The Garden Frame And How To Use It


There are three standard patterns of frames, determined by the size of the glass or light.

  1. The English frame is 6 ft. long x 4 ft. wide, usually glazed with four sheets of glass each measuring 18 in. x 12 in. A smaller form measures 4 ft. x 3 ft. and is easy to handle.
  2. The Dutch frame measures 59 in. x 3 3/4 in. and is glazed with a single pane of glass.
  3. The French frame measures 4 ft. 4 in. x 4 ft. 5 in.

Sectional frames of cast aluminium or steel are on the market, and there are many satisfactory portable frames with single or span roof, with sliding tops easily removed for ready access.

The size of frame you buy or make will depend on the purpose for which it is to be used, although the aim should be to have one as large, as space and pocket allow. Many frames are made with 4 ft. extensions, so that as with cloches, any length of run can be achieved.

Position Garden Frame

  • Where possible place the frame due south and not under or too near trees. If it can be backed on to the greenhouse or other building to give protection from north winds, so much the better.
  • The body of the frame can be of tongued and grooved timber, brick, breeze blocks or metal. Where frames are not permanent constructions make sure they are on a proper draught and damp-proof base. Provide a firm path round the structure, otherwise it will be difficult to attend to plants in winter or wet weather.
  • Keep the glass clean and free from cracks with puttying so efficient that rain drips cannot penetrate. Make sure the frame will open and shut properly without water getting between the panes or hinge joints.
  • Water with care to avoid excess moisture in the frame. An old-fashioned remedy for keeping out dampness is to place a lump of quicklime under each light. This takes up air moisture in winter and lasts for several weeks.
  • Heat escapes through the bottom of the frame into the surrounding soil. A 2-3-in. Deep bed of cinders placed under the frame area before soil is added, greatly reduces the loss.
  • Propagating frames are used exclusively for raising plants from seed or cuttings. They can be a simple arrangement, such as a box on which a sheet of glass is placed, or a more elaborate structure with a wooden or metal base.


  • A garden frame can become an introduction to greenhouse culture, for with a frame you look after the plants from the outside, with a greenhouse you tend them from within, whatever the weather.
  • In summer greenhouse temperatures are likely to fluctuate rapidly; in a frame, plants can be kept cool easily, for as necessary, the glass can be completely removed.
  • Many small frames are available but none less than 4 ft. x 3 ft. gives much scope for growing worthwhile quantities of edible crops. An ideal soil depth is up to 2 ft. at the front, 2 ½ ft. or more at the back.

Hardening off

Frames are invaluable for hardening off greenhouse-raised plants, summer bedding plants, which must be gradually acclimatized to outdoor conditions. At times greenhouses become overcrowded and the frame can be used to accommodate plants in different stages of development-an important matter when they are being grown for living room decoration.


Frames can be electrically heated by soil cables which should be laid on 2 in. of sand and covered with another 2 in. before loamy soil is put on. Make sure there is no crossing or touching by different sections of the same heating element.


Damp and draughts cannot be kept out simply by keeping the top closed. Without air, mildew and rotting will occur. Ventilation is needed daily excepting in very cold or frosty weather. Never let cold winds blow into a frame; sliding lights are better than the hinged type since they can always be kept open away from the wind by using little blocks. Protective mats are valuable during frosty periods but should not be used when hey are wet. It is an advantage to have duplicate mats so that the wet ones can be dried.


With heat you can force chicory, rhubarb and seakale, and in January, early potatoes ‘Home Guard’ and ‘Arran Pilot’ can be planted. Lettuce sown in September will heart by Christmas, while partially grown lettuce, cauliflower and endive plants can be placed in frames to mature. Parsley transferred to frames in October will give winter pickings. Continuous supplies of mustard and cress may be had by successional sowings. Drying Frames can be used for drying onions, potatoes and haricot beans, while they keep dry the ripening seed heads of onions and leeks.

Catch Cropping

You can use the frame for catch cropping; for instance early tulips planted 4 in. deep in early November over-planted with October-sown lettuce `Trocadero’ – ‘Early French Breakfast’ radish sown between the plants in January, will mature before the lettuce or tulips are very large.

Greenhouse Annexe

Frames can serve as an annexe to a greenhouse to accommodate flowering plants out of bloom and those for which the greenhouse would be too warm in summer.

Using Frames for Propagation

Garden frames can, where required, be supplied with soil warming equipment. This will allow seeds and cuttings to be started as well as bringing chrysanthemums, carnations and other flowering plants through cold periods. When used without heat, frames are useful for blanching endive and for growing a number of vegetable crops and salad plants.

What to Grow In A Garden Frame

  • Garden frames need never be vacant for they can be used to grow a great variety of edible and ornamental plants.
  • Cuttings of hardy plants and seedlings of autumn sown sweet peas will benefit if covered with frames in winter, while frame-grown violets are always appreciated.


Spring flowering bulbs in pots and bowls can be kept in the frame before being taken a few at a time into the living room thus ensuring a succession of bloom. Bulbs or tubers such as hippeastrum, begonias, gloxinias and freesias can be placed in the frame in summer to ripen off properly before being stored for winter.

Bulbs in pots and bowls plunged in the frame in peat or leaf mould will make good roots before much top growth.

Greenhouse Plants

Some popular plants used for greenhouse display can be sown in pots or boxes in early summer and kept in a cool frame until September. These include calceolarias, cinerarias and primulas.

In strongly made brick or wooden frames half-hardy plants such as geraniums, heliotrope and fuchsias can be over-wintered if there is just enough heat to keep the air buoyant and free from dampness.

Beans and Peas

Dwarf French beans ‘Masterpiece’ sown in pots at intervals of three weeks from September to March will be ready for picking within to weeks of sowing.

For early peas such as ‘Foremost’, glass covering without heat gives protection from cold winds and wet soil as well as keeping away mice.


  • Cucumbers are an ideal frame crop. To provide the high temperature and humidity this crop requires, make an 8 in. or 9 in. deep hot bed of fresh manure in March. Greenhouse raised seedlings will be ready for planting on the hot bed in April.
  • Alternatively, frame cucumbers may be grown by making in early May, a trench 6- 9 in. deep along the centre of the frame and filling it with fresh grass mowings, old leaves and fermenting straw. Plants raised in a heated propagator can be set in the trench in early June.
  • The frame soil should consist of fibrous loam, old manure and leaf mould or material from the compost heap. One strong plant is sufficient for a frame of 6 ft. x 4 ft. Maintain a humid atmosphere and provide shade. Stop side-shoots when there are four leaves. Spread the resultant growth evenly over the frame area. Remove male flowers, otherwise fruits taste bitter.


Dutch Net or Cantaloupe melons can be grown in frames. For each plant, prepare a trench a foot deep and wide. Fill this with fermenting manure over which place a mound of soil on which plant the melon. Apply water and keep the frame closed for four or five days. Shade from hot sun and avoid excess moisture. Hand pollinate female flowers (those with an embryo fruit behind the flower) and spray with water in early mornings. Give liquid manure each week. Cut the fruit when a circular crack appears at the base of the stem.


Single, lean-10 or double span roofed frames can be used for tomatoes. Fill the frame with a mixture of four parts of loam, and one part each of well-rotted manure (or compost), silver sand and mortar rubble or hydrated lime, plus a 3-in. Potful of tomato fertilizer to every bushel of the other ingredients. If the frames are shallow excavate soil before adding the mixture so there is up to a foot of headroom. In mid-March set the plants 15-18 in. apart. Provide supports and keep side-shoots removed.

Year Round Interest

  • While a garden frame and a greenhouse used separately, will provide much interest and a help the production of many ornamental and edible crops, their value is greatly enhanced if they are used together. Whatever the size of one’s greenhouse there never seems room enough to take in everything, which is why it is almost essential to use one or two frames in conjunction with the larger structures.
  • Many ornamental plants regarded as greenhouse specimens, can be placed outdoors in summer, in fact, they benefit from such treatment by making a better display the following season. It will not do to stand them in the open, or even in a sheltered position – they must have a place unexposed to winds and where water requirements can be met.
  • A frame is ideal for this purpose since pots can be plunged and the glass kept off the frames in reasonable weather. This applies to winter flowering plants such as azaleas, poinsettias and hydrangeas.
  • Frames are invaluable for propagating from seeds, cuttings, offsets and division, many highly decorative plants which will subsequently live in the greenhouse. Half-hardy bedding plants such as asters, antirrhinums, petunias, sweet peas and zinnias can be hardened off.
  • Viola cuttings can be overwintered, while bulbs in pots or bowls can be plunged in the frame for making a good root system before being moved to the greenhouse. In summer frames can be used for greenhouse plants that do not like high temperatures, while a shaded frame will hold calceolarias, cyclamen and primulas such as P. obconica, P. malacoides and P. sinensis.
  • Regal pelargoniums and perpetual flowering carnations will benefit from being placed in sunny frames from June to mid-September. The lights can be taken off or the sides of the frames raised for tall plants.
  • Pans of alpines kept in the frame in summer can be transferred to the greenhouse for autumn and winter display.
  • The use of a greenhouse and frames means that a kind of shuttle service is operated. Many young plants may be started in the greenhouse early in- the year, moved to the frame in summer, and taken back into the greenhouse again in autumn.

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