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The History of the Greenhouse
The Victorian era is known for its innovation and well known in the horticultural industry for their shaping of how glasshouses are designed and manufactured today, some of the world’s most famous glasshouses were constructed during Queen Victoria’s reign. But the idea of an artificial growing area was first trialled by the civilisation who also gave use sewer systems, under floor heating and even flushing toilets; the Romans.
Around 30AD, Roman emperor Tiberius had a fondness for a cucumber-like vegetable that grew at certain times of the year. So that he would enjoy his favourite vegetable very day, his gardeners developed artificial growing areas using the same concept that glasshouses use today; with the right amount of light and the right amount of heat, plants can be forced to grow. It was a relatively simple idea; the plants were planted in wheeled carts underneath frames covered with oiled cloth, much like modern polytunnel’s. The carts could then be wheeled around throughout day so they were always under direct sunlight and were wheeled indoors at night to keep them warm.
It wasn’t until the 13th century that what can be described as the modern glasshouse caught on. The first of the new glasshouses were built in Italy and were called Botanical Gardens, hence the name given to large displays of plants today. These original botanical gardens were used to house exotic and medicinal plants; however they were complicated structures and failed to provide the plants inside with an adequate and constant atmosphere. Although the design was flawed, the concept soon spread throughout Europe, notably to Netherlands and England.
The first really practical modern glasshouse was built by French botanist Charles Lucien Bonaparte in Leiden, Holland, during the 1800’s. Designs for glasshouses became more elaborate and spread to the gardens of the wealthy and to universities where important research in to plants and their properties was extensively carried out. With the production of better glass and improved construction techniques, glasshouses became an invaluable asset to British culture. Probably the most famous glasshouse that was built in the 1800’s that is still standing today is the palm house at Kew Gardens in London.
In the 20th century, glasshouses began to be extensively used to grow on a commercial level, providing foods for our supermarkets and plants for our garden centres. It is an industry that has continued to grow with many crops now being grown on the commercial scale for our supermarkets, so we are able to produce grown in the UK.