Orangeries, Conservatories, and Glasshouses




During the summer of 2016,  I was able to realize one of my dreams…to have my own greenhouse.  There was a perfect spot at the back of my garden and with the efforts of many,  “Maison des Fleurs”,  became a reality.

There were many “dreamers” long before me who wanted to extend the growing season by moving tender plants and trees indoors during the winter months.  Oranges became highly desirable after Portuguese explorers brought the exotic fruit to Europe from India and China.  The first orangeries were built in Italy in the 1500s originally heated by open fires.  Once the technology for glass making was developed, it became possible to build structures with large expanses of glass.  Soon it became a symbol of wealth to have an Orangerie on the grounds of the royal palaces.  These buildings were quite grand!

Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 9.13.25 AMThe Orangerie at Versailles was built in 1684.  To keep the building frost free (without heating) it was designed with double windows facing south to allow the sun to warm and thick walls (4-5metres deep) along the back north wall to keep out the cold and winds.  Even now, over 1000 trees are brought into the Orangerie over the winter months for protection.

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The original “Versailles tree boxes” were made of oak and cast iron and built to last for 150 years.  The planters had slatted bottoms for good drainage and the sides could be removed for easy access to the roots of the trees.

Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 9.34.41 AM  This is a replica of a “Versailles tree box”.   Many come in a shade of green similar to this one.

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“Anduze” pots are handmade in the small town of Anduze in the Provence region of France since the 1600s.   These colourful glazed pots, easily recognized by the stamped medallions and garlands of flowers on the sides, are available in a variety of colours and sizes.  The larger pots can easily accommodate small citrus trees. Most are not frost proof and should be kept indoors during the winter months.  At one time the Orangerie at Versailles had the largest collection of this beautiful pottery.


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The l’Orangerie at the Tuileries in Paris (opened in 1852)  was originally used to overwinter the orange trees from the gardens but over the years the building has had many uses.   After the first World War, Claude Monet offered to donate the “Nympheus” (Water Lilies) series to the government of France to be displayed in the l’Orangerie.  The enormous canvasses were painted at his home in Giverny where he had beautiful gardens,  lily ponds, and magnificent weeping willow trees.  These were the inspiration for many of his masterpieces.

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There are eight paintings of the water lily series at the l’Orangerie that are glued directly onto the walls of two oval-shaped rooms on the main floor.  The diffused natural light from the skylights offers a different perspective according to the weather conditions outdoors.   I have been at the museum on sunny days and on rainy days and it makes quite a difference to the mood of the room.  The water lilies are even more beautiful when showcased by the serious and somber light of a cloudy day.

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The Orangery (English spelling) at Kensington Palace in London was built in 1704 during the reign of Queen Anne.  There was under-floor heating to protect delicate plants and trees during the colder seasons.  Kensington Palace is located in the Kensington Gardens which border Hyde Park.


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Today you can enjoy “tea” or lunch either indoors or on the patio outside of the Orangery.  I have had “tea” here and can say it was amazing.  The china pattern is so lovely that I had to buy the teacups and a cream/sugar set (available at the gift shop at Kensington Palace)  as a special memory of the day.

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Conservatories gained popularity during the Victorian era.  With the greater supply and improvements in glass making, a structure made of all glass provided ideal conditions for growing plants.  When the production of glass was slowed down during WWII, construction of conservatories fell out of favour.  This is Temperate House (the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world) at Kew Gardens in London and is home to some of the rarest plants on earth.

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The Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton is on the list of the top 10 conservatories in the world.  Designed by architect,  Peter Hemingway, it opened in 1976 and is comprised of four glass pyramids with displays of tropical, temperate, arid, and seasonal plants.  The Conservatory is available for rental and makes a beautiful venue for weddings or other special occasions.

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The “Pyramid” entrance at the Louvre in Paris, (designed by a Chinese-American architect, I. M. Pei), opened in 1989.   The first time I saw it I was reminded of the pyramids at Muttart Conservatory.


Although my greenhouse isn’t grand like the structures above, it was inspired by the memories I’ve had from visits in the past.   In my next post, I will show you the process of building it from the ground up. 

xxx Judy


4 thoughts on “Orangeries, Conservatories, and Glasshouses”

  1. Your Parisian conservatory is simply devine!! Do you grow Orange trees? What does Maison Des Fleurs grow? Oh how I wish for a little one of these!

  2. Hi Tina, I don’t have any orange trees yet…but I want to get some soon. Right now I have palm trees in the greenhouse. I hope you get your own, “Maison des Fleurs”. Stay tuned…

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