Buying A Greenhouse and Taking It Down

Let's buy another greenhouse, I say. What the flip?! comes the reply from Carol (well the reply had an F in it). Carol outlines the pain in the bum journey that it is building a greenhouse: (a) the hours, (b) my fear of heights, (c) my bad back which has turned into glass in the last few years, and; (d) the panes of glass I always break and the pain that I feel for days afterwards. I show her the listing, Carol sees the price, That's a good price, she says. I nod. Carol nods. We buy it. We go to see the greenhouse which is a mere five minutes away in the car but a world away in feeling. Down here is rural suburbia, houses packed in and prices spiral upwards. Whoever owns the garden was a keen grower, the borders are lovely and the plant selection spot on but the house is being gutted, and there is a SOLD sign in the front garden. Whoever has bought the house is not a gardener, and there is a sadness in that thought. It appears the old couple who lived here have moved into a home, leaving behind their garden and greenhouse. This is a greenhouse in need of a home, it's five minutes away, we have to save it.


The lovely couple who have purchased the house tell us they are not keen gardeners, they plan to have a bar and seats here, maybe they're joking, maybe they're not. The garden as an outdoor room encompasses not just barbecues but pubs nowadays. They tell us that after we asked for it, hundreds of people bombarded them with messages; is it still available, I can come and get is now (at four in the morning) and, if no one has asked for it, I'd be interested but secondhand greenhouses are like hen's teeth when you get beyond eight feet and this is another beast weighing in at twelve by eight feet to go beside the one of the same size we already have, giving us one hundred and ninety-two feet of growing space. Our last garden was a car park space size, this feels like heaven. The greenhouse has a Bernhard sticker on it but a quick search online and we can find nothing (if you know who they are, do let us know) but the structure is sound, the glass is all in one piece bar one pane. We put a £20 deposit down and tell them that we will pick it up when we get back off holiday. We leave and then realise that all we have is a small car. We have buyer's remorse. Are we doing the right thing? Think back, think breakages, think the bloody logistics of getting a large greenhouse into a Fiat Panda. It is the moment when D utters the Dr Who's companion line, 'It's bigger on the inside', except our Fiat is not the TARDIS. It travels in space, unless going up steep hills and then it is will power that gets it going along with us all leaning forward. We go on holiday, we drive up steep hills, we lean forward, we do the impossible and come back two days before picking it up having solved the problem. A friend of our's has a van. He is available. He is happy to pick up the larger pieces and the glass. Problem solved. Now, all we have to do is take down the greenhouse, it's only a large structure that has stood in that garden for goodness knows how long, it's only twenty-four large pieces of glass and an additional twelve pieces, we just need extra hands. For goodness sake, we have put one up, it took a week to build it, it shouldn't take that long to pull one down but we best mention this to the home owners. They look at us as if to say, 'We thought this would only take a day'.

Greenhouse, Life on Pig Row

We tell them. We reckon two to three days to pull it down properly. We'll start on the Tuesday and be done by Thursday afternoon at the latest. It takes most of Tuesday morning to take the roof glass off, twelve panes that are large and not toughened, they bend under their own weight. I'm on ladders that turn into a platform, a purchase that I am now grateful for because they fit in the back of our car when folded up and take my weight. Yet, each time I lean on the greenhouse frame a little prayer leaks out and whoever is in the greenhouse below me is quickly yelling every religious text they know. There is always the unknown in secondhand greenhouses and it is best to tread carefully or else pay the price.

Greenhouse, Life on Pig Row

Greenhouse, Bernhard, Life on Pig Row

After a quick lunch of sandwiches and cordial in a recycled bottle, the sun gets fierce but a breeze has picked up. It's like being at the seaside but with a greenhouse. Thankfully, the roof glass is out and I will not sail away in the gusts that now buffet us. We crack on, literally, as this is the first piece we break, taking one of the side panels of glass out it twists and a corner shatters. We soon learn to loosen off the vertical struts but this has the affect of making the whole greenhouse wobbly and some of the metal work screws have broken in the past and metal is falling in every direction as the structure loses it's glass to the lawn; this is where we are laying it all out, placing paper between the sheets of glass, bundling up the metal with cable ties and writing on each one where they go. In the middle of this the owners of the house tell us that the old bloke who owned the greenhouse before us kept spare sheets of glass in the shed and we can take them, there are four packs of new glass and a box with the correct spanners to take the greenhouse down, the original instructions and the origin of the greenhouse from a company in London. It is a bonus, we'd shake their hands if we weren't clinging onto the leaning greenhouse. We work fast, more of necessity now than need. 

Life on Pig Row, Greenhouse

By mid afternoon on the Tuesday, all the glass is out, we gloat at our own success. We reckon we could take the roof struts off and complete the rest of the metalwork tomorrow, but then it starts to go pear shaped, the greenhouse is beyond wobbly. An entire side peels away as we leap to catch it, it becomes like a Three Stooges short, as we all rush to grab every part that is moving north, south, west and east. Thankfully, at this point, Carol's Mum shows up with D, and it's all hands to the frame to stop it falling over into a nearby tree, fruit patch and herbaceous border. We have no choice, the whole thing needs to come down or it will fall down. Now it is a game of take the sides off the roof struts, the sides and then lay the gables down after taking them off the base.

Greenhouse being taken down, Life on Pig Row

The other choice is to stand holding the frame until Wednesday morning. We go for it. One of the lights on the greenhouse ridge refuses to slide off and we have to take the ridge off with the glass still attached. Carol stands below me on the ladder telling me that she does have life insurance but that doesn't mean I can bump her off as she foots the ladder. As the ridge falls, I grab, she lurches away and no one is hurt. With the ridge off we work downwards, taking the sides of the greenhouse off and laying down the gable ends and within thirty minutes the whole structure is reduced to nothing but the base.

Greenhouse, Life on Pig Row

The roofers working on the house applaud us. We take our bows, mutter four letter words and go home. We are ahead of game and at least nothing but a pane of glass has been broken and then our friend with the van texts us to say he can't pick the greenhouse up on Thursday. 

Greenhouse, Life on Pig Row

On Wednesday, we pack what we can into the car, bundling up the shorter aluminium lengths with cable ties and a modicum of anger at being let down. We wonder what can be done with the base which comes up easily, a screwdriver under each screw sees them break away; they are rusty and it would have only been a matter of time before this greenhouse would have fallen down. We pack all the screws and clips into boxes, we wonder what can be done with the twelve foot ridge, we read the greenhouse instructions as if they have the answer, we wonder what can be done with the glass. We can't walk it home, it may be five minutes in the car but it's all up hill. You're back, says Carol, and all I can think is that this has been an expensive mistake if we can't get it home.

Greenhouse clips, Life on Pig Row

We get around two thirds of the greenhouse back to ours in our car, D is right, it is bigger on the inside. We have left behind all the glass and twelve foot lengths of frame that we can't get in our car. We could walk the metal back, it would be hard going but at least we would have the frame. Most of the frame sits in the family room, along with the bonus of some staging and shelving that came with the greenhouse, it taunts us.

Greenhouse, Life on Pig Row

What is left, taunts us more. Sat there on the lawn, waiting and cursing our stupidity but we live in a good community, a kind community and a neighbour of our's comes to the rescue.

Greenhouse, Life on Pig Row

He tells us he has a large trailer and can pick it up on Thursday evening. We could kiss him. We ask the owners of the house if this is okay, they agree to leave the side gate open, come when we want, let them know when we have gone. Their patience with us has worn thin but we can't blame them.

Taking down a greenhouse, Life on Pig Row

On the Thursday evening, we pick it up, trip after trip from trailer to lawn, dripping with sweat on one of the warmest days of the year. The plus side is that our neighbour says he will bring it to our back gate and we can just lay it out in the orchard. We get back, Carol and D are there to help, we have only two breakages in glass from driving back. We leave the large sections of frame under the apple trees, there is no rain forecast, it will flummox the night life, the glass we lean against the wall, now we have time to carry it down in our own time. We do so over the next few days until all there is left is the glasshouse and the realisation that we need to make space for it in the shed. We will build the base this autumn and build the greenhouse next spring. We won't be doing this again. However, we do have some tips for buying a secondhand greenhouse: (1) Always go and see it before handing over money, (2) Look for any breaks in the metal or glass, you will have to repair them or throw them away safely, (3) Go with the right tools for the job and a can of WD-40 to oil the bolts, (4) Bolts will break, glass will break, accept this and move on, (5) Work at a slow speed and with at least three of you (we had Carol's Dad, Carol and me + D and Carol's Mum at the end), (6) Label everything with a pen that won't wash off (you can use alcohol to take it off later), make a plan of the greenhouse on paper, label on that too, (7) Take plenty of photos of joints, how the bolts go in, you think you will remember, you won't, and; (8) Finally, wear steel toe capped boots, have gloves ready and be clear in what you are saying, and be patient!

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