GARDENS under glass
CONSERVATORIES ALLOW US TO SHOW OFF SOMETHING SPECIAL
WE’RE so used to seeing conservatories now it can be easy to forget they only became available for ordinary gardeners over the last generation or so.
They were pioneered by estate owners – if a grand house could produce a pineapple for the dinner table it was a sign of their wealth, sophistication and scientific endeavour. Great palaces such as Versailles outside Paris had orangeries for growing citrus fruits.
These brick, wood and glazed structures were often magnificent in scale, ornate by design and attached to the south-facing wall of the house or palace. In Victorian times conservatories were developed for the wealthy. They were ideal for displaying plants, which would be mounted theatrically if a conservatory tour was planned for guests.
But now cheaper technology and dramatically lower glass prices mean conservatories have become commonplace in suburban homes and for gardeners they provide great opportunities for growing plants that either find our winters too cold to stay outside or can’t cope with low light levels indoors.
Nowadays the trend is to build on to a house to create a bit of extra space and perhaps a venue to enjoy a view of the garden. Often plant growing will be a byproduct of having one, the furnishings come first and plants can be an afterthought.
If you have a conservatory, there are a number of things to consider. Choosing suitable durable furniture and floor covering is important as the space is exposed to light, which can damage many finishes, and watering or simply the humid environment can do a lot of damage.
Often a structure like this will allow you to show off species in decorative pots such as antique ceramics, which wouldn’t be frost proof and are therefore unsuitable for outdoors. Remember that all your plants will need saucers or trays so when watering you can save drops damaging flooring or furniture.
Shading such as blinds is important. Plants like sunlight but when it’s at its strongest it can burn flowers and foliage and it will also be a deeply uncomfortable place for you to spend time.
Ventilation is important – good air circulation will help keep fungal diseases at bay. The temperature you maintain will dictate what plants will grow best. If you keep it heated all year round, this will create a dry atmosphere, suitable for palms, agaves, succulents and cacti.
In our rainy climate, conservatories are often abandoned for winter and will be great for overwintering tender plants that would be killed off by temperatures below zero and frost such as citrus fruit – in effect you are using the space as you would a greenhouse.