Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Did you know that the modern day greenhouse had its origins in the 1600s? The purpose was the same--to protect plants during winter and to grow plants outside of their native environments.
The first known greenhouses were constructed by the northern Europeans to grow oranges, a fruit exotic to their area. They called the structures "orangeries" and built them of glass and masonry and heated them with stoves.
Peasants could not afford to have greenhouses, given the high cost of materials. Thus, it became a status symbol, especially among the aristocracy, to own an orangery.
Alexander I, the Russian czar, had three. An enormous one was built at the Palace of Versailles in France, measuring 500 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 700 feet high! Even the father of our country, George Washington, had a greenhouse constructed at Mount Vernon, his home. It was called a pinery, since he built it to grow pineapples, his favorite fruit.
By the middle of the 19th century, the popularity of greenhouses had peaked. What's more, materials became less expensive and more readily available, so greenhouses and growing plants under glass were no longer a pastime only of the wealthy.
There was also competition by cities and countries to build conservatories. These housed exotic, non-native plants as well as common varieties, and were open to the public. One of the most famous was the Crystal Palace in London, which was built in 1851.
Today, greenhouses are common everywhere, used both by commercial businesses and homeowners to start plants, grow plants out of season, and display heat-loving tropicals and exotics. Greenhouses come in all sizes and forms from large, freestanding structures to ones that fit in an apartment window. Attached greenhouses are popular with homeowners, as they can be added to a house to form another room, which also can be used as a sun room.
At the University of Vermont (UVM) we have 11 interconnected greenhouses, each with its own individual environmental controls. These are used for research projects, undergraduate and graduate teaching, and to house many different varieties of interesting plants. These state-of-the-art greenhouses are open to the public, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.A more in depth and fascinating history can be found online of orangeries (http://www.oakconservatories.co.uk/orangeries.htm) and of conservatories (http://www.oakconservatories.co.uk/history-of-the-conservatory.html).
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