Although conservatories are a beautiful addition to every home, and nowadays are used as an extra living space to the main house, ranging from breakfast rooms to play rooms, originally the first conservatories were built in the 16th century by the rich who wanted the luxury of citrus fruits all year round, or tropical plants and flowers.
This of course was impossible in the British climate so conservatories were developed with the glass and brick providing the extra warmth to enable the plants to thrive. Later, in the 19th century, ornate Victorian structures were popular, including the Crystal Palace, or the glasshouses at Kew Gardens, but as World War ll intervened, new construction stopped. After the war, the building of conservatories resumed, both domestic and commercial, and later, larger structures such as the Barbican in central London or the Eden Project in Cornwall were designed, offering the ideal environment in which to grow plants.
Basically a conservatory nowadays is a greenhouse attached to a house, and most people combine the use of the room with some plants – using it as a greenhouse you can watch your plants grow while you relax, and you have access to them to tend them without getting wet in the garden. It does provide the ideal place in which to grow plants – you might even chose tropical plants such as the citrus fruits they were originally built for, exotic flowers, or perhaps seedlings, tomatoes or strawberries – you can make it as productive and colourful as you choose. A controlled temperature can be achieved nowadays without having to open windows and vents, with solar controlled glass, blinds and double or triple glazing, and methods of storing excess heat generated on sunny days.
For some people, an ideal conservatory would be a large greenhouse area with lots of lush tropical greenery such as palm trees, fruits or vines giving a cosy and friendly atmosphere where you would be happy to have lunch at a small table while appreciating the colour and variety of your plants. Of course, you will never be able to compete with the world’s newest greenhouses or biodomes in the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. Recently completed to universal acclaim, the conservatory complex comprises two cooled conservatories – the Flower Dome with cooled dry conditions for Mediterranean and semi-arid plants and the Cloud Forest which replicates the cool moist conditions in tropical mountain regions. They are striking gardens designed with the environment in mind using sustainable technologies, and are well worth visiting, or at least a look on the internet!
In whatever way you use your conservatory, keep in mind that it started out hundreds of years ago as a basic greenhouse, but today technology has advanced nowadays so far that it is usually more for living in than for cultivating plants. No longer is it a specialist area, but can be used all year round in comfort. It will be both exciting and interesting to see what new developments might happen in the future!