One of the more recent purchases for the garden, has been a polytunnel. This is a polyethylene greenhouse and has a structure that is easier to put up and take down than a traditional glasshouse. It is also a lot less expensive too for the equivalent amount of space that you get inside.
There are pros and cons to choosing which type of greenhouse that you go for but, for us, it mainly came down to available funds. I'd love one with the traditional glass panes and silver-colored aluminium frame like my Dad used to have but they simply cost too much. For me, with a family to think of, it was a step too far. So we looked at the cheaper options of polytunnels instead. These are my first thoughts on this investment for our outdoor space.
Protection for Seedlings and Young Plants
After a spectacularly heavy amount of rain this summer, we lost a lot of new seedlings that I had planted outside in containers. I managed to save some by moving them under a small area of existing cover to the back of the garage. However, many of the seedlings were completely waterlogged and did not recover. It was quite heartbreaking to think that so many of the new seeds that I'd carefully grown were just destroyed overnight.
That episode prompted us to discuss building a number of DIY covers with a thick waterproof polyethylene material. It was certainly a possibility and within the realms of our combined skills. However, for the amount of containers and pots I had that would need this extra protection, it would end up costing too much in terms of money and time. It became impractical to seriously consider this as an option.
I came up with the idea of using a walk-in polytunnel greenhouse since they are relatively inexpensive to buy. Most gardeners would be looking to get these with the specific aim of growing items such as fruit, vegetables, herbs and even flowers inside. At this point, I was less concerned with that aspect and just wanted an enclosed space outdoors to offer shelter. I was looking to protect seedlings and vulnerable container plants from heavy rain and storms that we so often get. 
The Gardman Polytunnel
After looking around and reading many reviews, we plumped for a Gardman tunnel which is 2 x 3 meters in size. It fits perfectly in the space behind our garage to the back of the garden. We bought this item despite a myriad of negative reviews about it online. One reason we choose it was because it was very heavily discounted at our local garden center. And the other was because we checked over a display model and decided that it was fine for our needs. The metal frame looked pretty good and certainly sturdy enough for what we wanted in a fairly sheltered area of the garden.
Most of the complaints about the Gardman polytunnel relate to the cover for it. Most people reviewing this seem very happy with the frame and my husband was certainly impressed on checking out the full-scale display version. The cover apparently does not last long before the weather starts to disintegrate the material and the zips on the doors and roll up windows are prone to breaking.
From our perspective, we were more concerned with getting a semi-decent frame. A sturdy metal frame is better than a plastic one and stand up better to windy locations if pegged in properly to the ground. When the cover does disintegrate or become useless, we can buy a roll of thick plastic and do a DIY job of covering it ourselves. If we are really lucky, it will last until we can afford to buy a more permanent structure instead.
So, despite the negative reviews, we bought it in full knowledge of any potential future pitfalls. There are undoubtedly better versions and some that can cost an awful lot more. If money is not an issue, you will probably be wise to get something better from the start. Here in the UK, you can read your own reviews for greenhouses at places such as Amazon, Argos, Tesco, B&Q and Homebase. So you can really do your research on this and shop around for the best deal.
If you're getting a plastic tunnel, look for one that has plenty of ventilation since they can get really hot inside in the summer months. Mine has wide doors at either end and you can roll these doors right up. It also has two roll-up windows covered with netting to prevent birds and larger insects from flying right in.
I like the idea of having doors either end that you can open up to suit the weather. It means that you can easily control the amount of air flow and ventilation needed. I have stitched velcro on the ties of my doors so you can have them hung half way, completely up or slung back so I can easily walk in and out while working. I also made netting to cover the door openings so that I can help to keep unwanted insects out while the doors are open.
Reasons to Choose a Polytunnel
Do Your Research on Polytunnels to Get One That Suits Your Needs
If there is a display model somewhere with a version that you like the look of, go and check it out first hand. That way you can really see if it will be suitable for your needs. Ask if you get any extras with the tunnel and accessories. Some come provided with staging or shelves and some with connector kits to hook up to water butts. Other types just have the frame and cover so you will need to think about how you will use the interior space.
It is also a good idea to equip yourself with some outdoor repair tape too so that you can quickly patch up any holes or tears before they rip and get worse. I'm very glad that we bought a polytunnel because it suits our own gardening needs and worked for the budget we had to spend.
Image Credit: all images on this page belong to the author of this article, Marie Williams Johnstone