Documents: Special Interest: In The Kitchen:

Orangeries and Greenhouses
by Leonard Perry
by Leonard Perry


In extension I serve as an advisor and consultant to the greenhouse and nursery industry, primarily in Vermont but throughout the region and beyond as well.

I give presentations on my research to the industry, and to home groups. In Research, my focus is "herbaceous perennial production systems".

His website is at  Leonards zone of gardening: home with my trials, generally USDA 4a. Campus in Burlington is 5.

January 13, 2008

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 greenhouses were those of the Romans who use mica coverings to grow cucumbers. Later Italians and French had primitive greenhouses, with the earliest record in France of a south-facing glass pavilion dating to 1385.

Early greenhouses were constructed by the northern Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries 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. The earliest were in Holland, but shortly after appeared in England. The orangery at Kew Gardens in England was built in 1761, being at that time the largest glass greenhouse in England.

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. Plants were usually grown in large tubs, wheeled outside during summer.

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. Such pineries were popular abroad in the past due to the popularity and expense of this “new” fruit. A pineapple in England during the latter part of the 18th century might cost the equivalent of $10,000 today.

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 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. One of the largest remaining Victorian glasshouses in the world, recently renovated, can be seen at the New York Botanical Garden.

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. Small ones can be purchased for a few hundred dollars for starting and hardening seedlings in spring. Attached greenhouses are popular with home gardeners, as they can be added to a house to form another room, which also can be used as a sun room.

A more in depth and fascinating history can be found online of orangeries ( and of conservatories (

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row