Gardeners Have Always Sought Innovative Ways To Nurture, Protect, And Showcase Plants Year-Round, And The Rich History Of Greenhouses At National Trust Properties Reflects This Enduring Passion For Horticulture.

From the 17th-century orangery at Ham House to the glass and steel marvels of the 20th century, these structures stand as testaments to the evolution of greenhouse technology and its impact on building design. some are now used just for houseplants, but in their time they were important to show off what exotic foods could be grown.

The Early Orangeries At NT Properties

Orangeries, precursors to the modern greenhouse, have graced National Trust properties since the 17th century. The Orangery at Ham House in Surrey, dating back to the 1670s, is a rare and solidly built example. Designed with large, south-facing windows to provide ample light, it allowed the cultivation of tender orange trees that were overwintered in tubs. Orangeries like these became staples in country house gardens, evolving into elaborate greenhouses and conservatories as they housed an increasing variety of exotic plants.

Other notable orangeries within the National Trust’s care include the mid-18th-century Orangery at Hanbury Hall, the Temple Greenhouse at Croome from around 1760, and Belton House’s grand Regency Orangery built in 1820.

The Lure of Pineapples and Grapes

The 19th century witnessed a transformation in greenhouse design driven by the allure of tropical fruits – the pineapple and grapes. As the desire to cultivate these delicacies grew, pitched glazed roofs were developed to maximize sunlight exposure. To meet the specific requirements of pineapples and grapes, heating systems were introduced, laying the foundation for modern central heating. This era also saw the rise of ‘pinery-vinery’ structures, such as the one reconstructed at Tatton Park, Cheshire.

Glasshouse Innovations: In Greenhouses at National Trust Properties

In the 19th century, Quarry Bank’s glass range, constructed around 1820, played a pivotal role in the evolution of glasshouses. Featuring a projecting show house with a curvilinear iron frame, this design was revolutionary. The use of curved glazed surfaces with minimal glazing bars, theorized by Sir George Mackenzie, was a concept that would later influence glass and steel skyscrapers in modern architecture.

As glass became more affordable and heating systems more effective, the 19th century witnessed a proliferation of glasshouses, ranging from tropical houses to structures designed for ferns, orchids, carnations, and orchard trees. The Orchard House at Cragside, dating to the 1870s, stands as a testament to this era, with its meticulous restoration showcasing a diverse collection of fruit-bearing plants.

Grand Glasshouses Today

Despite the removal of countless old glasshouses in the 20th century, a renewed interest in restoration and reconstruction has seen their numbers grow. Modern practical houses, like the one at Hidcote in Gloucestershire, seamlessly blend with the historical landscape.

Nineteenth-century mechanisation made glasshouses accessible to the middle class, and by the mid-20th century, they were widespread. Surviving examples, such as the Edwardian conservatory at Sunnycroft in Shropshire, offer a glimpse into the horticultural aspirations of the time.

From orangeries to glass and steel marvels, greenhouses at National Trust properties continue to stand as living monuments to the rich tapestry of horticultural history. These structures, with their architectural diversity and technological innovations, celebrate the enduring human fascination with cultivating and conserving the beauty of plant life across the centuries.

No Photographs

Because the National Trust do not allow photographs taken on their properties, to be used in many situations, I have avoided adding any to this post. The image used in the abstract is not a NT property and us for illustration only. Image attribution below.

This article is part of a series of articles on the history of greenhouses and Dutch Lights. More can be found by following the link.

Image attribution: Miomir Magdevski, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Tag: Greenhouses at National Trust

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