Built in 1860 and opened to the public in 1863, Kew’s glasshouse (as a temperate house is often referred to) is one of the largest Victorian glasshouses in the world. After replacing its 15,000 glass panes and using approximately 180km of scaffolding, the architectural wonder is back to house some of the rarest and most threatened plant species on earth.
Kew, however, is not the first glasshouse to captivate locals and tourists visiting London and Great Britain. These architecturally brilliant glass structures first appeared during the 17th and 18th centuries, recreating a warm climate for the massive influx of exotic plants discovered by botanists and plant hunters on far-flung voyages. The houses allowed for the plants to grow and survive outside of their natural tropical environments.
Among the first of these artificially tropical homes created in Britain were orangeries, designed to provide a space for citrus fruits brought over from Spain to grow. Initially, these early glasshouses were built as home extensions and were architecturally designed to resemble temples. Eventually, the gorgeous structures became less of an add-on and started to be built as separate spaces in the grounds of stately homes. The orangery at Kensington Palace is one example, although it is currently closed while it undergoes major renovation work.
Britain is dotted with these glass wonders, where the structures themselves are an elegant home to botanical beauties.
THE GLASSHOUSE IN THE RHS GARDEN AT WISLEY
An hour’s drive outside London, foliage enthusiasts can discover the glasshouse at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, which was built to celebrate the Society’s bicentenary. This immense cathedral-like structure is 12m high and accommodates a range of rare and endangered plant species. From Australia, South Africa, the Americas and more, the glasshouse’s three climatic zones (tropical, dry temperate and moist temperate) allow for each plant to flourish. If you’re looking for more than simply a stroll through the makeshift jungle, visit the garden’s Carnivorous Plant Show from August 18-19.
rhs.org.uk, pictures courtesy of Derek Winterburn via Flickr.com
Based in the coastal county of Cornwall, the Eden Project, while not a glasshouse in the traditional sense, is an absolute must-see. Built in a former clay mine to accommodate a range of greenery, it officially opened in 2001 and is a horticulturalist’s haven that resembles something out of a futuristic dream. Consisting of two massive eye-catching biomes made from doubled-curved glued laminate and tubular steel, species from the rainforest and the Mediterranean can be discovered here. Combined with the outdoor gardens, the greenery found in this oasis spans a vast space – this is the world’s largest indoor rainforest. For a unique, aerial view of the colossal structures, take a ride on the ground’s SkyWire, a zip wire that takes you across the biomes.
edenproject.com, picture courtesy of Tamsyn Williams
THE PALM HOUSE AT BICTON PARK GARDENS
A glasshouse steeped in history, Palm House in Bicton Park Gardens, Devon, was built in the 1820s and was a bold architectural structure for its time. Made from 18,000 small glass panes supported by a cast-iron structure, the house’s curved skeleton was a daring design for 19th-century horticultural architecture. Older than the newly reopened glasshouse at Kew, today the Bicton Palm House is the second largest palm house in Britain and houses a vast range of rare, beautiful palms. Architectural amazement aside, palm houses traditionally specialise in growing and preserving tropical, palms and subtropical plants, making Bicton the perfect plant home to visit during a trip to this seaside county.
GREAT GLASSHOUSE AT THE NATIONAL BOTANIC GARDEN OF WALES
Despite its raindrop-like appearance on the outside, the Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales is a must-see for anyone looking for an adventure beyond London. Home to the world’s largest collection of Mediterranean plants in the Northern Hemisphere, the Great Glasshouse is home to some of the most endangered plants on Earth. The greenery on display, however, is not limited to the Mediterranean. Species from California, Chile and the Canary Islands are also accommodated, all making the most of the balanced light and shade and varying levels of moisture available here. Aside from the Glasshouse, visitors can also enjoy the outdoor gardens including the Apothecary Garden and Bee Garden, or make a stop at the Oriel Yr Ardd Gallery to see art inspired by the natural world.
THE WINTER GARDEN
The largest temperate house built in the UK in the past 100 years can be discovered in the UK’s fourth largest city. The Winter Garden in Sheffield is a striking architectural wonder that captivates anyone who sees it. Large enough to fit 5,000 domestic-sized greenhouses inside it, this wonder houses more than 25,000 plants from around the world. Possible to visit in a day trip from London, The Winter Garden is located in a prime spot for quick access to the city’s Millennium Gallery and Millennium Square.
ASCOG HALL GARDENS AND VICTORIAN FERNERY
Located on Scotland’s Isle of Bute, it’s worth taking a visit to this northern island to see Ascog Hall Gardens and Victorian Fernery. The fernery can be spotted immediately as it’s one of the most stunning features in the three-acre garden. Encompassing a vast range of ferns, the Ascog Fernery also houses a particularly special species of fern – a 1,000-year-old King Fern, the sole survivor of the gardens’ original collection. Beyond the glasshouse, the lush region of Argyll and Bute is home to 19 additional gardens, from the Ardkinglas Woodland Garden on the shore of Loch Fyne, to the Benmore Botanic Garden set within the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park and the Argyll Forest Park.
gardens-of-argyll.co.uk, pictures courtesy of Facebook.com / Brightwater Holidays (L) & Marc Nelson (R)