Potting Shed & Boiler House

Potting Shed (Room)

The Potting Shed, or more correctly the Potting Room because it was no shed, which is in front of you, was very much the domain of the head gardener and his skilled horticultural staff. Here the tasks done were essential to the garden, labelling, plants, seed cleaning, sowing, cuttings, grafting and budding, and so on. Clay pots and pans had to be washed, scrubbed, sorted and stored, as were seed trays, and garden tools, which were washed every evening after use and hung on pegs in an orderly fashion or there would trouble…

There was an open fireplace to keep the room dry and to dry wet clothes and for the basic comfort of the gardeners in bitter weather, note there were no heating pipes here, so it was heat drifting up from the boiler house and hard work that kept them warm.

In a typical potting shed there would have been the potting bench, compost bins, bays to store sterile loam, grit, fertiliser, seed trays and pots, etc. In pot stores bigger clay pots, bamboo canes, rolls of wire, raffia, jute fillis, cupboards for poisons, various concoctions to kill rodents, traps, labels, sacks, trugs, all kinds of everything needed for every eventuality.

No plant records or gardening archives have yet come to light for Montalto but several old plant labels for hardy shrubs have been found in the clear-out of debris.


Boiler House

The Boiler House or Stoke House, to your left behind the wall, contained a large cast iron boiler which was fed with coal or anthracite to generate heat. There were several makers of these boilers and with the shipyards industry so near at hand this boiler may have been made in

Belfast. The source of fuel was local too. A large opening in the outer wall with a sandstone cill base was a chute for the delivery of coal/anthracite by the cartload. A stoker would be employed in bigger glasshouse complexes requiring constant topping up of fuel to maintain the intensity of heat required. Here in Montalto it was more likely that the garden labourers had to shovel the coal in and rake out the ashes and cinders, to be used for other purposes.


Outbuildings and Stores

The north-facing range had several specific purposes and uses. The entire range is roofless and derelict so except for the potting shed and boiler so it is difficult to know what stores were there. Like so many other estates, there possibly were onions, apples and vegetable stores, a rhubarb forcing shed, maybe even a mushroom house.


Environs of the Glasshouse Complex

A number of artefacts were found during the clearing of the area in and around the glasshouse and outbuildings. a huge amount of self-sown tree saplings had colonised the ruins, scrub vegetation had combined with leaf litter to cover the ground with a deep layer of humus.

Lots of metal pieces, levers, vent handles, brackets from the pit houses, pipework, guttering, cast iron railing uprights, metal stand labels, glass, and rotten timbers, were retrieved. Alas, no coins or gardeners’ clay pipes were found to give some clues to the timelines of the site.


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