although the Glasshouse is not currently open to the public, we’re looking forward to welcoming community and school groups into the space and Chiswick House and Gardens Trust Members will be invited to ‘behind the scenes’ tours in the coming months.

Fresh produce from the Glasshouse will be available to purchase from the Conservatory Shop every Thursday and Saturday, 11am–4pm.