If you live in a cold climate, and want to garden year-round you need a greenhouse. Here in western North Carolina, winters are relatively mild, but hobby greenhouses and conservatories are a godsend.
The history of greenhouses is tied to that of citrus. The first glasshouses became known as orangeries. In northern Europe, the orange trees were grown in large containers, which were moved outdoors for the warm months. At the end of the growing season, they were placed in specially built structures.
Before sheets of glass were widely available, gardeners sought ways to keep the plants alive in dark, poorly heated spaces. Through trial and error, they worked out ways to provide the plants with the proper indoor growing conditions. The ultimate result was true glass greenhouses.
Some early greenhouses were actually portable. These consisted of portable shutters that could be taken down once spring arrived and put around the plants during cold weather. In this growing system, the pots were left in place year-round outdoors, and the structure was put together around the plants. This portable system was used both in Germany and England.
Prior to the use of glass, people used other materials. Tiberius, the Roman emperor had a shelter known as a specularium. Constructed of mica, it was used to grow cucumber, which was reportedly his favorite food. In such structures, the Romans also grew roses, peaches, and grapes.
These orangeries enabled the wealthy class to enjoy fruits out of season. Though the greenhouses were initially used only for citrus, other greenhouse fruit crops were produced as well. These included strawberries, and even temperate fruits, such as peaches.
As an example, let’s look at what could be found at Chatsworth in the 1820’s. This estate had a number of greenhouses for indoor fruits, including four for pineapples, two for grapes, and two for peaches.
Even in America it was common for vast estates to have orangeries. George Washington had one at Mt. Vernon where he grew pineapples, which happened to be his favorite fruits. This was known as a pinery. He liked to serve these fruits to his guests. Andrew Faneuil, for which Faneuil Hall in Boston is named, had the first true greenhouse in America. Constructed in the early 1700’s, this was used to grow fruits. Later in the early 1800’s, Tudor Place in Washington, DC included an orangery.
One of the most famous greenhouses was that of Louis XIV. This had over twenty thousand square feet of floor space, and a ceiling that towered to 700 feet in height.